Give up or Keep going?


I’m on vacation this week and taking a break from the internets. These are scheduled posts. Forgive me for not responding in the comments until next week.

I think about this question every time I make pastry. I am so bad it it. The process looks something like this:

  • This time will be different
  • See? It’s going well!
  • Ugh. Stop tearing and separating.
  • OK. Moment of truth. The part where I transfer it to the pie plate.

That last part, is where my blood starts to boil up, adrenaline shoots through my body. A string of rather vulgar swearwords come to mind and sometimes I even say them. Out loud. Because I’m just that angry at myself and the blasted pie crust that it just wont do what I want it to. Despite all the practice, I just can’t make it work. (Sure, I might be using non-traditional flours like spelt and gluten free stuff. Yes, that does make it harder. I have confirmed this as I watched my mother-in-law — the Patron Saint of Pretty Pies — struggle to make the spelt/gluten free crust work for her).

Penelope wishes she had quit:

“I was a figure skater growing up. I skated three days a week at 5am and most days after school as well. But I couldn’t do double-rotation jumps. I’m simply too large. I am tall and big-boned. I am too heavy to rotate in the air twice, even as a very skinny fifth-grader. I wish someone had told me to stop focusing on figure skating because it would never work for me. I wish someone had helped me find what I’d be great at.”

So how do I know whether in this case Practice-Makes-Perfect or Girlfriend,-Give-Up-and-Spend-Your-Time-on-Things-You’ll-Actually-Improve-On?

A Few Principles:

  1. Is your ambition leading you to neglect valuable parts of your life? I haven’t gotten to the point where I have a singular focus on making pie crust. I am not neglecting my family or values so that I can get this frigging crust to submit. It is possible that this could happen in other areas of our lives. Certain goals require a huge time commitment.  That’s not necessarily bad. But if it is negatively affecting things you really value, that might be your cue to quit.
  2. Are you afraid of success? Do you want to quit because you’re afraid of the unknown associated with success? Your life might change a lot if you get published. What if you do become a hugely successful lawyer and speaker? What then? That can be scary.
  3. Consider your commitment. Why did you say you would do this thing? Who did you commit to doing it with? What does breaking the commitment mean for you and them? If you have a physical injury that prevents you from continuing, that’s one thing. It’s another if you’re just being flaky.
  4. Do you (like me) struggle to finish everything you start? Maybe you’ve never really figured out how to coach/motivate yourself into finishing something. You’re easily distracted and can always find something newer, trendier or more interesting (for a time) to focus on. This one is a big one I’m trying to learn.
  5. Does the payoff of quitting outweigh the investment you’ve put in? You’ve put a lot of money and time into achieving your goal and you’re considering giving it all up. Sometimes it’s good to quit but we fall subject to commitment bias and think “I can’t quit now, look how much I’ve invested!” Sometimes we should give up anyways. Sometimes we should keep going. If you have invested a lot and still want to quit, consider why that is? (Is it fear of success? Reality sinking in that you just aren’t capable like you thought you were?)

I don’t think there’s an easy answer. I have thought my response was common sense, only to have people think I made the wrong choice. We don’t all want the exact same things from life, and we’re not all going to approach everything the same way.

How do you decide whether to quit or keep going?

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