That little voice in your head that natters on about trying harder and digging deeper is lauded for its persistence and courage.
The little twinge in your gut suggesting that you cut your losses? Not so much. Its quivers, like a fluttering flag of surrender, are dismissed as mere nerves, lack of preparation, even cowardice.
Yet heeding that twinge may be the bravest, grittiest decision of all.
Ah, but we don’t much like quitters, i.e., “Winners never quit and quitters never win.” Thank you, Vince Lombardi.
When Wisconsin’s governor, Scott Walker, dropped out of his presidential run, he cast himself not as a loser, but a leader: “Today, I believe that I am being called to lead by helping to clear the field in this race. … ” he said.
When a record number of tennis players at the recent U.S. Open quit during matches, murmurs followed. Could they not play through pain? Are overmatched players giving up too easily? Or are they making smarter decisions?
With thousands of runners readying themselves for this weekend’s Twin Cities Marathon, the fine line between determination and surrender is front and center. But the issue reaches beyond athletics.
Minnesota novelist William Kent Krueger had spent two often frustrating years writing a sequel to his bestselling “Ordinary Grace” and was about to tackle yet another draft when he chose a better goal: giving up.
“I had been trying to corral some unruly elements in the book and I really thought I could do it,” said Krueger, who had an image of himself “as someone who could accomplish even the impossible. I believe in myself as a writer and know that writing is a challenge.”
But his agent had issues with the book, as did he. “And I’ll be honest with you: I was kind of exhausted by the effort.”
Deciding to stop work on the book “was a huge relief. It really was like a weight was lifted from my shoulders.” He stopped worrying about what the publisher expected from him or what his readers expected and focused on what he expected of himself.
Despite a blogpost he dubbed “the upside of failure,” Krueger said he doesn’t regard his decision as fiasco. After all, he said, “this is not the first time I’ve failed.” Years ago, while on a Bush Artist Fellowship, he wrote an atrocious manuscript.
“I considered myself a failure because so much time and money and effort had been sent my way and I produced dreck,” he said, chuckling. “So I know what failure feels like — and this did not feel like failure.
“As an artist you walk on the edge, and when you walk on the edge, you risk falling.
The upside was that the experience helped him work through some of the kinks “and I finally saw the book I should have been writing.” In other words, there will be a companion novel to “Ordinary Grace.”
Just be patient.
Taking power from fear
Sara Welle loves to run. The Minneapolis woman has run in four marathons, so she knows about training. But after races of 5 and 15 miles this summer in Duluth — admittedly on one of the city’s steamiest weekends in memory — she realized that she didn’t want to run 26.2 miles. At least not this year. And maybe never again.
It wasn’t the first time she’d harbored such thoughts, but instead of considering that they were trying to tell her something valuable, she ramped up her training in pursuit of a breakthrough in her motivation.
Then she heard a podcast featuring Travis Macy, an ultradistance runner based in Colorado and author of “The Ultra Mindset.” He talked about how we often regard fear as keeping us from doing what we want to do. But fear also can compel us to keep doing what we don’t want to do.
Her head almost exploded.
“I’d been afraid of what would happen if I took a step back,” said Welle. While members of her running club always have been “super-encouraging and super-motivating, everyone’s doing these super-big things,” she said. “I thought if I stepped outside that, it’s not that I wouldn’t be welcome, but it would be a different thing.”
So she was taken aback when several told her that her decision gave them permission to admit having the same doubts.
Welle still enjoys running, but now rarely in a race. She said she’s learned how better to determine why she wants to stop doing something, “what’s valuable about quitting, what’s real and honest, and not just what’s too tough.”
Like Krueger, Welle said that she also felt a weight lifted from her shoulders.
“I did feel physically different,” she said. “I felt confident in standing behind my decision.”
She paused to recast the tense: “I feel confident.”
Quitting to move ahead
Travis Macy, who wrote “The Ultra Mindset,” spends most of his efforts trying to help people push past their perceived limitations. Yet the eighth of his eight “core principles for success” is this: “Never quit … except when you should quit.”
Even he hadn’t seen that eighth principle coming, he said, until he was in the midst of writing the book.
“In order for many of us to go big — whether it’s running a marathon, doing your business, raising your kids — what it comes down to is that you have to quit doing something else in order to make this positive thing happen.
“As much as moving forward, we have to stop doing things that are holding us back.”
Macy was a high school teacher and enrolled in a master’s degree program toward becoming a high school principal when he saw that “it wasn’t the way I really wanted my life to go.
“The quitting was really hard, especially when you’ve told yourself for a long time, ‘I don’t quit. I’m tough.’ You can’t quit just because it’s hard, or just because you’re going through a low, or because you failed once or twice or 10 times. If you’re going in the direction you want to go, you can’t quit.
“But it’s ironic that in order for me to write a book about mental toughness, the first step was quitting something that was a significant endeavor in my life.”
In that light, quitting loses its power to shame.
“By exploring something that wasn’t a good fit, I’ve made progress.”