Knowing When It’s Time To Give Up: Five Signs
“We must be willing to let go of the life we planned
so as to have the life that is waiting for us.”
― Joseph Campbell
The definition of insanity, according to Albert Einstein (who, for all of his smarts, wasn’t exactly a psychologist, but that’s beside the point), is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.
I’ll begrudgingly acknowledge that it took me a bit of time to take this little piece of wisdom to heart. I have always considered myself a hard-worker. But more than that, I considered myself tenacious. If there was something that I wanted, then I’ll be damned if I didn’t work my butt off to achieve it. This meant lots of long nights spent pouring over test notes, years spent cultivating friendships that I wanted sincerely to work out, and months (okay years) of extra time to make my graduate research just how I wanted it.
In behavioral terms, this kind of behavior was generally reinforced by my eventual success. I’d get the good grade or the accolades, and I’d pat myself on the back, noting how all of my tenacity had paid its dues. But what I failed to acknowledge in those moments of relief and pride was the personal cost that my ambition took.
It’s not all my fault, you see. We live in a culture that encourages success at all costs. Our world, the one that extends the length of our view at least, appears to be built upon our collective hard work, our struggle.
But what we lose in this relentless pursuit of self is often just that, our selves. All of that struggle leaves little space for rest or pleasure. So how do you know when it’s time to throw in the towel on something we’ve to which we’ve dedicated ourselves wholeheartedly?
When Your Heart Is Telling You To. It may sound obvious, but one major sign that it’s time to move on is when your heart – or gut, or mind, or intuition (however you want to think about it) – is sending you subtle or overt signals to that end. For most of us, our intuition usually starts as a whisper and builds to a roar. Suddenly, you find yourself less excited about the pursuit you’ve been working toward. Perhaps you even dread thinking about it. You start thinking about new ideas to cultivate and feel bitter that your current objective is preventing you from getting to explore these. These are all tell-tale signs that a change may be in order.
When Your Friends Are Telling You To. Sometimes our hearts aren’t really telling us anything, and that could be because we’ve been so single-minded about our goal that we can’t see beyond it. That’s the time that it’s important to start listening to the people who know and care about us. Whether a friend is telling you to give up on trying to master yesterday’s CrossFit workout, to ditch the relationship that’s just not working, or to stop buying lottery tickets, they usually are seeing something you don’t and have your best interest at heart. Listen well.
When You’re Always Struggling. As we’ve been ever trained to do, you have probably told yourself that all good things in life take hard work. Well, I call bluff. I think that often the things that are right for us are the ones that we approach with a sense of ease, the ones that bring us peace. I can honestly say that while my career is fast-paced and demanding, I often find myself forgetting that I’m “working.” When that happens, I know I’m in the right place. On the other hand, there are times that I start a blog post and I spend hours typing and deleting in between googling the topic, facebooking, and wondering what I’ll have for dinner. At some point, I usually realize that is just not the right time for this post. If it’s not flowing, it’s time to move on, at least for the time being.
When Your Physically, Emotionally, and/or Financially Depleted. When people do finally move on, whether from a job, a relationship, or a new year’s resolution, it’s often after something has granted them the clarity to see just how tired they are. A friend of mine stayed working in a job that she hated for far too long. She knew that the position and company were not right for her, but she’d learned in her family that loyalty to an employer is a high priority and that giving up was a sign of weakness. She was also scared as heck that she wouldn’t find something else. What finally made her make a move was when she realized that her hair was starting to fall out from all the stress. It took her level of anxiety getting to a point of her body malfunctioning to realize she needed a change. Don’t let it get to that point.
When Your Ambition is Negatively Influencing Other Objectives. Making commitments is great; it keep us grounded, focused, and, hopefully, energized in positive pursuits. However, when that focus becomes too constricted, suddenly our lives are narrowed into slender lines. Another friend of mine had decided to compete in a triathlon, and began putting her energy into training. She lived and breathed biking, running, and swimming, and she was getting stronger and faster by the day. She loved the physical activity and the excitement of working towards this achievement. But she also realized that she hadn’t seen her friends in months. Sore muscles and early morning trainings prevented her from socializing in the ways she wanted to. Her desire to start dating was put on the back burner and she found herself too tired to cook, read, or knit, other things that she liked to do. She did complete the race, and while she was quite proud of her accomplishment, she doubted whether it was worth how small her life had become.
Giving up on dream (the dream of a perfect relationship, a perfect job, or a perfect family), is one of the most painful things that we can do. But it’s often also one of the most important. If you’re still not sure, try visualizing what it would be like to give up. If in imagining this, you find yourself feeling calmer, lighter, or more peaceful, there’s your answer.