So one of the things about life is that from time to time we think about how it actually works. For example, this whole thing about giving up.
Have I ever given up? Was I ever close? The second question produces memories more quickly. As is often the case, a lot of these memories are connected with areas like university studies or work. The interesting thing is, in my mind it has often applied only to “big decisions” that affected my life trajectory, decisions that manifested change outwardly. The truth is, the question of whether one was ever close to giving up applies to a lot of issues and aspects, not just the ones that result in moving to another city or getting a raise.
When was I close to giving up? I was applying for scholarships to pay for my Masters degree and I was rejected for every single one of them. I remember very clearly how I got the last rejection letter, about three months before the application deadline for my chosen course. I had read it through and was sitting on my couch, a mixture of bewildered helplessness and unfamiliar lack of inspiration filling me up. I had tried for so long and so hard, what if this was a sign my aspirations were simply not going to work out? The voice did whisper – from very far away, from the deepest recesses of my brain: maybe I should give up?
Those two words have always carried such a strong sense of finality and that terrified me. The terror would make me stir inwardly and always bring me back to confronting the same two choices: let go and start the what ifs, or just do it again? There was nothing epic about it, no film-ready soundtrack in the background. It was real, in my face, and I had to deal with it. This scene would repeat itself several times over the course of the next few years.
I may not have gotten those scholarships, but I got a job straight out of graduation, samples from which were actually helpful in the application. I also had a family member say, “Don’t be paralyzed now.” My choice university accepted me, and looking back I wonder just what I was thinking, as it was the only one I applied to. For various reasons it did indeed turn out to be the right choice, or at least I didn’t have a massive list of things wrong with it and got the absolute best out of the years I spent there.
I was close to giving up when I was searching for a place to live after my second graduation (who hasn’t been). The process simply has no rules, only tips, and it’s an incredibly tiring experience. I was already expecting to have to figure out whether I could stay longer in my student dorm, though there was this one place I kept inquiring about. So maybe I wasn’t that close to giving up after all.
The what ifs come back after you succeed at something you might have let go, in a different way. If I hadn’t tried again, we wouldn’t be sitting in this park, having this conversation, laughing until we cried. I wouldn’t have seen this band in this arena. I wouldn’t have met several more mentors. “I wouldn’t have…” and so on, and so on. These moments are still exciting to me.
But to be able to take on something you do need to be able to let go, and that’s where giving up does come in. But not on yourself or what you want to do – for yourself. Sometimes you do really need to give up. On contacts that leave you with the wrong feeling no matter how often you try to make it work. On doing things that make you feel continuously uncomfortable. On saying things you neither really feel nor think. On holding on to destructive experiences, bad relationships.
Maybe the trick is simply listening to the inside. If the feeling spreading through your veins is verbalized with “I still need to do this”, then you haven’t given up, regardless of what is happening around you, regardless of whether you think you have. Whether it’s a mindset, an action, a project, a person, a letter you want to write, a conversation you need to have – we usually know inside. And we might even be lucky enough to have people around us to point us in the needed direction.
The possibility of grand things unknown is a very powerful competitor.