When Is It Okay To Give Up?
My oldest child absolutely hates practicing piano. Honestly, the demands are small. As his teacher, I only ask that he practice three times a week for ½ an hour. Not nearly enough time to truly excel - just enough time to learn a few skills that hopefully he will carry with him, maybe even enjoy one day. Ben’s favorite phrase, upon encountering a measure or two of music that he finds challenging, is to utter “I give up”. Sometimes he utters it. Oftentimes, he shouts it. As if I, the life coach in the house, am going to rush to his side and say “Ok sweetheart. These 7 notes are very tricky. I can see that. You can stop practicing this song now and end your lesson right here.”
Surely there are examples in life that are absolutely good reasons to give up. What are the situations that we encounter that we actually should be giving up on instead of continuing to push through? Isn’t it possible that in some cases giving up is just the right thing to do?
There is such disdain out there in the world for giving up. We are told, and likely have been told for much of our lives, that giving up is simply unacceptable.That is what weak people do. That is what losers do. Giving up is what quitters do. And the last thing we want to be known for in this world is being a quitter. So we just aren’t allowed to give up without feeling pretty terrible when we do.
That doesn’t seem fair at all. Why should we be vilified for giving up when we have decided it is time to do so? I give up reading a book that 50 pages in still doesn’t grab my attention. I give up trying to keep the floor space in our basement completely clear of toys because as soon as I tidy, the kids pull them out for the next big project in their minds. I have given up a major in college because it bored me to tears, and I have given up trying to win back a boyfriend who declared he was done with our relationship. I mean, giving up in all of these cases was the right thing to do. Why? Because it allowed me to stop chasing something out of my control and put my life and my feelings back IN my control. You can call me a quitter or a loser, but it doesn’t really apply here. GIving up represented the greater good in my life.
Giving up can actually be very powerful. Think about it. If you decide to take something on, and then you decide to walk away from it, that is your personal power at work. No one deciding for you. No one dictating what is best for you in this moment. Giving up is not surrender, but acceptance. And there should never be anything wrong with that. Other people having anything to say about what you do, or don’t do, doesn’t matter. They can judge. But what a waste of their time to do so. And what a waste of yours. Give up what needs to go and be done with it.
While I can think of many things we should be willing to give up on - bad relationships, toxic friendships, drinking corked wine, keeping white socks clean, teaching my kids to brush their teeth without getting toothpaste on the faucet handles - there are a plenty of things I feel should never be dumped in the trash bin. I would never endorse giving up on hope, or scientific advances that will save us and the planet, the power of one to change the world, our dreams, or most importantly, ourselves and the opportunity we have each day to thrive. Some things transcend giving up or giving in. Some things are worthy of the epic and continual battles that carry on throughout life.
So maybe there is a solution. From now on, aside from the obvious losing battle scenarios that are worthy of ditching from our lives, we aren’t going to give up until we can say that we actually tried. We are going to believe that by continuing to work for what we want, or finish what we started, or reach that distant goal, we are better for it. The work involved with not giving in makes us better, whether we reach that end result we intended or not. Not giving up isn’t so much about showing others that we have the guts to keep going - it’s about showing ourselves that we can persist.
Just like giving up looks different for each of us, so does trying. I can’t tell anyone else their upper limit for trying their hardest. I do know, from a lifetime of struggling to do a single damn push up, that we are definitely stronger than we think. We have more power in us than we ever bother to use and once in a while, when we push ourselves, we find that we can rise above our expectations. Be it push-ups or business goals or life journeys - actually trying before we give up is what we owe to ourselves. We never get to experience that strength and that power if we give up before we have even tried.
Giving up can and should be the very last resort. After having exhausted all other avenues and options, there should be no shame in walking away, whatever that means. It might mean letting someone go. It might be letting someone back into your heart. It might be stopping a project, no matter how much you have already invested. If and only if we have actually tried can we give up without any regrets. If we feel a deep tug of regret or even, egads - that thing called judgement - that’s likely just us trying to tell us that we haven’t yet given it our all and we should reconsider.
I love the sound of the piano in the background while I’m making dinner or cleaning the house. I can hear Ben stop and start again at some of the tricky parts. I’m really proud of him for sticking with it despite not loving the discipline of practice. He will figure it out. Or he won’t. And I’m more than ready for his next outburst, declaring that he is going to give up piano. I’ll say “you absolutely, positively should go ahead and get rid of your piano books and give up…..after you have actually tried.” He’s not gonna like that at all.