The subtle art of giving up
Updated: Jun 2, 2021
Perseverance they say is the biggest virtue. A sure shot way to success and glory. We could open up any book of inspiration and it talks about how never to give up and how to always continue what you started as success might just be around the corner.
I agree that’s a very sane advice. The hard work and the persistence will help us climb the hardest of the mountains. However, in life there is never a one size fits all solution.
I was once speaking to a very senior army personnel. I asked him how he inspired his soldiers to ‘never give up’ and he very calmly responded that he never told them that. He said that bravery is never about not giving up. A brave man takes cognisance of the situation, weighs his odds and the decided the best course of action. In a situation, if he was outnumbered by his enemy and low on ammunition, he would rather retreat, equip himself, get help and then move forward.
A mountaineer would halt and wait if he knows there is a storm brewing ahead. A pilot would divert the plane instead of attempting to land in bad weather. Even an animal gives up a chase and looks for another prey.
It is true that working hard and consistently is necessary. We cannot give up our goals and dreams at the first sight of an obstacle nor can we be disheartened by failure. However, there is a need to understand the balance. There is a difference between persisting at a goal and being blindly rigid to a path that is not leading us anywhere.
I have seen a lot of people persist at something even though they are obviously not enjoying it or it is causing them distress, just because they feel that giving up would mean that they are a failure.
Does choosing to not continue doing a thing mean failure? Is it failure if take a rational informed decision after weighing all odds?
No one talks of giving up. No one tells us its okay to not persist at something. In fact it is frowned upon. A sports star does not give up, a famous movie star persists at his work, a scientist kept at his work till he made a discovery. True! However, lets look closely. The sports star did give on a particular style of playing which was causing him to lose the game. Maybe the movie star gave up on a particular genre and took up roles that suited him. The scientist gave up on the procedure that was not giving him the desired results. The adventurist gave up on the path which was leading nowhere and found another road. A mathematician, when working on a problem, tries different formulae to arrive at a solution rather than persisting to the one he/she started with.
One of the signs of intelligence is the ability to adapt to a particular situation by trying various alternatives. Giving up does not mean completely giving up on the goal. It just means giving up on the alternative that is not working.
Let us say we start to drive on a particular route and then find out that there is a blockage on that road. Should we persist on that route or go back and try another route. We give up on the blocked route not on the destination.
Let us say we choose an academic field or a job profile. After a while we realise that it is not giving us what we expected. Not because of lack of effort on our part (this needs to be very clear to us) but because it does not interest us or we do not have the skill/ aptitude for it. If I wake up every morning not wanting to go to college or work, if it seems more of an ordeal and is ultimately affecting my efficiency and health, should I not look for another option? Here we are probably giving up on one career or academic option not the goal of having a satisfying career or education.
Take the matter of a relationship. Any kind of relationship. Yes, its true that you give your hundred percent to a relationship. Try your best to make it work, to find a middle ground or to resolve the differences. However, at some point of time we need to realise that our hundred percent may not be enough. We need to accept that the relationship is probably detrimental to both the people involved and is turning toxic. There is a limit to persisting and we need to recognise a point where it starts getting unhealthy. We give up on that relationship not our ability to form newer and healthier ones.
The next obvious question is how do we decide at which point to turn back? Who or rather how to decide that we have tried enough and it is alright to give up. The answer probably is very personal but to put it in simple words of a commerce person ' when you are putting in more than you are getting in return'.
In the ancient world slaves were people who were supposed to work tirelessly without getting anything in return. They had to persist at the task irrespective of mental and physical exhaustion. They were bound to their masters even though it caused them distress and frustration. Slavery was eventually abolished as it was seen as a violation of basic human rights.
But have we continued the tradition of slavery? Have we become slaves because of our belief that we can not give up on something even if it is causing is obvious distress? Have we taken away our own freedom to say no to something we do not want because it will be seen as failure? Have we become slaves to the society's perception of giving up as a sign of weakness?
It is not always possible to give up immediately. It may not be possible to give up completely. But it is possible to stop looking at yourself as a failure for wanting that choice. Giving up is not easy. It is almost as difficult as persisting. It is a process. A process which begins with accepting that it is okay to give up on somethings. A process which begins with convincing oneself that giving up is not a reflection of failure but a reflection of a greater will in doing what is best for me.