It’s never too late to give up on your dreams


Amy Fenster Brown

This is a true story.

Several years ago at a school awards assembly, a teacher/administrator/principal type gave an opening speech. Said educator was known for being nervous when addressing big groups. That, combined with too many notecards, produced this priceless gem: “It’s never too late to give up and stop believing in your dreams.” 

Um, what? That’s what they said. It was supposed to be an inspirational quote like, “It’s never too late, (PAUSE) so don’t give up, (PAUSE) or stop believing in your dreams.”  

Kids were confused, parents were confused, and one dad whispered to his friends, “Oh, good! I was worried it was too late for me to give up but now I know I still have the option.” 

We’re told to never give up and to see that message on cheesy inspirational wall hangings in gift shops right by the “live, love, laugh” plaques. But … never? Is that even realistic? Sometimes there are situations when giving up is actually a good idea.

Bad habits. Chasing perfection. Getting self-tanner off your white bedsheets.

I crowdsourced like crazy on this one, getting perspective from several people on when it’s “OK” to throw in the towel. 

It’s definitely smarter to have a new job lined up before you quit the current one. Yet there are situations in which walking out in a huff midshift with a dramatic “I quit!” is fully warranted. 

Most agree that quitting a team in the middle of the season, just because you’re not enjoying it or doing well, is a terrible idea. Work hard, finish your commitment and learn from it. However, if you’re stuck with a coach or instructor who is treating you poorly or it’s really affecting your mental health to the point of being truly miserable, stepping away seems more justified. 

Most also said the wording makes a difference. Saying “quit” or “give up” could be replaced with “moving on” or “walking away.” Perhaps the negative connotations of some words suggest you didn’t try hard, while the positive feeling of other words signify that you gave it your all and realized when it just wasn’t working anymore.

It can take a lot of chutzpah to know when to walk away.

“Maybe don’t call it giving up. Look at it more along the lines of reevaluating certain things or situations,” one of my “tough guy” friends said. 

“Look at it more as moving on or adjusting your goals when you realize what you are trying to do is unrealistic or harmful. Giving up should be a last resort after trying anything and everything to be successful,” my very driven, goal-oriented friend said.

In toxic friendships, when the friend is taking so much more than they are giving, it’s time to give up and focus on people who make you feel good when you are with them. When a person or pursuit is causing you more harm or pain than good, it is time to switch gears.  

My crowdsourcing led me to Rabbi Amy Feder of Congregation Temple Israel, who said, “Judaism never suggests you should just keep doing something forever if it isn’t working, even something as sacred as a marriage. That’s why you sign a ketubah (Jewish marriage contract), with the understanding that if it doesn’t work, the ketubah will no longer be valid and you obtain a get (Jewish bill of divorce). Giving up on something that isn’t working isn’t failure. It’s ending a chapter and moving on to the next one.” 

Whether you walk away or stick it out, you are going to learn from the experience. Sometimes things are not achievable, but trying your hardest to work through a challenge, even if you quit, can help you grow as an individual. 

I’ve heard two pieces of great advice that work in this debate on if and when to quit.

One: Ask yourself, is your current course of action taking you to the place where you want to be?

Two: When you are ready to give up, just take one more step. It can be a little baby step. And if you cannot take another after that, then it’s probably time to sit down. 

There is, however, a time in life that we can all agree upon, where giving up is the only feasible option: assembling Ikea furniture. 

As the wise prophet Kenny Rogers of blessed memory famously said, “You got to know when to hold ’em, know when to fold ’em.”