Perhaps far more important than giving it your all is to also knowing when to give up. This might sound counter-intuitive to the well-heeled advice of visualising goals, overcoming setbacks and to never, never throw in the towel, but knowing when to cut our losses is a sorely underappreciated life skill.
Most of us probably draw inspiration from someone who exemplifies staunch perseverance. Consider someone like J.K Rowling who wrote the manuscripts of Harry Potter while simultaneously living in poverty and struggling through divorce. It’s easy to assume that as long as we persevere, we will eventually receive a reward commensurate with our efforts. But in singling out a few examples (and they are few indeed), we’ve completely missed out on the quiet (and under-reported) graveyards of those who tried over and over, but were still doomed to failure anyway.
Getting what we want isn’t just a matter of perseverance and blind effort. It’s also heavily (if not entirely) dependent on luck. And it’s not just blind fortune per se, but also the whims of people and society. Vicktor E. Frankl, the psychiatrist who gained international renown for his riveting book, Man’s Search For Meaning, wrote in his preface that among the dozens of books he had previously authored, he found it peculiar only this one was a success. But it wasn’t surprising: Given the social and political climate at that time, there was greater interest in the meaning of life, so it was his book many took comfort in.
But when the wind does not blow favourably and it becomes hard to visualise a positive outcome, we should learn to encourage ourselves to let go. It’s not as bad as it seems because giving up can be important for our mental well-being. It may well be that the job we are in will never amount to anything despite what we do; or perhaps we are trying so hard in a relationship and receiving so little in return that we are best off investing in something else entirely; and in some cases it is probably better to not care than to care. The alternative – holding on desperately – can at times be so effortful and at once both worrying and taxing that we risk great harm to our inner selves for so little in return.
Letting go isn’t easy and difficult to act on when we most need it. In doing so, we will lose hundreds, if not thousands, of invested hours, deeply significant memories and even a bit of ourselves. But stemming the bleed at some point of time is better than bleeding to death.