The Hidden Power in Giving Up

Photo by Slava on Unsplash

It is the one thing motivational gurus, teachers, entrepreneurs and your mom tell you not to do. It is the temptation that sneaks up on you when things are tough. It is the act that you fear will cause you to miss out on golden opportunities.

It is called giving up and no one dares to do it. No one wants to quit digging and miss out on the diamonds. So any thought of giving up gets ignored.

But what if you’re digging in the wrong place?

If a relationship isn’t working, doesn’t it make sense to give up? If a business is failing, is there not a time to try something else? If a toaster isn’t toasting no matter how many times you try to get it fixed, why is it still on your kitchen counter?

So clearly there is a time to give up, after all. Despite people telling you to never give up, you can bet that they’ve given up on tons of things in their lives.

Some things don’t serve you anymore. Some things never did but you thought they were. Some things were lessons and stepping stones. And so it’s perfectly okay to let them go.

Moreover, have you ever noticed that there are things you tried to get, failed at getting and then you gave up? But then you got the very thing you were trying to get with zero effort? That was me in first and second grade when I kept trying to make friends.

I’d go to different friend groups but I never felt like I fit in anywhere. It was lonely being alone but it’s also pretty lonely to see people fitting in but you’re the odd one out.

In third grade I just gave it all up. I didn’t let go of my desire for friends, but I resigned myself to eating lunch alone if that’s what was going to happen.

As it turned out, I made friends with no effort. They came to me somehow. Naturally, I wondered where the hell these kids were but they were at my school just as long as I was, but somehow I missed them.

A lot of things in my life follow that pattern of me trying, failing, giving up on trying to get it and then the very thing coming into my life.

Alan Watts gave a lecture once where he spoke about practice. He said that we will constantly try, try and try again to be good at something but ultimately fail. And then one day, it just happens. We did it.

How did this happen? Is it because practice really made us perfect? Watts said the answer was much more subtle than that. He said that it is when we reach that moment of despair and acknowledge that we can’t do it, that is when we will do it.

When I heard this I immediately remembered being a teenager and trying to learn a song called “Farewell Hyrule King” from The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker. My friend played it for me and I was blown away not only by how great it sounded but by how difficult it was.

But I needed to be able to play it. It was imperative.

For weeks, I just couldn’t nail the final measures, which were the most difficult parts. And eventually, I admitted to myself that I couldn’t do it. So I left it alone and played other songs I knew.

I revisited the song, just because it really is a stunning song. And wouldn’t you know it… I could play it. Then I mastered it shortly thereafter.

If you’ve ever played a musical instrument and reached this glass ceiling and broke through it, you know exactly what I’m talking about.

As Watts put it, “When you know you are the one weird child that will never be able to swim, at that moment, you are swimming. Desperation and the total inability to do it at all has brought you to a point which we might call ‘don’t care.’”

It is at that moment you may realize that your personal will is not the reason you achieve anything in life. But that is what all the gurus and teachers keep leading you to think. They told you that you can do it, you have talent and that you are special.

This “you” is the ego; it is willpower. But it is also and more importantly a lie.

When you see that you (the ego/personal will) aren’t the one in control, you stop with all the effort. You stop trying to get it. You stop trying to outsmart life by not trying to get it so that you can get it. You just surrender. You become modest.

And then everything happens all on its own. You wonder how could you have been trying so hard and failed, but when you stopped everything worked.

It’s because trying hard doesn’t necessarily yield anything more than burnout and frustration. The frustration leads to giving up or not caring whether or not you get the thing, which leads to you getting the thing.

This isn’t a trick or anything. It’s just that you (the ego/personal will) keeps getting in the way of life making things happen. Could life really be so benevolent to make things happen through you rather than you having to do it on your own?

At some point, you have to face the reality that all the best things in your life happened in a way and a timing that you could not have predicted. Be honest and modest about it. Your successes were not solely because of your actions.

Giving up can be the breakthrough you’ve been looking for. If things aren’t working, it may be because you’re in the wrong place, wrong time and doing the wrong thing.

It could also be that you are using your willpower to make things happen, but in truth it is actually your greatest hindrance. It is your ego in action.

It feels awesome to say that you did this amazing thing or that amazing thing. But let’s face it. The people who do this are pretty self-centered and possibly insecure if they feel they need to boast about their accomplishments.

You might want to feel special too. Don’t fall for it. It’ll only lead to frustration.

Just do what interests you. If you get caught in a snag, just admit you can’t do it. It is the truth, after all. Then watch what happens when you surrender.

Former Edu. Psychologist | Current Writer | Constant Learner | “By your stumbling the world is perfected.”

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