“Your body is ignorant; be just to it. Your feelings change; do not count on them. Your mind is volatile; do not expect that it can remain stable within your present moment. In short, be realistic about yourself.” – J.G. Bennett
Sometimes accumulated dust on forgotten projects can seem heavier than a hundred tons of earth. It doesn’t have to be like this.
I have found, in popular culture and self-motivation liturgy, the intense compelling mantra which seems outwardly useful, but can cause harm. The phrase ‘NEVER GIVE UP’. To never give in to the desire to quit, and to keep going no matter what. Movies are the most common exemplar: through sheer force of will, guts, grit and never-give-upatude, the hero with a thousand faces is able to summon up tremendous force ex nihilo and beat the fight, win the prize, while never committing the capital sin of ‘giving up’. Or, if the hero does give up, it’s for a Hollywood tidbit timeframe of 11 minutes in a dive bar, long enough for the comic foil to find him, exchange words, and get him back on track just in time for the climactic showdown.
But, in the milk-and-bread reality of daily life, things are messy. There is no soaring orchestral soundtrack to our common struggle (outside of your ipod play list). No perfectly packaged plotline or satisfying summation to our goals. Those ‘all-is-lost’ at-my-worst scenarios can last months, not mere moments. Most of us give up often, some every day. We give up on our new-years resolution. We give up on going to bed early in lieu of Youtube video links. We even have a give-up button on our alarm clocks that grants us an agonizingly brief period of (ironically named) ‘snooze’.
Despite that previous paragraph, I am an intensely optimistic person, and I think that in the right context, ‘never give up’ is tremendously positive advice, perhaps the only advice. Honestly, a show about someone who did nothing but give up on everything would either be terribly boring, or Evangelion.
However, the idea of never giving up, once, for your entire life, is absurd and can even become destructive to people who have actually, fully ‘given up’ on something, but wish to try again.
“Well, I’ve already given up on X. There’s no way I can go back now. I’m such a loser for not trying harder, I can’t let anyone know I’ve given up!” The regret of having quit the first time compounds the repelling force to go back to a beneficial habit, activity, or goal. Especially if giving up is painted as this abhorrent unspeakable act that only the most spineless cowards entertain.
When I first started playing violin, I was hooked. I loved practicing, thinking about all the cool videogame themes I would learn, and overjoyed at my daily progress. As time passed and I settled into the grind of scale and finger drills, it dawned on me just how much time and energy it would take to become even moderately skilled. After a while, I just found some things more interesting, I started skipping practice for a day, then two. Gradually, I realized I was ‘giving up’ on violin, and I had this sinking feeling that, once that had happened, I could never go back.
It pained me to look at my violin case tucked away in the corner, covered in dust. Once I actually opened it months later, and couldn’t even get myself to tune the strings. What are you doing? You gave up! So much time has passed why bother? This destructive self-talk beset me every time I thought to pick up the instrument again.
That was, until one day, It dawned on me: what If I ‘gave up on giving up’? What If I picked it up, dusted it off, and dropped the notion that I ‘gave up’ all together? I tried it, and it worked. Those deep neural pathways I had carved out were still there, and in a few weeks I got back up to my former best.
So here’s a thought: try to ‘un-give up’. Don’t treat dwindling motivation to pursue a hobby as some terrible curse, put it away for a while without regret or shame. Take a break. Then come back to it when you’re ready.
‘Motivation’ can be fickle, don’t let intense desire become it’s own opposite. Don’t get angry at yourself for lost passion. Most of all, don’t let the notion that you gave up prevent your feelings to go back and try again. ‘Giving up’ shouldn’t be some shameful boogyman. Yes, lost momentum can be frustrating. Starting from the beginning, especially if you notice a talent you were working on has diminished over the time in stasis, can be crushing, but who is the one who is stronger – the one who climbs a mile of mountain once, or the one who climbs half way up a dozen times, before finally ascending the peak?