When “Never Give Up” is Bad Advice

Never give up on your dreams

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Let’s be honest. There are times when you just need to quit.

That might be surprising coming from me because I love telling you to never give up. It’s a phrase that finds its way into many of my articles. And I love that.

Persistence is one of the most important attributes to finding and doing work worth doing. I won’t allow you to give up, put your head down, and surrender to your life and your work simply as it comes. My mission is to shake you awake to what really matters and to inspire you to dig deeper, create riskier, speak up, show up, and never stop.

All of that is hard work. All of that takes dedication and vision.

This is all fine and well until I had the chance to interview Chris Guillebeau about his book The Happiness of Pursuit a few weeks ago. We had a great conversation, but something he said really stuck out to me.

I mentioned that Quests usually entail a fair amount of difficulty. How do you know when enough is enough and you should quit?

He replied, “I’m not a fan of saying “never give up,” because there are lots of times when you should give up,” after which I had a moment of panic.

I tell people never to give up all the time! I agree with Chris here, but what if I’m not clear enough about what to give up on and what not to?

So let’s explore the question of what you should and should not consider quitting when it comes to work worth doing.

What to give up on (I hereby give you permission):

  • Projects that are stuck and you feel obligated and guilty about. There are some projects that just need to die. Give yourself permission to stop things and let them go. If you’re a serial quitter or serial starter and but not a finisher, that’s one thing, but if you have too much on your plate and projects that are lacking momentum and energy— it’s time to let them go.
  • Jobs that aren’t taking you anywhere. Some jobs are dead end jobs, no matter how much you put into them. If the job, organization, and culture do not allow you to advance, focus, and achieve, then feel free to move on without feeling bad. I spent a year working for a small company that I was excited about but never had the chance to move beyond an entry level position. It wasn’t growing and it would have taken far too long for there to be space for me to advance. So I made the hard decision to quit. That decision created the space I needed to start the Meaning Movement.
  • Jobs that are toxic. Some bosses are bad bosses. Some employees are bad coworkers. Some cultures are toxic cultures. If the turnover rate is high and there are other red flags, you don’t need to stay there. Stay as long as you have to, but there’s no law keeping you there.

Sometimes quitting is the best decision you can make. [tweet that] But (no surprise here) there are some things that you should never give up on:

You can give up on a lot of things, but never give up on the search for deeper meaning and purpose. [tweet that]

There are many ways to go about making your impact in the world. There are many different jobs that will allow you to do your life’s work. You can give up on a job, you can give up on a project, you can give up on strategy, but don’t give up on finding and doing your life’s work.

We need you to stay. We need you to persist.

In the comments, what did I leave out?  What else do we need permission to give up on (I’m sure I missed something…)?

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  1. You can quit things such as jobs and relationships by giving up, but don’t ever give up on yourself. That is a hole that is hard to climb out of. It requires positive self-talk, positive friends, and a gradual belief in yourself and your worth.

  2. Relationships. Romantic, family, friend or otherwise. If it’s toxic and sucking you dry and not adding to your life’s work, let it go! Quit.

    1. Emily’s right, toxic relationships are just that, toxic… I learnt to let go with family,it was harder than I thought it would be. I was taught to never give up on family.

  3. How do you know when to give up on a dream? I have dreamt of being a teacher since I was 4 years old, even managed to get my teaching degree. When the time came around to get my certificate an adversary stood in my way and he managed to get my cert denied. Now I am fighting a legal battle over that, lost my teaching job, am $65 THOUSAND in debt from student loans, and I have now ruined my family's financial wellbeing.

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