Mastering the Art of Giving Up


Written by Molly McCafferty of CincyStateofBeing.

Perseverance is a great quality; without it, the tortoise never would have beaten the hare, we wouldn’t have electricity or airplanes, and we might never have seen Michael Jordan play in the NBA. Without countless individuals continuing to get up every time they got knocked down, our world wouldn’t be what it is today. As a result, our culture romanticizes perseverance. As children, we’re taught to never give up, to never quit, to always keep trying. But sometimes, giving up is exactly what we need to do. Sometimes, giving up is the healthiest thing we can do.

About a year ago, at 28 years old, I got my first tattoo. The tattoo says “be.” It’s on my right wrist and serves as a constant, ever evolving statement and reminder to live in the present moment.  It was shortly after I walked out of that tattoo parlor that I began giving up. I began giving up on the goals, concepts, and relationships that no longer made me happy, that I no longer wanted, that I knew weren’t going to work out, and that, quite frankly, I had been clinging to because of what society told me.

As women, we grow up with insurmountable expectations. We’re expected to get an education, get married, raise a family, and embark on a successful career, all before the age of 30, just like many women did before us. The stress and pressure associated with these expectations can make it really, really hard to simply be. Like many, I subconsciously morphed these expectations into goals at an early age. At some point, I looked up and realized that I had become so hyperfocused on achieving the goals of marriage, family, and career that I hadn’t stopped to ask if these goals were still aligned with the present day me, and if those goals were still what I wanted.

As I looked inward, I realized that I was holding on so tight to a life that wasn’t making me happy because it’s what I thought I should be doing. And so, I gave up. I gave up an unhealthy relationship with the man I was supposed to spend my life with. I gave up a high paying job that made me miserable. I took a hard look at the life I was living, and rather than focus on what I could have done differently, or what I needed to do to get my future back on track with where I thought I wanted to be by 30, I made a life changing decision. I decided to give up what was no longer serving me, and focus less on where I thought I should be, and more on where I was in the present moment. Be.

When I decided to give up, the first thing I did was make a list. I listed all the things, people, and places that made me happy, and made the choice to surround myself with them. I love my parents, my siblings, and my six nieces and nephews. I love fitness and finding ways to improve my health. I love having a flexible schedule that allows me to work hard but be able to travel and experience the world. So, I decided to give up all the things that took me further away from my list of priorities, and focus on actions and choices that brought me closer to my priorities. Of course, it involved sacrifice. I’ve had to learn how to properly budget, and my flexible work schedule often means that I work long, odd hours. But, when I gave up on what I thought I should be accomplishing, I was able to create room for so much more happiness, love, and joy. It felt like my body was taking this immense sigh of relief.

It’s easy to get caught in the mindset of needing to reach societal benchmarks in order to feel successful and accepted, instead of doing what feels right for us at that point in time. To quote one of my favorite authors, Paulo Coelho, “In magic – and in life – there is only the present moment, the now.”

With less than 12 weeks away from my 30th birthday, I can say with confidence that I have failed at meeting all of my previous expectations for my life. I’ve also never been happier or healthier.

Are you holding on to a goal that is no longer healthy for you? Ask yourself these questions:

  1. Is this goal truly attainable? Could it ever work out?

  2. Is this goal still important to me?

  3. Do I want this still, today?

  4. Am I only continuing because I’m worried about what people will think?

  5. Is pursuing this goal making me unhappy?

If you answered yes, maybe it’s time to let go. It’s with giving up that we find out what is worth holding on to.