We like to give up. We don’t like to admit it, but the truth is we enjoy bailing. It is one of the best kept secrets of humanity. Such a secret, we often refuse to tell ourselves.
But the evidence is overwhelming. We give up at an alarming rate.
To be sure, quitting is also painful and annoying. We don’t love it. But I think we do like it a little more than we admit. Here are my thoughts on why giving up has become so prevalent and what we might do to turn the tide.
We like to give up because it offers certain perks. First, it permits us to say we tried. It allows us to say, quite rightly, that we gave it a go. If I were more pessimistic, I might suggest it allows us to stay busy and distracted, to keep in perpetual motion. It is like our fascination with “busyness”; there is a certain pride in activity.
Quitting allows us to get into things without getting too into things. We can bail when it gets hard, difficult, or confusing. So, we are busy. We are doing. We are trying. But we also get to avoid the risks, the vulnerability of depth.
This (spoiler alert) is the same reason we abhor giving up. But we are quitting addicts, so there is a certain high that comes when we decide to give up. A certain release of pressure. A sort of sigh of relief.
The other perk that comes alongside these is we get to try something new. We do not have to commit or sacrifice for too long. We can stay superficially busy. There are lots of things that vie for our time and attention. Quitting, in a sense, allows for the possibility we might have it all.
At the end of the day, all of these “perks” boil down to one thing: the alleviation of fear. By quitting, we keep that monster at bay. We can lie, distract, or delude ourselves into a state of adequacy. It keeps the monster in the cage.
The thing is, fear is not really the monster we imagine it to be. It is real and important and needs to be acknowledged. But it is nowhere near as powerful as we are.
One of the great challenges that comes with being human is that the most meaningful things in life are hard to measure or quantify. The intangibles carry the most meaning. So, the deeper we go, the less controlled things seem to get. The more beautiful, the more mysterious, the more uncertain. It is quite a web to weave. Or, a braided tangle.
When we try for and achieve meaning in our lives, it is never a final and definitive accomplishment. It is a journey. A process.
When we commit to that process, we embark on something grand and terrifying, an adventure wrought with risk and ripe with reward.
But there will come a time. A day. A moment. When we will be tempted to give up. The purpose we are chasing will at one time or another not seem worth the emotion or circumstance we are in the middle of. And the perks of giving up will become more and more alluring.
There is a deep joy on the other side of perseverance. Not a final, happily-ever-after joy, but the kind of strange joy you feel when a job is in the midst of being done well. It is the feeling we are all after. The life we truly want. But to participate in it, we have to let go of our addiction to giving up.