“There is…a time to search and a time to give up, a time to keep and a time to throw away” – Ecclesiastes 3:6
How can you tell the difference between quitting and letting go?
I was taught to never quit. There are dozens of ways to express the same aphorism, “Quitters never win” (although no one has expressed this belief with as much melodic funk as Dr. John). I learned to tie shame and quitting together into an impossible knot. This is a shared understanding in our culture. The value of never quitting is baked into the American ethos. Persistence is praised in our scriptures and steadfast perseverance is a repeated quality of God.
And yet, haven’t we all had an experience when we knew it was time to stop. When is letting go different than quitting?
This question reminds me of a quote by philosopher Martin Buber.
“All journeys have secret destinations of which the traveler is unaware.”
The destinations we arrived at only truly become clear once we are able to see them from our rearview mirror. Perhaps the difference between quitting and letting go has to do with the perspective we bring. The larger the perspective we hold, the more capable we become of seeing that all of our journeys are in God’s hands of restoration and redemption. When we see the bigger picture we can see how there is yet another step for us to take.
One study about giving up and perspective asked participants self-designate on whether they were motivated to succeed or motivated to not fail. Each participant was then tasked with solving a series of puzzles in a set time. The puzzles were to be solved in a set order but participants could choose to give up on a puzzle and then move on. Unbeknownst to the study participants, the first puzzle was unsolvable. If you wanted to do well overall, you had to you had to give up on the first puzzle.
As the researchers hypothesized, the success-oriented individuals gave up on the first puzzle and moved on to solve the others. However, those who avoided failure, kept trying to solve the first puzzle and became more agitated. They refused to quit and they couldn’t see beyond the first puzzle.
Realizing you’ve reached your destination opens one up to seeing a new journey ahead.