On Giving Up
Or, “Sisyphus comes to his senses”
In this blog post, I will attempt to share some of my current thoughts and related ideas on “quitting”.
“Never give up” is timeless advice. Similar advice is offered in countless phrases such as “Quitters never win, and winners never quit”, “Persistence is a virtue”, “Giving up is easy”, and “Don’t take no for an answer”. And “quitting” often has negative connotations. Most contemporary advice condemns “quitting” as wrong or bad and equates it with “failure”. But, is this advice always proper?
If the advice is intended to motivate (stimulate interest or enthusiasm) or encourage (to provide support or confidence), then perhaps it is proper. Perhaps inspiration or persuasion is exactly what is wanted or needed for some particular person or situation.
But, if the advice is offered as an absolute (a value or principle which is regarded as universally valid or which may be viewed without relation to other things) and is intended to mean “never, ever quit under any circumstances”, then perhaps it is improper. Why? There are many reasons...
But one important reason is: your health. Researchers Gregory E. Miller and Dr. Carsten Wrosch spent over a decade investigating the effects of persistence versus giving up (what they call “goal disengagement”). Their studies have shown that persistence beyond reason may actually undermine well-being and good health, and that realignment of goals and priorities followed by goal reengagement can have the opposite effect. If a goal is truly unattainable, then continued persistence might be foolish (lacking in good sense or judgement) and can have adverse effects.
So then, is persisting or quitting right or wrong? Which is good and which is bad? While there might sometimes be value in persisting, there might also sometimes be value in quitting. Therefore, as with many things, the answer to all these questions is “it depends”. The decision to stop or continue should be made on a case-by-case basis.
And so, perhaps more reasonable advice is “Know your limits” or “Cut your losses”. Or, from “The Gambler” by Kenny Rogers, “Know when to hold ‘em, know when to fold ‘em”. This advice neither condemns or commends “persistence” or “quitting”, but rather advocates “reason” when faced with a difficult challenge.
In My Experience, when I’m considering whether or not to continue or quit pursuing a goal that I have tried - but thus far failed - to achieve, instead of blindly listening to unqualified advice and following cultural or societal expectations, I try to carefully consider and reassess my goals, my circumstances, my past efforts, my future plans, and much more in order to come to a reasonable decision. And, if I do decide to quit, I understand that I've made a reasoned decision, which helps me feel better.