Never give up . . ?????

The Wharton College professor and author Adam Grant recently gave a graduation speech at Utah State University. In his speech, one of his themes was around persistence and grit.  He said: “Never give up is bad advice. Sometimes quitting is a virtue. Grit doesn’t mean “keep doing the thing that’s failing.” It means “define your dreams broadly enough that you can find new ways to pursue them when your first and second plans fail.”

“Never give up is bad advice” – Adam Grant

He went on to provide an example. He explained that as a young person, he always wanted to be a basketball player. But his lack of size and lack of ability – despite lots of practice – meant he got cut from his junior high basketball team. So he turned to diving and made the Junior Olympics twice. If he hadn’t “given up” basketball, he never would have gotten to diving. His “failure” led to success in a totally different venture.

He goes on to say “So don’t give up on your values, but be willing to give up on your plans.”

I am a guy who likes to plan everything, so that almost sounds heretical to me at first. But actually, I like the sound of that. Values are second nature to us. They are what really makes us who we are. But plans are totally different.  One definition of a plan is “a detailed proposal to complete something”. Those are the things I do all the time! But it can also mean an “intention or desire to do something”. An “intention”, that sounds simply like an idea. Sometimes our plans are unrealistic. It is possible to create an unrealistic plan, I know I have done it. But if you are willing to think of your plan, even if it is a detailed proposal, as an “intention”, it might be easier to rethink it.

None of us likes to be a quitter (“a person who gives up easily or does not have the courage or determination to finish a task”). It never sounds good. But sometimes creating a new frame around reconsidering an action can allow us to see it in a new way. There are times when sticking with something can be a sign of stubbornness. Other times, we can be complacent. We decide to stick with something because we don’t want to spend time creating a Plan B. Stubborn and complacent don’t sound that great either, do they?

How many people do you know that are unhappy with their current job? They go through the motions, complaining about their lot in life or their boss. But ask them “why do you keep doing it then?” and you get an amazed look. I encounter the same thing with people looking for a new job. Are they stubborn? Complacent? Don’t want to be labeled a quitter?

“Sometimes resilience comes from gritting your teeth and packing your bags. Other times it comes from having the courage to admit your flaws.”

So why don’t we quit? Is it because the word has a negative connotation? Is it because we might have to “admit our flaws” as Grant says? What if we reflected on the phrase “never give up” in a slightly different way? “Never give up” can mean not abandoning your values, but instead moving on from a bad situation. You aren’t “giving up”, you are letting go so you can grow elsewhere.