I have given up many times in my life. I have given up on relationships. I have given up on jobs. I have given up on acting. I have given up on ideas. I have given up on drawings. I have given up on photography. I have given up on novels and screenplays and writing in general. I have given up on plans and goals and aspirations. I have given up on friends. I have given up on myself.
What drives us to give up on things that once we were determined to succeed at? And is giving up ever the right thing to do?
Why we give up
There are many reasons why we might find ourselves considering giving up on something. For instance:
- We have carefully explored all the possibilities, and it is clear that the situation cannot or should not be salvaged.
- We are facing pressure and/or stress from outside sources.
- We don’t believe in ourselves and our abilities.
- We feel that others are better than us/smarter that us/more knowledgeable that us and that we cannot compete.
- We are bored.
- We have lost interest, or did not have a great enough interest in the first place.
- We are discouraged because our expectations have not been met.
Some of these reasons are positive, and some are negative.
If you are in a relationship for instance, and you can think of more reasons to leave than reasons to stay, and you have explored every possibility to the point where you know that nothing is changeable, then giving up is probably a smart choice.
If we truly find something boring, there is little sense in continuing as life is meant to be enjoyed, therefore I will say, perhaps controversially, that boredom is a good reason to give up.
If we have lost interest in something, we must ask why, and decide if that interest can be revived, or if it was ever strong enough to be sustained in the first place, if not, then giving up is a reasonable and healthy choice.
On the other hand, we should never allow the opinions of others to influence us to give up on something if in our heart of hearts we know they are wrong. Giving up because someone else has told you it is “pointless” or that you will, “never make it”, is a terrible reason to quit.
If we don’t believe in ourselves, or believe that others are better and smarter of better able to succeed than us, then it is imperative we do not give up under any circumstances, and instead work to address the issue of why. The we must learn to change this self limiting belief or we will never we successful at anything. Self limiting beliefs guarantee failure from the start.
The number one reason we give up
Without exception, the number one reason we give up on anything is because we are discouraged.
Discouragement is the result of our expectations not being met within the time-frame we expected. The problem is, and it’s a big one, is that we usually do not know what to expect, or our expectations are not realistic.
This is not a failing on our part, we live in a world that breeds unrealistic expectations. In fact, unrealistic expectations are the norm.
Infomercials promise us 8 weeks to a better body, and suggest that we’ll be able to cook an entire meal using a dinky plastic cup with a razor blade in it. Magazines show us images of tanned bikini babes and muscle-bound jocks without a word about how hard they worked for those bodies, or how many flaws were removed by Photoshop wizards. Celebrities appear out of nowhere, that they spent years toiling to get there is rarely clear. Heck, these days people even meet and supposedly fall in love during the course of a few weeks on a (stupid) TV show.
We live in a result focused society. The journey is rarely discussed.
The missing element of the how-to guide
Faced with overwhelming confusion we turn to how-to guides and self-help books for advice. We eagerly swallow it up, and the more ambitious among us quickly put the advice into action and then…
…well, we often end up more discouraged than ever.
Why is this?
Because all the books, magazines, websites and magic maps that promise to teach us how to do anything generally forget to tell us how long it will, or should take. If we do not know how long something should take, then we have no benchmark by which to measure our success or failure.
Imagine being asked to drive from one city to another. You aren’t told how far away it is, and your car is stripped of it’s gauges. The only thing you’re told is that you need to turn left twice, then go on straight for a while until you pass the factory on the left, at which point, you should veer right and continue to your destination. You’re a little nervous, but the directions seems simple enough so you agree to give it a go.
But as you’re driving you discover there are no road signs either. You make the first left turn, but soon lose sense of where you are or how far you’ve gone. You being to doubt yourself, you become convinced you missed a turn somewhere. It feels like you’ve been driving forever, shouldn’t you have reached your destination by now? You become increasingly discouraged and doubtful about your ability to make it to your destination, and eventually, you turn around and go back.
You gave up because of a lack of feedback. You had no measure of your progress, and without such a measure your natural human tendency towards self-doubt kicked in and you concluded that adequate progress had not been made.
I can share a personal example of this phenomenon in action.
Years ago I decided that I wanted to learn guitar. I could not really afford lessons at the time, so I resolved that I would learn from a book. The book I purchased came highly recommended by the staff at the music shop. It was the Hal Leonard Guitar Method. Indeed, the book did an excellent job of teaching me the how of playing guitar. It was broken down into baby steps, and the diagrams were clear and easy to follow. I worked my way through the first few lessons with ease.
And then I hit a wall.
At a certain point the book started into more difficult lessons, and I was now finding myself taking longer and longer to make anything musical result from my playing. I started to wondering if it should be taking this long, and the self-doubt kicked in. I felt like I wasn’t making progress because I didn’t know how much progress I should be making. The book that did so well explaining the how, didn’t even mention the how long. All it had were vague statements like, “practice this until you feel comfortable”. But the problem was I never felt comfortable, and in the absence of real-time feedback, or at least an adequate “time-frame guideline”, I was unable to stick with it long enough to find success with the guitar.
Having reasonable expectations is the key to not giving up
Gurus. I am not always crazy about the gurus.
The honest gurus will tell you what they did without any hesitation (the dishonest ones will avoid telling you what they did for fear of sharing their secret formula, or because they haven’t actually done anything, and placate you with vague “suggestions”). They might even tell you how they did it. But they will almost never tell you how long it took them.
Think about it. What’s more marketable? Ten Easy Steps To Success or Work Your Ass Off And Stay Focused For Success?
Obviously the former as it plays to our innate laziness and desire for the quick fix. But what happens when we apply those ten easy steps to something and it doesn’t work?
You got it. We end up discouraged.
At this point the question we should be asking is, “what is that guru not telling me?”, but what we usually do instead is start asking, “what is wrong with me? How come he can do it, but I can’t? Why can’t I get this? My idea must not be good enough.”
I’m not saying you shouldn’t listen to those who have come before. What I am saying is that you have to remember that none of their success happened overnight, regardless of how they might portray it.
Being told is easy has the same effect as being told it’s hard
Unreasonable expectations come in both flavours. We can unreasonably expect things to be easier than they are, and we can unreasonably expect them to be harder than they are.
As an example of the former, during the Vancouver 2010 Olympics, the U.S. Olympic Committee apparently received countless phone calls from excited Americans who had just seen curling for the first time on TV. They said it looked easy, and wanted to know how to try out for the team. Had these people actually tried curling, they may well have ended up very discouraged if they discovered it was far more difficult than they assumed.
But being told something is too hard without qualifications can be equally discouraging. Let’s suppose you are an artistic minded person. There is a very good chance that someone at some time in your life had told you that you can never make a living from your art, that it will be too hard, and that you should give up and do something sensible. You may have taken this advice and tried something “sensible” only to find that “hard” too. It might have been something your artistic mind just wasn’t designed to do, but now you’ve failed both as an artist, and as a “sensible person” and you’re doubly discouraged. In our society you hear about the starving artist all the time, but never about the starving lawyer, or the starving salesman, but I can assure you, there are plenty of them too.
Having unreasonable expectations about how difficult something is is every bit as damaging to your success as unreasonably expecting it to be easy.
Unreasonable expectations lead to a lack of focus
When our expectations are unreasonable, or we do not receive adequate feedback for our efforts, we tend to throw in the towel early and try something else in hopes of better luck.
If only luck were the problem.
If you dug a hole for a well 20 feet into the ground and didn’t find water, would you then move ten feet east and start all over? Or would you keep drilling another 10 feet down until you did find water?
Don’t give up, get your expectations in check
Whatever are of life you are considering giving up on, stop.
Are you giving up because you are certain it is the right thing to do, or because you have had unreasonable expectations? If you are breaking up with someone because they have a certain trait or habit that bothers you, ask yourself how likely the next person you meet is to have that same trait? If you are thinking of giving up on a business idea because it’s not making money, ask yourself if it’s the idea that’s the problem, or your expectations surrounding it?
Whenever you are considering giving up, ask yourself the following questions:
- Am I giving up because I am sure it is the right thing to do, or because I am discouraged?
- Am I discouraged because my expectations are not realistic?
- What would be more realistic expectations?
If you don’t know the answers, find out.