When to give up

I’ve seen a lot of failure lately. (And if you haven’t checked out my post on Shawn Smucker’s blog, please do).

In fact, I have actually written a lamenting post about how much failure I’ve seen recently. It’s still in “draft” mode because it sounded a bit whiny to me.

(Boo hoo, suck it up, dude.)

It’s been tempting to give up in so many areas. But I’m still here. Sort of. Kinda of.


I’d better get to the story before I start whining πŸ˜‰

Don’t give up after your first attempt

I was sixteen at the time and had just returned from an agonizing tenure at Denny’s restaurant. (Nothing against Denny’s, I just don’t do well in high-stress situations). I made a firm resolution that I would stick to for the rest of my “career”:

I. Will. Never. Again. Have. A. Teenage. Job!

What did that mean? I don’t know. I just knew that fast food and theaters were off limits.

As I was contemplating my lack of mula and my unemployment, I was roaming the walkways of Green River Community College. (Long story short, I was taking college classes while still in high school). Some college student approached wearing a suit and tie, grinning, and blinding me with all the “bling bling” he was sporting.

“Looking for a job?” he asked.

“If it’s what you do, then YES!!!”

The guy handed me a business card for a company called “Vector Marketing.”

Now that sounded like an non-teenage job–something that would glow on my resume.

That night I scheduled myself for an interview and arrived at a small office in Auburn, Washington shortly after, wearing my best Sunday clothes (including a less-than-white button up shirt and an orange and black basketball tie). My chest and neck were peppered with Eternity cologne and my shoes had been shined with a kitchen rag and sink water.

I was gonna nail it.

Then she asked the first question: “Are you 18 years or older?”



My shoulders slumped. This was my dream job. This was the solution to all my problems. And I wasn’t going to get it because I was two years shy of the minimum age?

Not gonna happen.

“Yeah,” she said, “it’s company policy that all employees must be older than 18.”

I could have given up there, accepted my fate and all that.

But I didn’t. Instead, I leaned back in my chair, projecting an air of confidence. “How about this. Why don’t I go for a walk…if I feel 18 years old by the time I get back, we’ll call it 18.”

She grinned. Then she laughed. “Love it. You’re hired.”

But, as fate would have it, the company was Cutco, and although they make great knives, I hated working for them.

So, I failed once, tried again, succeeded at securing the job, then I quit.

When do you give up?

As I look back on life, rarely have I ever succeeded at anything worth having without first failing miserably. (Amber, my wife, rejected me twice before agreeing to date me!)

So when do you give up?

I’m not one of those who says you should never quit. I think that’s a bit myopic. But I do think we often give up too soon.

Here’s some rules that I live by (that I just made up now).

  1. Don’t give up until you’ve tried at least three times.
  2. Don’t give up until you realize it’s not really what you want.
  3. Don’t give up until after you’ve counseled with someone you love.

I think all of these conditions need to be met.

An example

One of the greatest shows of all time was Monk, a quirky show about a brilliant private detective who has a gift (and a curse) of OCD, which enables him to detect inconsistencies at a crime scene. Throughout the show, his driving goals are (a) to find out who killed his wife, and (b) to become re-employed as a police officer (because after his wife died, he had to take a mandatory leave from the force).

The entire series, he’s constantly trying to prove to the police force he’s ready to get “back in action.” He takes the exam a half dozen times, then finally, in the last season, he makes it.

But as he returns to the role he once filled, he realizes he’s changed and the job doesn’t fulfill him anymore. So he quits to become, once again, a private detective. (But only after counseling with those he loves).

That’s the pattern, my friends.

There are countless things I have failed at many more than three times, yet I continue.


Because, in counseling with the missus, I realize I really do want it.

That amazing book deal with a top publisher? Yup, still trying.

Speaking kindly to my kids even when I’m about to explode? Yup, still trying.

Saving for my Walden-style cabin after financial setbacks? Yup, still trying.

On the other hand, there are things I’ve tried and failed at, then after careful reassessment (and, again, counseling with the missus), I realize that striving for that thing is robbing me of contentment.

I think that sometimes, the pursuit of something that is wrong for us is just as bad (if not worse) that failing to achieve something we want.

What do you think?

6 thoughts on “When to give up

  1. Hey I worked for Cutco once too! I spent a gap summer in Canada and it was the only job I could find. Turns out I’m a terrible sales person but I still use my sample pack knives – I love them. They are still going strong after nearly 20 years!

    I think your 3 step rules sound very sensible as sometimes it’s hard to tell if you just haven’t tried enough or if the thing is not for you.

  2. Pingback: The 70% Rule | Dustin Fife

  3. Nice post Dustin. There are many things I’ve “quit” in order to realign my focus on my actual goals. Also, LOVED your post on the Smucker blog. I am often told that it’s not about how good you are or how hard you work, it’s just luck, right place/time type stuff. And while right place/time helps, hard work can get an individual more opportunities, and I think developing talent is everything. Being good does matter. So that when lightning strikes and one gets their break, their talent can sustain them before they fizzle away.

    • Thanks, Kyle. Yeah, it’s unfortunate luck plays such a role. On the other hand, the more you expose yourself for opportunities, the more likely “luck” will strike. So, talent is a must. Luck is a must, but less so if we are persistent.

  4. Pingback: When you lack the emotional resources... | Dustin Fife

Leave a Reply