Never Give Up – Good Advice or Not?

Alana Winter

“Never give up” has become a point of pride in our society.

I discussed this recently with a Navy SEAL. He said “that’s a deadly attitude. If we don’t know when to give up, know when to abort a mission, we die.”

It’s important to know the line between grit and tenacity, and fighting windmills.  We cross the line when our ego gets involved and our identity becomes attached to the outcome as validation.

It’s about defining success for oneself, based on effort, on preparation, and being realistic about the circumstances.  When we focus only on the outcome, and then focus our identity around what that outcome is, we get in trouble. Our ego gets wrapped up and we don’t know when to let go.

In mountaineering, you abandon all the time. If the mountain doesn’t want you on top, you turn around.

I received a letter from a client on this topic that I think really illustrates the trap of this. He wrote:

This brought so much emotion out of me. A mentor, at a critical stage of my previous business ended an email with “never give up”. My business was failing and it was time to let go. But that email haunted me and made me hang on too long – when I should have let go. But I felt like I was giving up if I let go. And even after I made the decision to close the business, I was haunted by that – like I had let him down by giving up. It was years later that I had an epiphany. Never give up, in my case should have been never give up your dream of entrepreneurship. For someone else, it may be never give up on the problem you are trying to solve – it’s OK to let go of one solution that is not working. It has to mean different things to different situations. Unfortunately, it’s read as quitting what you are doing and that’s deadly advice – because sometimes, you have to quit what you are doing.

Sometimes you have to quit what you’re doing in order to make space for something greater that you can’t see right now.

We need to have a different discussion about ‘giving up’ which allows for knowing when to let go, when endings are necessary. Because if we don’t, it kills us either literally or figuratively.