Monday, April 21, 2014
Never give up! Really?
Every so often on this blog I launch an attack on a popular saying or sentiment. Why? Because these are often repeated without any real thought or understanding of their implications. Because they are often said in lieu of actually saying anything at all. ‘Never give up’ is one of these.
Giving up is sometimes the most appropriate response in a given set of circumstances… Unless you are absolutely convinced that bashing your head against that wall will eventually knock down that wall, rather than turn your head into pulp. Sometimes what we are trying to do is not a good idea. Sometimes we are not very good at what we are trying to achieve. Sometimes the cost of continuing is far greater than the benefits that might accrue from ‘success’.
‘Never give up’ is the cry of the gambling addict. It is always possible that the next press of that button—or whatever it is you do on those infernal machines—will be the winning press. If I stop now I will be tormented for the rest of my life. Just one more press and I might have won millions! Just one more bash of my head and the wall might have come tumbling down. The next publisher could be THE ONE!
Even those who have succeeded after never giving up—and, who knows, they might have been just one bash short of giving up—may have been better off giving up. Maybe JK Rowling might have written something better if she had not expended so much energy on promoting Harry whatsisname. Or maybe she would have written nothing, become a Nobel prize winning physicist, and invented time travel.
If we decide to give up, if we decide to make a strategic retreat and cut our losses, there will always be that nagging doubt that we might have succeeded if... Those (few) who appear to have persisted and ultimately succeeded—and we never hear, of course, about those who died still trying—will always be there to urge you on. Give up, and there will always be that nagging doubt. Deal with it.
Finally, don’t let the never-give-uppers convince you that to give up is to fail. It’s actually a very profound and courageous form of success. To give up is to realise that I am not, after all, particularly well-suited to that particular pursuit. I’m not, after all, quite cut out to break the fifteen hundred metres freestyle record. I’m probably not going to invent that time machine. Maybe I’m not quite as good a writer as I thought I was. Giving up sets you free to follow other pursuits, to find that thing you really are good at. And maybe it gives you the freedom to live in the here and now, rather than in the unrealised—and possibly unrealisable—dream.