Giving up is for quitters: but sometimes that’s a good thing. One of the questions I have struggled with the most in my life and the one that I’ve been asked the most from others is “how do you know when to keep fighting and when it’s time to just give up?”
From jobs, to relationships to family and friends, we’ve all struggled with this question before. And while I don’t have an easy answer, mainly because I still struggle with this question today, I do have some suggestions that I’ve learned from my own stumbling through life that will help guide your decision of knowing when to hold ‘em, and when to fold ‘em (sorry for the Kenny Rogers analogy).
The most important part of this advice is going to be brutally honesty with yourself. Sometimes the truth isn’t easy to objectively see, or want to deal with. I mean when you KNOW you shouldn’t take the vacation because you can’t afford it, but you do it anyway, that’s not really being honest with yourself. I can’t make you be honest to yourself, but I can tell you, integrity of self is crucial for life, and for analyzing these three reasons of knowing whether it’s time to give up or not.
I’d suggest taking two to three minutes right now to close your eyes, breathe deep and get really focused and present. Be here now. Reading this. And learning about yourself and what to do next.
Three Reasons to Give Up Now.
1. It’s Unhealthy.
Whatever it is you’re pursuing is making you unhealthy. And there are four realms to health in my book: financial, emotional, physical and spiritual. I’ll address all four realms of health for you to consider, when thinking about whether or not you’re pursuit is making you unhealthy.
a) Financial – if you’re pursuit of a thing, idea, person, whatever is making you financially unhealthy, give up. Stop now. Maybe what you’re pursuing is still a possibility for you at another time, but right now if it’s putting you in the financial crapper, you need to stop and come up with a new game plan. Reassess what you’re going for and why. Figure out another angle to achieve it if it’s something you’re absolutely sure of, but in a way that doesn’t ruin your finances.
For example, you want to make a living making jewelry. You are sick of your job and you love making jewelry and people totally love your jewelry that you make for them as Christmas presents each year. That’s awesome: pursue it. But don’t quit your day job until your jewelry is making you the same monthly income that your job currently is. And consistently. Like I’d say six months to a year. Learn from the master (me!) and don’t do this. It’s bad for your financial health. Don’t pursue jewelry making as your livelihood until it actually consistently is your livelihood. Bad finances are reflective of a poor inner game. Keep your finances healthy, keep your mind healthy!
2) Emotional – this is the one that most often results from the pursuit of relationships that are no longer (perhaps never were?) healthy for you. This doesn’t have to just be romantic, although that has certainly been my struggle. I will tell you, when I’m quiet and honest with myself, that I have somehow managed to seek out unhealthy romantic relationships my whole life. For a girl that would like to get married, start a family and be a mom someday, I’ve done a killer job of dating men who consistently are not ready for that type of relationship, or just plain don’t want it with me. What have I done in every instance where I’ve discovered that the man I loved, loves me but “can’t give me what I want,” when push comes to shove (commitment shouldn’t be a shove, btw)?
Why I’ve pursued that person even harder, of course! Like every sane, emotionally stable person would do, right? I mean the person you’re in love with is flat out telling you “thanks, but no thanks” so the rational thing to do is to keep banging your head against the wall because eventually he’s going to see that you’re the girl for him and choose you, right? Wrong. This 100% never been true. It’s led to years of frustration, incredible heartache and the unhealthy emotional state that leads to a lot of self-doubt and self-worth issues. And expensive therapy.
And this isn’t just true of men. I’ve done it with girlfriends, family members, former bosses and plenty of other people. I believe in being good to people, but I also believe that the people who are consistently NOT good back, are the ones you need to limit your exposure to. Friends, family members, lovers and bosses alike. Don’t engage in relationships with people who aren’t committed to you, too. It’s bad for you. It’s unhealthy for you. If you have relationships like the kind I’ve just listed here, stop engaging in them. You need to give up. Not on them, but give up control. Give up the need to be loved or liked. Give up the emotional hurt and cultivate the inner game you’ve got going on. Healthy emotional relationships are ones where there is give and take, mutual respect and communication. Does that describe your relationships? If not, give them up!
c) Physical – is what you’re pursuing making you sick? Fat? Giving you type-2 diabetes? Keeping you from getting good sleep or being able to practice good health? Limiting your mobility? Have you on a drug regiment that sends you to the pharmacy every week? If yes, give it up! Nothing is worth your health. I hate taking medication. When I was dealing with my cancer surgeries in early 2012, I will say I’m grateful for modern medicine because I needed medication. But as soon as I could get off it, I did! I don’t like to take medication unless I really need it. I do sometimes, but I don’t like it. And never for long periods of time (like longer than a week). It scares me.
I don’t like putting crap in my body that has side effects like rectal bleeding, liver damage, deadly to a potential fetus or might cause my left leg to spontaneously fall off. When did we all become so okay with these side effects? Your health is the most important thing you have. If you aren’t healthy, talk to a health care professional that has a vested interest in your getting better. In my experience, this has been my chiropractor and nutritionist. They aren’t selling drugs so they have no reason to try to get me on drugs. Reading side effect warnings is like a horror story. They should get that guy that voiced Michael Jackson’s Thriller to read the side effects of that crap. And usually you have to take more medication to counter the original medication’s side effects.
If you don’t have to take medication, DON’T! If you are taking medication, I would highly suggest seeking out a professional person who can help you improve your health naturally now to start weaning yourself off that crap. Chiropractor, physical therapist, personal trainer, nutritionist, acupuncturist, maybe a really good doctor who’s open to getting you off the meds.
Seriously, I mean that. You can’t get another job if you’re health sucks. You can’t take care of your house, your family, your kids, your parents, your hobbies, your emotions or anything else without good physical health. These four are all related, by the way. Good emotional health leads to good physical health and vice versa. All these pieces are parts of the whole. You can’t neglect your emotions in pursuit of a goal without it having an effect on your body. Take care of your body. If your pursuit of whatever goal is totally making you unhealthy, quit it – NOW!
D) Spiritual – is your pursuit of something (person, relationship, thing, title, et al) making your sprit unhealthy? I recently wrote an entire post about integrity. The thing about integrity is, it’s not just honesty, it’s being complete and whole. What you pursue, from relationships to jobs, should be in line with your spirit and self. If you believe in being an environmentalist, don’t pursue a job with a company that doesn’t take care of the planet. That’s a pretty cliché, simple example, but you know what I mean. It doesn’t have to be that cut and dry, often it’s the gray areas that are the hardest to recognize and quit engaging in.
For instance, if you really like a girl or a guy, but after a few dates you realize they don’t believe in marriage or kids and you do (or vice versa they really want a family and you know that’s just not something you want) don’t go along with it. It’ll only mean disaster in the long run (also see earlier part about emotional health). If you are pursuing something that isn’t aligned with the whole of you, then stop! Quit. Give it up.
2. It Doesn’t Align With Your Integrity.
Speaking of integrity, if what you’re doing doesn’t line up with the kind of person you are (or the kind of person you’re aspiring to become) then quit pursuing it. Don’t pursue anything that takes you away from your integrity and spirit. Cultivate saying yes to the right things and no to the things that don’t align with the kind of character you’d like to have. Don’t do it. Quit.
Sometimes what we used to do or who we used to be, evolves. Usually this is for the better (at least I hope for you it is) and that can be confusing. Maybe you’ve lost a ton of weight (woohoo – physical health!) and are trying to be healthier. Maybe you’ve decided to pursue a new spiritual path, which meant leaving an old spiritual practice and community behind.It can be hard to leave the comfort of these previous pursuits and know when to give them up.
Let’s use the two examples I just gave. You lost a lot of weight, and now you find it more difficult to go out with some of the friends or family you frequently had relationships with before because they don’t support or understand your new lifestyle. This happens a lot and it’s hard to give up on old relationships. Maybe the hardest! But if they are making you unhealthy (see any of the ways listed in number one), then it just might be time to move on from those relationships. Or severely limit your exposure to them. If you talk to them about supporting your new healthy endeavors and they consistently don’t, or worse criticize or try to sabotage your new success, it’s time to give them up.
Or perhaps you are starting a new spiritual practice. This happened to me personally. I was raised a Mormon. Even spent my first two years of college at the Mormon private school BYU in Provo, Utah. I was very unhappy the whole time I was there. I felt confused by the conflicting various strains of religious “doctrine” that were being touted by all the student and teacher “experts” and I felt alone and like I had little to nothing in common with my fellow students.
I felt at odds with my surroundings all the time. Then all of the sudden one night I had an epiphany… This is supposed to be the pinnacle of my religion. I’m totally doing everything I’m “supposed” to be doing to be happy – I’m honest, abstinent, I don’t drink, I don’t do drugs, I get great grades, I’m healthy, I’m smart and I’m completely miserable. I was lonely and at great odds spiritually with my religious surroundings. This is not a rant against the Mormon church. Much of my family is still Mormon, I have dear, wonderful friends who are Mormon and I love them. There’s a lot of wonderful things about Mormonism, it’s just that it was not right for me anymore.
My own personal spiritual understanding was changing in ways that the religion couldn’t answer or comfort me anymore. And leaving that religion was very hard. I know my father was and still is very disappointed in me for leaving. As were my grandparents. In fact, my entire Mormon side of the family no longer has anything to do with me to this day, almost thirteen years later. My grandparents for all intents and purposes disowned me. My aunts and uncles and cousins all turned their backs. I lost 50% of my family over the years that followed my leaving that religion. But it just didn’t feel right anymore and I had to honor my personal spiritual health.
Sometimes when our lives evolve, we painfully have to leave behind relationships and things of the past. Those things and relationships no longer serve our evolving self in a healthy way, in a respectful way, in a loving and accepting way that’s inclusive. So if what you’re doing doesn’t align with your own wholeness, with your own integrity, you have to give it up. You have to walk away. And it will be hard. And you’ll lose relationships and friends and maybe even some family like me. But you’ll be being honest.
And the friends and family that truly love you, are still there for you. Even though I know it’s hard on my dad personally, to his credit with some time, he is still a big part of my life and loves me. You might go through some bumps, change is hard for everyone (not just you!) but the people that love you, like my dad does, will always love and support you. I still have wonderful friends from my Mormon upbringing and I love them, and they and their families love me. Those are relationships I treasure and keep. This is hard, but if what you’re pursuing or trying to “be” doesn’t align with your integrity, give it up.
3. Giving Up Teaches You Humility.
Sometimes giving up serves the purpose of teaching you to surrender; of teaching you humility. Not to be humiliated, but to be humble and realize, sometimes in this crazy life, there is just some shit we can’t control. I bet you wish you were born better looking, faster, richer or maybe smarter. I sometimes do. But giving up control over that has taught me that I have to surrender to life sometimes. I don’t know why that man I loved so much didn’t love me back. Or did but “couldn’t give me what I wanted.” If I think about it too much, it still stings. Everyone wants to be loved. Everyone wants to be needed and liked. I can’t control his life or his heart. He had to be true to his own emotional integrity and not say, “yes” to a commitment with a girl he surely did love for the wrong reasons. And I have to surrender to that.
We all want our own emotional, spiritual, financial and physical health, but we can’t have them at the expense of others. I’m sorry your friend is a schmuck. I am. I’m sorry that your boss decided she doesn’t like you anymore. That sucks. I’ve been there. I’m sorry that the boy or girl you love doesn’t love you back, that someone else got the promotion instead of you and that you lost your family when you left your religion or came out or whatever. That really freaking sucks. I actually do understand, literally, not just figuratively. I feel your pain.
But here are your two options for dealing with life’s occasional (because they are occasional – if you think they’re frequent, you need to start a serious gratitude practice) shitty situations:
1. Bang your head against a wall, drive yourself insane trying to figure out “why?” “why?” “why?” and get nowhere except exhausted, unhappy and frustrated.
- OR –
2. Practice the serenity prayer. It’s a simple statement, but not necessarily easy practice, and you don’t have to be religious to do it, but here it goes:
“God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things that I can; and wisdom to know the difference.”
I’m sure you’ve heard it before – but that’s a pretty powerful little mantra. It doesn’t mean sit on your kiester and do nothing. It doesn’t mean keep in frantic motion until you slam into a screen door and knock yourself unconscious. It means the wisdom, through honest self-assessment and daily practice, to know the difference between when to keep trying, and when to give up.
Or as Florence Welch says in one of her songs from Florence and the Machine, “I’m not giving up, I’m just giving in.”
Give-in when you need to. Surrender to the mysteries that we can’t change and don’t know. I’ll share with you this final quote that comforts me immensely in times of doubt or wondering whether to hold and fight, or fold and let go.
“Have patience with everything unresolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves as if they were locked rooms or books written in a very foreign language. Don’t search for the answers, which could not be given to you now, because you would not be able to live them. And the point is to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps then, someday far in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer.” — R.M. Rilke
I promise you that if you give some honest thought to situations or relationships you’re struggling with in the context of the tips above, you’ll know and trust yourself enough to know whether it’s time to give some things up. Or alter your approach.
And if it is, or if it isn’t, time to give up, as you continue to cultivate your life with integrity and follow the mantra of the serenity prayer, you will gradually live your way into the answers to all the questions you’re facing now.