There are times when life won’t allow us to follow our chosen course. We keep pushing toward what we think we want, but one obstacle after another continues to block our way. We ask ourselves, ‘Shall I give up…or should I keep trying?’ After endlessly complaining about our dilemma, and asking the people we trust for their advice, we go on debating within ourselves—still unsure whether or not to give up a losing battle.
For many people, the notion of giving up signifies surrender and failure. For others, pulling back and considering other options seems both smart and logical. Is it possible that giving up is sometimes the wisest course of action?
Very often those who are unhappy in their lives—who may be suffering in abusive relationships or stressed out with endless projects or miserable in an unsatisfying work situation—still feel the need to stay the course. They continue pushing in the direction that has always brought them misery and unhappiness, yet gets them no closer to the life they yearn for. The changes they desire fail to come about, while their dissatisfaction intensifies.
If you identify with this scenario, perhaps it is time for you to consider the option of giving up. What I’m talking about has nothing to do with failure; rather, I am suggesting that when we feel stuck in an unhappy or unproductive situation, we can give it up in order to consider our options and take an alternate path. There is always the possibility to make changes in our lives by identifying actions we can take that will improve our circumstances and lighten our spirit. But first we need to give up what hasn’t worked for us in the past.
When you reach the point of saying, ‘I’ve had enough—I refuse to be continually unhappy!’ you’ll discover that new doors are open to you. Maria, a patient of mine who was a victim of domestic violence, recently told me, ‘I’ve had it up to here with my misery! From now on, I will own my life—I will not hand it over to anyone else!’ In order for her to arrive at that decision, Maria had to declare that she had given up the struggle to hold onto an unhealthy relationship. Once she made that declaration, she was free to consider what she really wanted from her life and to make new choices.
A similar transformation took place in Carlos’ life. He had always worked extremely hard so that he could one day enjoy a better lifestyle. But after pushing himself year after year to work many long hours, he began to suffer intense back pain, his diabetes got worse, and he had a heart attack. Maybe his decision to give up his punishing work schedule came a little late, but Carlos finally realized that he was lucky to be alive and that pushing himself that hard in order to make more money made no sense. He began to question what it meant to live well and realized that his health and well-being were more important than greater financial success. By giving up, Carlos learned to enjoy what he already had.
Jenny’s story is another example of someone who gave up in order to embark on a more positive path. For a long time, she had relentlessly pursued an unrequited love. Her pursuit was fruitless in that the more she insisted upon the relationship, the more she drove away her would-be partner. Despite her heartache and suffering, Jenny finally decided to give up her pursuit. She realized that one cannot beg to be loved. She could, however, continue to be a loving person. When she gave herself permission to be loving in general, she expanded her emotional life. Even without a partner, her loving attitude made her happier. And with her open outlook, a new partner appeared—someone who could love her back. By giving up her attempt to make someone love her who was not interested in a relationship, Jenny eventually learned that her capacity to love went far beyond her previous obsession.
The key is to know when to give up. When we are in tune with our emotions and intuition, making that decision is not so difficult. It will become obvious to us that we are pushing at something that is not working, that it is time to give up our old course of action and to step back and consider what we really want. What are we actually seeking—and how can we best find it? By giving up the old route that made us so unhappy, we free ourselves to consider new possibilities. And if we are open to new paths, life will always offer them.