I stared at the email I’d received, a mild frown on my face as I re-read the paragraph on my screen.
“Have to respectfully disagree – I prefer to enable perseverance. Too bad if they don’t want to finish. They can have the option of restarting, or we can coach someone struggling for ideas. There’s no quitting/giving up!”
Enable perseverance. No quitting. No giving up. I wasn’t sure how I felt about that – but I knew it didn’t feel right.
“They” were a group of young girls who’d been working on building structures from packing peanuts. The girls’ artwork was a mishmash of haphazard bits glued together in questionable construction. Some structures were lopsided, some had melted from over-application of water, and some were just long chains with no real structure at all.
I thought the activity was a wash and should be put to a group vote – would the girls like to finish working on their structures, or should we move on to other things? This made sense to me… but not to my co-leader, who believed in perseverance above all.
Later the same evening, my youngest daughter sighed that she was tired of building a large castle in Minecraft and felt like giving up, but wasn’t sure if she should.
“What’s the problem?” I asked, and she answered that her castle just wasn’t working out as she’d planned. It was also taking too long, and she was tired of it. She’d rather work on something different instead, but she didn’t want to be a quitter.
“Well, that’s fine,” I answered. “There’s nothing wrong with stopping, you know. You don’t HAVE to finish anything just because you started it. In fact, sometimes quitting can be the best decision of all.”
That flies in the face of all parenting advice today. We’re told to teach kids to stick with it, to finish what they’ve begun, to persevere to the end. No quitting! Never give up!
Perseverance is a good trait to nurture. You shouldn’t immediately give up the second the going gets tough. You shouldn’t quit just because something doesn’t go your way or isn’t working out the way you’d like it to.
But sometimes society takes ‘don’t give up’ a little too far. In some cases, not knowing when to quit can be detrimental to your financial, professional and mental health.
Consider hopeful business owners who enter the Dragon’s Den or Shark Tank looking for investors. The premise is that these business owners need partners or money to help their business grow, and they can pitch potential investors a deal that exchanges equity in the business, royalties on sales or a combination of both in exchange for money.
Investors sometimes ask the hopeful business owners how much of their own money they’ve invested to date. More often than not, the answers are heartbreaking.
These business owners frequently sink everything they own into their dreams and ideas. They want so badly to believe that with just a little more, they’ll achieve success. They’ve convinced themselves to the point that they empty their retirement savings, sell their homes, borrow from friends and family, strain relationships, get divorced, and pour thousands (sometimes millions) of dollars into sheer perseverance.
They have nothing left. But by god, they’ll never give up.
Where do these “never give up” people come from? Perhaps their well-intentioned parents wanted to teach their kids about commitment, dedication and perseverance, and they unknowingly drove the “don’t be a quitter” message home in all sorts of ways. Or maybe as adults these people got hooked on the self-help and personal development websites that spread the ‘believe in yourself; pursue your dream’ message around the world.
Stick with it. Work harder. Give it your all.
Never give up.
It’s a shame that giving up is often seen as reproachable, even shameful. We’re infused with the message that stopping what you’ve started is a bad thing to do. People are encouraged to see it through, no matter how hard, tough, difficult or complicated the situation.
I see and hear it from people all the time: “I have to see this through,” they say. “I can’t give up on my dream.”
Yes. Yes, you can – and sometimes that can be the best decision of all. When you’ve poured all your time, money and energy into projects that just aren’t taking off, it can be beneficial to give yourself permission to stop the madness. You never want to reach the point where you’re exhausted, broke and hanging on by a thread.
Don’t get me wrong. I am all for people following their dreams. I want my family, my children, my friends, my clients, and my peers to pursue their goals, and I wish them all the best success. I believe in trying, and pushing, and sticking with ideas or projects even when the going is tough.
If my kid signs up for a local sports team, I make sure she knows she has to give it a fair shot for the 10-week duration. If my teen makes a commitment, I remind her that she needs to keep her word, and follow it through.
But I’ve also allowed kiddo to quit an activity that’s making her miserable. I’ve told my teen that it’s okay to back out of a commitment that left her exhausted and in tears. I firmly believe that if something isn’t working out, and you’ve given it a fair shot, you can – and probably should – give up.
Teaching our kids to know when it’s appropriate to quit is important. Teaching ourselves the same as adults is positive. Giving yourself permission to walk away from something that isn’t working out after you’ve given it a fair shot can be extremely healthy, even relieving. You can move on to different and better things, guilt free.
Quitting isn’t reproachable. It means you’re making a change.
And change is often the most beneficial decision of all.