Do you believe in ‘never give up’?

Do you believe in 'never give up'?

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.

Post by James Chartrand

James Chartrand is an expert copywriter and the owner of Men with Pens and Damn Fine Words, the game-changing writing course for business owners. She loves the color blue, her kids, Nike sneakers and ice skating.

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  1. Hi James,

    You’re absolutely right – “Quitting isn’t reproachable. ”

    In their book, The Power of Full Engagement, Loehr and Schwarz describe a quality called anacoluthia – mutual entailment of the virtues. According to the Stoics, no virtue is a virtue by itself; all virtues are entailed and have to be balanced with other virtues. For example, honesty without compassion becomes cruelty, perseverance without wisdom turns into blind rigidity, and so on.

    One of the key principles in mindfulness practice is to master the difference between giving up and letting go. It’s perhaps the hardest lesson to learn because we tend to cling and become attached to our views, desires, and dreams.

    • That’s a very interesting theory that I think has good merit, Rohi. It makes perfect sense to balance a trait (or virtue) with another for harmony.

      And I agree with you that it’s a difficult lesson to learn – when to let go and move on. But I also think it’s one of the most powerful undertakings we can ever go through, because we learn more about when we’re giving up just because it got a bit tough, and when we should let go because it’s time.

    • Well written Rohi! It’s the clinging to what’s pleasant and resisting what’s unpleasant that causes pain and suffering. Letting go can be liberating with a chance to begin again. Also, make sure there’s enough cheese at the end of the tunnel! Persistence for persistence’ sake is unwise.

  2. Quitting is a fair decision and in fact a balanced one when you feel that you have put in a fair amount of your resources and effort and things are not turning out not only just as you wanted but nothing near to that also as a consolation.

    Quitting at the right time also leaves you with no regret of putting all eggs in one basket.

    • Regret is something I see often – people hook onto dreams that they can’t or won’t fulfill, ever… for whatever reason… and they feel guilty and sad and miserable because of that. Not because they didn’t achieve their dream! But rather because they’ve gotten hooked onto the ‘I’m a failure because I never saw this through’, and can’t seem to get out of that rut.

      Having no regrets often means letting go of something and feeling okay with that. There are many decisions in life I let go on, and many goals I didn’t reach, and I know that not seeing them through WAS the right choice for me. No regrets (and no guilt!)

  3. This is such a creative and important article James!

    I agree with your advice and the many good points you make.

    Seldom have I quit anything in my life but two BIG things come to mind and in both instances it was right for me to end the study and project and move on. When I did I was free and open to other opportunities which presented themselves and satisfied me even more, as well as helped me grow and learn and live life in a much happier way.

    Giving your all is essential, as you say, and then it may be time to explore and discover new things.

    Thank you for the careful way you write about this.

    My very best – Michael

    • Believe me, I wrote this a week ago and felt a nervous stab every time I thought of this post going live, specifically because it’s such a controversial idea.

      But you’ve nailed it: the freedom that comes from letting go of an unattainable or ‘not working out’ dream is… well, so good and healthy. It can be extremely relieving to let go of the guilt and move on, and suddenly the world opens up full of OTHER (and often better) things you can do.

  4. This is such an important lesson. One I’ve certainly learned the hard way over the years.

    There have been far too many times where we’ve stayed in unhealthy relationships way too long, stayed in a career or job too long, or stuck with an approach or strategy for too long. For what? For the sake of sticking it out, persevering through the good times and bad, with the hopes that things will get better.

    But the reality is that we must always understand what our ultimate objective is – and regularly evaluate what we’re doing to find out if it is really contributing to our ultimate goal or not. For me – that means learning that I cannot be so fixed that something has to work out a certain way. I’ve got to allow myself the freedom to make a different choice if something is no longer working for me. Something that means not doing something anymore, and sometimes it just means doing it in a different way. It’s quite a liberating and powerful feeling.

    I hope many others learn this lesson!

    • That’s exactly it, Sonia – we should (I feel) try and give it our best shot, but do some frequent checking in with ourselves. “Am I making progress? Do I still feel good about this? Am I getting closer to where I want to be? Is this working out?”

      I think if at any point there’s a “no” or an “I don’t feel good anymore”, then it’s definitely time to re-evaluate our goals and pursuits, and course correct. Even if that means giving up for something new completely!

  5. I completely agree James, walking away doesn’t equate to quitting or failing. And sometimes it takes far more strength to admit that despite all your hard work and perseverance, it just isn’t working. We all need to learn to recognise when walking away actually means seeing the reality of a situation – persevering out of sheer stubbornness is just self torture sometimes!

    • “It takes far more strength to admit that despite all your hard work and perseverance, it just isn’t working.” That’s VERY true, actually.

      I’d even go so far to say that this may be what prevents people from giving up when they should in the first place. Facing the truth can often be painful or difficult, and most people avoid those feelings like the plague. (Naturally. We’re all human!)

      But as they say, adversity makes us stronger, so I think we become better human beings for finding that strength and moving on to better pastures.

  6. Hey James
    This is an interesting topic, one which I agree with and have a personal experience in.

    To a lot of people it is easier to stick with something that isn’t working, even though they have no chance of success it takes more courage to make a change.

    Before I started my current business, I had an online sports supplements company. To cut a long story short, it never really took off.

    For 2 years I blindly poured all the money I had into it with the hope of making it big, I tried any strategy or new marketing tactic that I could get my hands on and it still made no difference.
    In the end I decided that I could no longer take the mental and financial strain and shut it down.

    That was one of the hardest decisions I have ever made.

    In the end it was the right decision especially since I manage to learn something from it. I had learned many different skills and discovered qualities about myself that I didn’t think that I had.

    So yes it’s definitely all right to quit if you can see things are not working out, the reward we get from that is the incredible learning experiences. I agree with Shauna that sometimes it takes a lot more strength to walk away then to try maintain something that just isn’t working out.

    I personally would rather try and fail miserably than play it safe and not try at all.


    • I’m glad to hear that you managed to get out of a bad situation before it ruined you! I’m positive it did take a lot of courage and sorting through the emotions to make that decision, but as you say, we learn from these things.

      I firmly believe that there’s something to be gained from every negative, and that every negative is a positive in disguise. After all, there’s no such thing as failure… there are only learning experiences.

  7. Hi James,

    There is wisdom in knowing when to stop or change direction.

    Perhaps it’s when we impose a structure, or invest ourselves too much in a specific outcome, that we lose site of what’s really important, and what’s not.

    Just being able to step out of the picture, so to speak, and size up a situation can provide more options. And a different outcome.

    May be it’s about letting go of self-imposed expectations?

    I have to be careful about this. It’s not easy to do. It’s a quality I admire, and I think it’s very healthy.

    • That’s a good point, Alison – self-imposed expectations can become the real ball and chain, can’t they! It reminds me of a time when I made a commitment to a group and quickly realized that I didn’t enjoy it, didn’t want to be there, didn’t get anything out of it… but damn. My self-expectation that “you must always honor your word and commitments” kept me there far, far longer than I should have been.

      Sometimes easing up on what we expect of ourselves and giving ourselves permission to be human is the best gift ever.

      • I’m in that exact position right now.
        Two of my friends assumed I would take on the responsibility of coordinating their 3-month coaching course for college students without asking me directly.
        I’m gradually and tactfully easing myself out after finding a suitable replacement.
        Thankfully, they don’t feel I’ve let them down though they are disappointed.
        Sometimes we have to use “skillful means” before others can let go of their expectations. 🙂

  8. I give up stuff all the time … you have to be good at deciding what matters and what doesn’t matters. Like my marriage matters, being a world class writer, not so much. But being a world-class writer matters to me more than learning how to sing … so I keep my day job. 😀

  9. This is a great article… I know sometimes we take a path to get to a goal, but if there is a wall in the middle of the path, and we tried every workable solution to break through that wall. And there’s no progress. Then maybe there’s another path to take. Nothing wrong with that.

    I bowl more gutter balls, than a little bit. Bowling is not the best use of my energy.

    I wish my children will quit Minecraft. They are building a castle made of diamonds and gold. As-of this writing the villagers raided the castle.. seems like a pursuit in vanity..:)

    • Love the bowling analogy. That sums it up perfectly, I think!

      As for Minecraft… I keep telling myself it’s a valid teaching tool for future engineers. It provides me with at least SOME solace!

  10. I understand why quitting is viewed negatively, (its that old ‘you can’t achieve if you don’t believe’ mantra). I don’t agree with the negativity surrounding the word, though.

    For me personally, quitting is simply taking a step back and trying to find a fresh new approach towards achieving your dreams.

  11. James, thanks for this great post. I think Americans in particular are caught up in the myth of the rugged individual, the cowboy, the go-it-alone persona that built the country from sea to shining sea. Anything less than absolute commitment and ultimate success would seem to indicate weakness according to this mentality. And while the United States may often be perceived as a successful experiment in nation-building from some very dedicated individuals (the colonial militias that defeated the British army, the pioneers who forged westward despite the presence of “savage” Indians), and while it is a nation that rewards extremism in many forms, it does not always reward wisdom or thoughtfulness in a manner that might make someone decide, at a certain point, that commitment to a particular cause may not be beneficial anymore. That takes bravery of another kind, but that kind is not so often heralded. Thanks for breaking through a cultural stigma and making a solid argument that distinguishes between giving up and moving on.

  12. Instead of giving up, how about “moving on,” if you lose interest in a project, even if it’s moving on to become a couch potato. In time that will likely bore you also and you’ll move on again, maybe back to something we’ve been working on or maybe onto something new. It took me around four years each to finish both of my novels. Both times I quit for a while when, for various reasons, it got too hard. I finally persevered both times because I came back and read what I’d written and decided it was good enough to finish.

    Or how about “learning,” as your daughter did on her project when she lost interest and realized she was no longer into it.

    As humans we are too hard on ourselves. There’s no harm in quitting when we have our best interests at heart. Being bored is a sign to quit what we’re doing and find something that excites us. That’s what life is all about.

  13. Great post! It is important to not only learn perseverance, but also when to stop ‘throwing good money after bad’ (whether the ‘money’ is cash or your time and energy).

    Thanks for this great post!

  14. Hmm, I’m not sure how I feel about your view in this post.
    I think, in large part, calculation and planning should play a major role in a persons decision to quit or keep at it. I agree chasing your dream is not always worth depleting your bank account however, if you have a solid plan that calculates the ups and downs, then why not go for it? The road to success is not easy.
    Take for example the beginner writer. That little doubt demon will show up at every pass telling them to quit because their story sucks. Should they? I don’t think so at all. I teach a writer should never give up or give in to the negative thoughts that WILL come around.
    I’d like to know your views on writing. Do you think writers should give up when doubt about their story creeps in, or should they persevere?

  15. Hi well i think i agree with susan rather then giving up moving on is a better way to look at .

    As long as you have given it your best then maybe time to move on !!!


  16. I love this post, because it makes me pause and think, so thank you James.

    We always want to make a rule.

    “Never give up! Give it six months and then move on. Don’t start until you are 100% ready”

    It doesn’t matter what angle you take, the process is pretty much the same. We make rules so we don’t have to think, so that we don’t have to live in the moment, so that we don’t have to do the really hard work of asking ourselves painful questions.

    Are we giving up because we are afraid? Or are we letting go because we are determined NOT to let our hubris dominate the landscape?

    Are we moving forward out of dedication and self belief OR are we holding on because of deeply held fear of failure?

    It’s a moment by moment decision — if you want the right answer then you have to be prepared to listen.


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