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Ashley Solomon, Psy.D is a psychologist who specializes in the treatment of eating disorders, body image, trauma, and serious mental illness.

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Knowing When It’s Time To Give Up: Five Signs

July 10, 2012 7 Comments by Ashley @ Nourishing the Soul

“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.

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6 Comments

  1. PTC
    2 years ago

    I had two times in my life where I had to stop what I was doing because it was making me miserable. Once was when I was heading into college and training for my sport that I was going to play there. It was recruited and was getting a scholarship. I got to pre-season and was miserable. I thought it was just because it was my first time away and it was new, etc. It got worse as the season went on and I was hoping that I would get injured so I wouldn’t have to do this anymore. I stuck it out the entire season. I didn’t like the school or playing on that team but I felt like I was stuck because I was getting a scholarship to play. I went back to school for the second semester, checked my voicemail and there was one from my coach about practice. My mood instantly changed. I stuck it out for two more weeks and quit the team. I had never quit anything before, and with this there was money on the line. I had so many emotions going on. Ugh.

    The second time was with me “dream job,” or so I thought. It was what I wanted to do my entire life and when I got there, it wasn’t what I thought it would be. I got to that point where I wanted to hurt myself so I wouldn’t have to go to work. I thought, “If my hand was broken, I can’t work.” I ended up leaving the job. I sort of feel like I was a failure for giving up on both those things, but I guess I have to do what’s right and going to make me happier.
    PTC recently posted..The scary shake

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  2. MJ
    2 years ago

    I’ve read your blog over the last hour contemplating perceptions, amitions, desires, and rewards. I felt the loyalty thing because the company had been good to us, more importantly the location was close by. When I was young I adapted to demands that included working nights and weekends. Some of the rewards of being a photojounalist of meeting people and new experiences were dampened by a growing and almost intolerable schedule of appointments and production timeline. Comparable to the carrot on the string in front of a mule or the greyhound chasing a rabbit it will never catch. As senior photographer, unfinished work found my station in forms of notes, e-mails and personal appearances of the editor of must do business. I struggled with falling behind pondering what others may have thought (hint-lack of concentration) even though I was busy. Over the years with the support of a strong and loving wife I battlled alcoholism, heart disease, and prostate cancer. At this time with bitter and selfish resolution I wished something would happen to take me out of the equation of my own inflicted misery. Trying to prepare for the inevitable as my colleagues were laid off, I resigned to ride this bad boy of a job until the wheels fell off or I hit the wall. Many days I went in early and just sat in my car instead of at home (that was the safe zone) thinking about the choices I made. One week everyone got their new business cards but “mine were late.” Two days later at lunch I was asked into the office. The announcement that the company had no more fat to trim that they were now cutting the meat of the staff, struck me humorously that my position was eliminated. I was given the chance to take the rest of day off to recover from the blow but chose to finish up and later explained to a couple of friends I was let go. I was bitter and sick that I hadn’t left on my terms but worked up to the final day of termination after thirty eight years. I missed the activity and the people but found a new sense of self pride of accepting life on life’s terms. Now I see my wife going through the same experiences and hope I’m every bit as supportive as she is. Thank you for this posting.

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  3. Cristina Fahrbach-Connors
    2 years ago

    I love this. I’ve been “guilty” of not letting go because it was so engrained into me to persevere, never give up. You feel like, but what about the time I wasted? The thing is, you can’t get that time back, but you can stop wasting time on things that are detrimental to you going forward. I’ve stayed in relationships too long, career-related stuff, even a first novel that wasn’t going anywhere. It’s both freeing and scary to move on. I think I’ve become paralyzed afraid of “failing” again. But it’s all a process, I think. I just know I don’t want to be miserable anymore.
    Cristina Fahrbach-Connors recently posted..Stories of Substance: Body Image Round-Up

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  4. Pamela Oakley
    2 years ago

    I agree with these five signs. When you think that you are experiencing these five signs it means you really need to give up already.
    Pamela Oakley recently posted..Male Potency and Natural Ways to Be Sexually Potent Men

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  5. ed
    1 year ago

    Fail often but fail quickly.

    I started web development about 10 years ago because i needed something to do rather than sit at home and be depressed. I eventually forged a living working in technical support for software companies and whilst glad of the money I hated it. I hated the office politics and the mix of trying to do technical things while talking on the phone and answering emails. I quit and decided i needed to do something else, so saved and took some time out. I play classical guitar and wanted to dedicate some time to that. I ended up in a foreign country with a new partner and decided i would start from 0. The foreign country hasn’t been easy and 10 years later found myself in the same situation. trying to develop websites because of nothing else to do. I have got on a course to study application development and if i apply myself it will lead to a job. In my heart of hearts this isn’t what i wanted. This isn’t what i want. In the same ship ten years on having got nowhere in the first place.

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  6. Alan
    4 months ago

    your 4th reason……when you’re physically, emotionally, and/or financially depleted………well…your second word……your….should be you’re

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One Trackback

  1. By Mid-Week Balance: 11 July 2012 on July 11, 2012 at 10:00 am

    [...] finally, from Dr. Ashley Soloman, of Nourishing the Soul, this lovely, compassionate exploration of how to know when it is time to give up, on a dream, a project, a job, [...]

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