Monday, December 19, 2011

The Art of Giving... Up!

At this time of year, much of our time and attention is taken up with preparing for the holidays; in buying and wrapping that special gift, in donating our time and/or money to support others in need, in spending time with family and friends, gifting them with our attention and love.  It is truly a time in which we are focused on giving openly and readily to others.

However, as much as there is often talk and direction offered concerning how to GIVE; how to give bigger, better and more, rarely are we given instruction on the need to develop our skills in Giving Up.  In fact, much of the push from society at large, and even well-meaning family and friends, is to strive harder and do more, all in the name of success. 

This constant focus and emphasis today on being 'Successful' comes at a cost, one which is rarely expressed.  We continue to often unknowingly and unwittingly pay the price for succeeding, without ever questioning whether it is a price we are truly interested in paying.  Studies are now showing that even our children are leading overcrowded, over structured and overwhelmed lives, resulting in them losing out on much-needed relaxation time and sleep.  This pattern results in a loss of focus, a drop in their productivity and a stronger push and urge for them to 'try harder', all of which serves to strengthen the downward spiral.

We often hear that to be more successful takes willpower.  However, our willpower is not unlimited.  We do not have an infinite capacity to push and focus.  Therefore, as we strive and push in one area of our lives, we might overuse our willpower and lack the willpower that we need in other areas.  Therefore, if we are depleting all of our willpower resources in our drive and push to succeed in business, we might find that we lack the willpower we need to say 'no' to that second dessert, or to get out of a toxic relationship. 

Now, those that know me will understand that I believe in defining and going after your goals.  However, you also know that I believe in balance.  There is a price and cost associated with any action that we take in our lives, which is why I always emphasize the concept of 'choice' with my clients.  I urge them to ensure that any action they decide to take is one they have chosen, after having recognised and accepted the impact on the availability of other choices. 

Perseverance is required for breaking through barriers, for overcoming obstacles.  Not everything worthwhile in life comes easily or the first time we strive for it.  However, if you have goals that are truly unobtainable, that are causing you undo stress, frustration and angst, that are negatively impacting your health, then it might be time for you to Give Up.  Despite the negative stigma that others often attach to 'quitting' or 'giving up', we need to recognise that they serve a very useful purpose. 

There are times that we work toward a goal because of what it can do for us in the long run.  However, once started on a given path we may find that it doesn't lead us in the direction we wanted, or that it satisfied our need sooner than we thought.  We must reserve the right to then readjust, to abandon that goal sooner than anticipated. 

Very early in my career I was working in social work.  However, I recognised a need and desire to do something other than that.  In order to transition into 'business' I decided to pursue an MBA.  I wanted my applications to be taken seriously and therefore the MBA appeared to be an option that would get me the recognition I desired.  Once hired into a company though, I was faced with the fact that I couldn't continue to do both well.  My work travel schedule prevented me from participating in the group activities required by my MBA program, I was not 'learning' the material so much as squeezing in moments to satisfy the requirements of the professors.  The dilemma therefore was...
  • My career was growing but my time and attention on my MBA was suffering. 
  • I could certainly focus more on the MBA to get better grades and more learning from the program, but I would need to slow my career path.
As I really sat down to assess and analyze my options I found that I kept coming back to one key issue.  I was having trouble considering quitting the MBA program as a legitimate option... because it meant QUITTING.  I was taught you don't quit something you start.  If you quit, you were a loser.  There were no in-between options. 'Just suck it up and get it done!' was the phrase that kept running through my head.

However, whenever I thought about why I was doing my MBA, what I wanted to get out of it, all I came up with was the fact that I wanted to use it to get 'business' to take me seriously, and help make my transition from social work into the business sphere.  In short... the MBA had already done what I needed it to do.  I then questioned... if I finished the program, what more would I get from the time, money and effort? 

The bottom line...  I consciously made the decision to Give Up.  I left the program, determining that the additional time would be better spent redirected toward my career and leisure/personal life.  Quite honestly, a decision once made that I never regretted.  I had seven increasingly responsible roles in the 6 years that I was employed with that company, none of which I would have been able to create had my focus been split.  I got married and was able to enjoy my new husband and two wonderful stepchildren.

The biggest lesson of course was in learning to recognise the difference between when to push through a barrier and when to give up on something.  This represents a lesson that many of my clients struggle with continuously.  When faced with the possible need to Give Up on a Goal of your own, consider using some of the following thoughts and questions to help you clarify your decision.
  • What exactly is the purpose of the goal you have set?
  • What have you already achieved in its pursuit and is that enough?
  • What values of yours does it satisfy?
  • Are there alternative ways of satisfying those values?
  • Is this a goal you are pursuing for yourself or for others?
  • How much stress is the pursuit of this goal causing you? 
  • Is the price of pursuit one you are willing and able to continue to pay?
  • What is the impact of pursuit on other areas of your life?
  • What really is the impact of disengaging from the pursuit of the goal?
Use any, or all, of the above to help you assess whether the goal is one that should be continued or set aside.  Use the questions to help you make that determination consciously.  Studies by Wrosch and his associates found that overall, people who were able to disengage from 'unobtainable' goals were far happier than those who continued to pursue them. 

In the end, the decision needs to rest with you as only you can determine the true value and meaning of a goal to you and your life.  Just bear in mind that the Art of learning when to Give Up may be the very lesson you need to learn to free your time and focus to achieving want you truly want in life.

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