Knowing When to Give Up

February 18, 2015

There’s a fine line between knowing when to give up and knowing when to keep trying until you succeed. I was taught that if at first you don’t succeed, try, try, try again. And if you still don’t succeed, keep trying until you do. And, for most of my life, that’s the axiom I’ve lived by.

I might have to walk away from something for a while and then go back to it and try again, to see if I can find a different way to make it work and, for the most part, this strategy is very effective. But, also, by the same token, as I’ve gotten older, I’ve learned how to evaluate the importance of the things I’m working on.

To give a silly example of this, many years ago, I woke up at 3:00 a.m. because I couldn’t remember something about Hermes, the son of Zeus. And I couldn’t go back to sleep until I looked it up. In those days, there were no computers and there was no Google, but I had my encyclopedia, so there I sat, in the middle of the night, trying to figure out why Ares, the son of Zeus, was called the god of war and Hermes, also the son of Zeus, was called the god of war, but also the messenger who was the fastest and wore winged sandals.

I had different sets of encyclopedias, so there I sat, wasting precious hours of sleep time, looking up something for which I had no real use, just to satisfy my curiosity. And, that’s when it occurred to me that I needed to prioritize my thinking and my projects, and do things in order of their importance.

To this day, I have never found occasion to use the information about Ares, Hermes, or Zeus that took up so many hours of that night, and I doubt if I ever will, so I wasted those hours. But it taught me a valuable lesson. Evaluate carefully the importance of each thing that I do so that I don’t waste my time or my energy.

My parents taught me to keep trying until I succeed but we never discussed when it’s better to walk away from something than waste my time on things that aren’t important. In those days, it seems that everything was important. Nowadays, I make a mental pro and con list of what I want to accomplish and whether it will have relevance in my life.

That lesson was pivotal for me. It taught me the value of assessing my priorities and, consequently, it taught me what I needed to know about time management, a skill, which I now teach clients who are struggling with the responsibilities that are on their plate, who have no idea how to accomplish everything they have on their to-do list.

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