How can that…
Didn’t Winston Churchill say to never, ever, ever do that?
And Hollywood loves to capitalize on the idea, because it makes for heart-warming underdog stories.
But here’s the thing.
Every single day, I see people believing in and refusing to give up on things that simply cannot be done in this life. To the expense of their well-being, their families, their security, etc.
And I see others who have acknowledged their limitations (often physical) or recognized the price they were paying to pursue that idea and decided it was not worth it, making choices to move on and pursue different things, being admonished by well-meaning onlookers and friends for giving up.
But here’s the thing:
Sometimes illnesses don’t get better.
Sometimes small town kids with a lotta heart don’t make it big in Hollywood.
Sometimes abusers don’t stop their ways.
And always, always, there will be failure and eventual death. ALWAYS.
I can hear so many of you right now: Wow, this post is the biggest downer ever.
Except it isn’t. It’s actually full of hope.
Because sometimes our ideas of ‘success’ are narrow and constrictive and just plain wrong when done to extremes. Some examples:
- I need to make six figures a year to be able to provide for my family adequately.
- I need to get married and have children to fulfill my life dreams and be a whole person.
- I need to be famous or make a lot of money or produce a bestselling hit to make my creative time worthwhile.
- I need to have well-behaved, accomplished kids and a clean house and keep my kids involved in tons of activities and produce pinterest-worthy birthday parties and house decor and have a great relationship with my spouse to be a ‘good enough’ wife and mother.
- I need to be a certain tiny weight and have a specific body shape to be pretty or ‘healthy.’
- Sacrificing health, family, dignity, and integrity are all okay for something big that I really want, like stardom or riches or power.
- I need to have certain nice things or big nice experiences to really be ‘happy.’
- I can beat this illness because if I don’t, I will die, and that’s not acceptable.
The thing about all of these items and others like them is that while some pursuit of them is fine and good, all of them depend on outcomes and fulfilling of some mental ideal for us to ‘succeed.’ And with every single one of these things, there are aspects that are simply and completely out of our control. Either there are outside factors (such as societal norms or physical factors) or inadequacies in ourselves (such as disabilities, health issues, or simple human weaknesses), both of which we have no power over.
When any being’s definition of happiness or success is dependent upon reaching a goal which is at least in part out of their control (and, face it, there’s not a human on the planet who can control everything, and not a desired scenario in the world wherein some luck is not involved), and therefore not always even possible, you end up with guaranteed sadness at least part of the time.
Unless you allow yourself to ‘give up’ on occasion.
I don’t mean give up on trying in general. I don’t mean give up on happiness. I mean give up on clinging to narrow definitions of success and happiness.
Which, in what seems like an unrealistic twist, actually guarantees your happiness.
Let me show you what I mean by addressing every example I gave above.
- Despite gaining as much education as I was capable of and working hard, I have found I cannot make six figures. This does not give me the house or some of the things that I wanted. However, I have found new ways to be frugal, I have realized that some of the things I thought were necessary are not actually so, I have re-prioritized, and have enough. I have also come to like my job, and appreciate the time I have for my family.
- Despite trying my hardest, I have not been able to marry or have kids. After allowing myself to grieve for the loss of that dream, I have realized that, while desirable, those things do not encapsulate all happiness or purpose, and in fact also have struggles and hard things. So I am going to re-prioritize and find purpose and happiness in what I can do, enjoying the benefits and strengths of being single and/or childless (of which YES there are some, I may just have to train myself to recognize them).
- Despite working really hard at it, I haven’t been able to hit the big time musically/get an agent/sell a lot of stories. So I am going to either realize that my desire was more the fame, money, and success, and re-evaluate whether I want to stay on this path, or I am going to realize that I enjoy the creation and let myself feel joy and satisfaction in that alone, acknowledging that it’s not a waste of my time if I enjoy it and still keep up with other things I find important.
- I have found that I cannot be the shape or weight that I want without having bones surgically removed, despite my best efforts to eat well and exercise. I am going to re-structure my idea of what is pretty, realize that ‘being pretty’ isn’t nearly as important as I thought, recognize that there are limits to every body (including health), limits to medical science, and everyone gets older and eventually dies because that’s what bodies do, and that’s okay.
- I have the skills and health and connections and drive to be a big CEO or powerful rock star or Hollywood heart throb. However, I know that happiness really isn’t possible if I sacrifice everything to become those things. So I will be happy with possibly more limited success in those realms if that’s what it takes to maintain my personal integrity, have good family relationships, maintain my self-respect, and be happy in my own body.
- Yes, there are things that I would like to have or experience. But I have good in my life now, too. I won’t believe all the marketing and social media that tries to tell me that I need those other things, because I am smarter than that. I can work and save for them as nice potential things without feeling inadequate or unhappy without them.
- I have fought this illness well and with the best medical help I can get. However, I know that all bodies are imperfect and mortal, and all lives end, and medical science is limited. So I’m not going to cling desperately to that water in my hands that is mortal life, and when the time for fighting is over, I am going to find peace, acknowledge the good that I have experienced, and allow myself to let go.
There’s so much good around us NOW. There is so much we DO have control and influence over. We have to find those things as we go along, which sometimes means adjusting or completely changing out some of our goals–in a way, ‘giving up’ on the goals as they originally were. But in having that flexibility, we gain incredible power. Because while we will still have times of grief and sadness–sadness, remember, isn’t evil or bad–having that flexibility robs the grief and sadness of their power to destroy us. In being able to ‘give up’ those things that cannot be, we are severing the shackles that bind us to the grief. We can feel it, experience it, and then move on.