A few weeks ago, I had a coversation with an 11 year old that I work with.. well, it was more of a heated debate really. They wanted to give up on something we had been working on together for some weeks and I wanted them to get to the core of why they wanted to give up in the first place.
Yes, I was definitely sitting with my own childhood wounds on this one.
I also knew that if we worked together, I could shine a light on a new way of understanding and interacting with feelings that I really believed would help this little soul and their big emotions.
We got stuck on this point: When is it acceptable to give up on something and when is it a better idea to keep going and see it through to the end?
This is a big topic for most of us, and even more for someone who is young enough to still see the world as black and white, good vs. bad. They unequivocally believed that 99% of the time, we should finish what we have started and persevere (unless it causes us physical harm, or is illegal) and at the same time, struggled to define when or what makes it acceptable to give up on something you were previously invested in.
Isn’t this the same place we often get stuck in as adults?
When we know in our hearts that what we are engaging in is joyless, or uncomfortable, or maybe even harmful, but we struggle to walk away because we have already invested our time, our energy, our money.
Or, conversely, we want to give up on something purely because it is uncomfortable. Even if it is truely for our own good, we don’t care about what the end may look like, how big and shiny and magnificent it might be, or that the end may just change how we feel about this icky part in the middle. We just want out. Even if that means more discomfort, pain or harm in the future.
How do we navigate this? How do we know when to stick with it, and when to give up?
Take me today, for example, I am having a pretty rough week. A day of feeling sick followed by a day of being emotionally and mentally blocked, compunded with lack of sleep means I am feeling grumpy, I am exhausted and I want to give up and walk away from all my commitments… at least for today.
When I looked at my plan for the week and I realised that today is Friday, my heart sank!
Where did the week go?
How did I neglect so much of my to-do list?
Why was it so hard to prioritise what I need alongside what I need to get done?
And why, in the above case, do I end up just doing nothing at all?!
All I want to do is take a long hot bath, wrap myself up in a blanket burrito, drink a hot coffee, eat my advent calendar chocolate and nap.
And why shouldn’t I do those things? I have no commitments to anyone else? Right?
Well, I consider this community and all lines of communication to you a commitment.
A commitment I don’t always feel like showing up for.
Which means I found myself in that place again.
You know the one: rock on one side of you, hard place on the other… and while I wanted to give up on this weekly commitment, to walk away, to promise to post tomorrow instead, I found my mind wandering to this philosophical dilemma that I explored with a curious yet pretty fed-up 11 year old a few weeks ago.
When is it acceptable to give up on something, when seeing things through to the end is so highly valued in our society?
Is tenacity really all it’s made out to be?
Is forcing ourselves to complete tasks that are at best lacklustre and pointless, at worst painful or harmful, with our only reward being able to say “I did it!” really in our best interests? Or is it another tool of capitalist patriarchy? Keeping us busy and exhausted, focused on medicocre, joyless tasks, at the same time creating a bigger gap between our reality and our deep longing? Keeping us focused on what we should, instead of what we want?
And even more importantly: Is my belief that finishing what you started really what I believe, or is it another defective hand-me-down that is actually keeping me small?
Having had the chance to reflect more and more on this, I have decided that youI don’t need a big reason to give up on something. And neither do you! If it feels shitty, take a break or give up completely. Spend the time you have here and now in doing things that bring you JOY!
Seriously though… where is the satisfaction in finishing something you hated doing?
I don’t believe it actually exists. It is a myth. A lie dangled in front of us to keep us moving ever onward in the name of doing unfulfilling things we don’t enjoy.
I know that when I finish something that I hated doing, I don’t feel good. I don’t feel pumped. I don’t jump for joy or brag about it to my friends. I feel relieved and I either need time to recover from that shitty experience or I move on to doing something I actually enjoy and I do it quickly!
Sure, somethings we have to do. We need to pay the bills, cook dinner, submit important paperwork or get our car serviced. Sometimes we need to take ourselves by the hand and promise us a slice of cake as a reward when it’s done.
Those aren’t the things I’m talking about here.
I’m talking about the assigned book for book club that is boring as hell, your 5am gym date that means you’ll only end up with 4 hours of sleep tonight, the party you said you go to this evening that is is beginning to seem like advancing torture or the new hobby you took up that now feels like a chore.
Is it really worth the effort of smiling, and pushing through just to get to the finish line?
I don’t believe so.
To begin putting this into practice, I made the decision not to force the things I felt obliged to do, but instead to wait until I had the naturally occuring motivation to tackle them head on, that is, I would wait until I felt aligned with the task in hand, until I felt in flow with it all.
This decision makes slow work of any to-do list, but it helps me to keep momentum.
You see, when I force myself to do something I really don’t want to, but truly need to do, I need time to recover from the experience before I can once again be productive. A kind of refractory period that looks like me lazing about living my best life, but is actually physical exhasution, emotional paralysis and mental overload. It’s not fun.
So, to avoid the shitty refractory period, I am opting have opted to go with the flow, wherever that may take me.
It means doing random things like decluttering barely used set of drawers, doing 5 loads of laundry one after the other while having a wardrobe that looks like a bomb site, or deep cleaning the oven at 10 o’clock at night, getting too tired to finish and leaving it caked in baking soda for a week until the next wave of motivation hits.
It also means addressing the emotions that come up around what you think you should be doing versus what you actually want to be doing.
Sadly, this week, I haven’t felt aligned with business type tasks. It could be my birthday looming overhead and all the weight of growing older, it could be the dark and new moon and her heavy, inward leaning energies, or it could just be my deep and, as of yet, unmet need for more sleep.
Whatever the reason, sitting down to write this was hard. It didn’t feel aligned. I wanted to go to bed, curl up under a blankie and sleep it all away… but instead I am here, writing to you all (whoever you may be 🖤).
Because the end result is worth it.
That is what I believe the answer to this is…
When is it acceptable to give up?
When should we stick something out to the very end, even when it is uncomfortable?
When the end result holds more value.
When we find ourselves wanting to give up, we tend to judge ourselves and give ourselves negative labels, but what if we were to approach ourselves and the whole predicament with compassion and open up to the truth?
I mean, why is it such a big deal to follow what makes us happy and what makes us feel good, anyway? Even if it does mean giving up on something we have already begun.
Maybe we began this task against our better judgement, or maybe we are just different people now to who we were when we began. Why not check in with yourself, with the person you are in the moment of indecision, the only true moment that exists, the present moment and see how you really feel about pushing through vs. giving up.
Would I rather be doing something else with my time?
If yes, what?
What steps can I take toward making that happen?
Will I genuinely regret giving this up?
And if I do, can I come back and pick it up again?
If I give up, and feel bad, is it because this was more important to me than I realised?
Or do I feel bad because we view “quitting” with such disdain in our society, and I just gave myself that label?
Can I reframe my “quitting” as being true to myself, my needs and my desires?
If I push through, will the end result make me feel good?
Will I be glad that I showed up, even though I didn’t feel like it?
Or will I experience a sense of self-betrayal, no matter how slight?
Your insights may surprise you!
Whether you decide to stick it out, or give up, do so because it is the right, authentic decision for you. You, with all your facets, capacity, emotions, responsibilities and desires; only you can fully comprehend the depth and breadth of them all.
Be compassionate toward yourself and follow what feels good. Once you begin, you won’t want to stop!
. . .
Ultimately, I decided that not showing up today would be worse for me, overall. That taking this small slice out of the restful day I hoped for, and taking the time to write to you here was worth it.
I was right.