Why ‘Never Give Up’ Is Not Good Advice

If you read self-help or motivational literature even occasionally, you’re likely to have come across the advice to “never give up”. It’s a very popular piece of encouragement. Unfortunately, like much mainstream self-improvement advice, it’s also not very good.

The usual idea behind the encouragement to never give up is indeed noble. It’s the idea that your dreams are important, and if you persist in trying to make them come true, you eventually will, and that is all that matters.

But noble doesn’t mean accurate. This idea disregards some crucial aspects of reality, human life and human psychology, which makes the resulting advice really impractical and even hurtful.

3 Problems with Never Giving Up

I believe there are 3 main issues with never giving up.

1) It ignores the harsh but undeniable reality that you may simply be unable to achieve certain goals, no matter how much you try. Some things truly are outside your reach. The fact a few people have done them doesn’t necessarily mean you can do them as well.

Take the example of fame. According to a major survey done in the US in 2005, 31% of American teenagers believe they are going to be famous someday. But by its very nature, fame is something extremely few people can achieve: one in thousands or less. So clearly a lot of these teenagers will never become famous. This goal is unreachable for most of them.

2) It disregards that fact that the resources invested in reaching some lofty goal may be better used some other way. Even if a goal can be achieved eventually if you never give up, the amount of time, energy, money and other resources you pour in it might be huge.

And since these resources are limited, it’s prudent after some trial and error to sensibly consider if it’s worth further investing your resources in trying to reach that goal, especially if reaching it will not make you that much happier, or you might better invest them in pursuing some other goal. These kinds of practical computations are very important.

3) Your motivation system if setup to prevent you from pursuing unattainable goals, and that should tell you something. Have you noticed how when you fail at something big time, you feel down and lack motivation to try again? Contrary to conventional wisdom, that is actually not a bad thing.

You see, feeling down is, among other things, a way for your mind to try to make you disengage, reassess the situation, and possibly let go of an unrealistic goal. The problem is that we often ignore our feelings, and we keep striving for something we can’t get or we can only get with too much sacrifice. Then when we fail again we feel even worse, and worse, until it develops into a full blown depression.

It is true that we often become disheartened and give up too fast, and that’s when we wanna fight against the discouragement, but many other times it’s trying to tell us something true and crucial, and we should really listen.

When To and When Not To Give Up

So it is wise sometimes to give up. I don’t wanna create the impression though that every time you fail at something, it means you can’t do it and you should just quit. Certainly there is the common problem at the other extreme, which is that of the many people giving up too fast, because they make too big of a deal of any failure.

The message here is that you wanna have a sensible, pragmatic relation to your goals. Set big goals, seek to achieve them, and assess any failure rationally. Sometimes failure in reaching a goal is a sign you need to keep trying, and maybe adjust your strategy a little. Thus, it’s not wise to give up on a goal if:

  • You have only made a couple of tries to achieve that said goal;
  • There are lots of feasible routes you can still try to reach it;
  • Each new attempt doesn’t cost you much compared to the potential payoff, or
  • You’ve made visible progress towards your goal and you’re still moving forward.

Other times though, failure is a clear sign that your objective is farfetched or not worth it, so you might as well drop it. In the face of repeated, costly failure, when you’ve exhausted nearly every route and made almost no headway, it’s time to cut your losses and give up.

And giving up on a goal doesn’t mean giving up on life. Even if you fail at something, you are still a person filled with potential, and there are many other things you can achieve in life.

Even your initial goal, if you rework it a bit, you can usually turn it into one that’s more suitable for you, and you’ll achieve that one. You may not achieve the objective of becoming a millionaire, but you can still make a good income, doing something you enjoy.

On the social side, you may not end up with hundreds of friends who adore you, but you can still have a solid group of cool friends. You may not get some former-supermodel-movie-star to be your partner, but you can still have a meaningful relationship with a great person.

As a social confidence coach, I assure you these are realistic social goals, even if you’re very shy or socially awkward right now. You just have to find the right approach to improve your social confidence, social skills and social life, and use it some time with some consistency.

Speaking of which, check out this free social confidence presentation, and join my free social skills newsletter as well. I share lots of proven social advice in them to help you improve in these areas.

As you let go of unrealistic goals and you focus your ambition on bold but realistic ones, as you learn to recognize when to give up and when to keep going, you put your life on a path that’s certain to produce a lot of joy and fulfillment.

You hold the reigns of your life. Just bear in mind that not all roads are equally accessible to everybody.

Taking Success Advice from Successful People Is Not a Good Idea

I was recently watching the last The Tonight Show with Conan O’Brien, in which he said goodbye to NBC and his fans. His memorable last words were: “If you work really hard and you’re kind, amazing things will happen. I’m telling you: amazing things will happen”.

I’m sure Conan O’Brien is a cool guy and I think he has some great achievements, but if working hard and being kind were the only two ingredients for amazing things to happen in one’s life (aka being successful), we would have a lot more successful people, living amazing lives.

I believe that sometimes, successful people can give powerful success advice. I personally know some who do. However, I believe this is rather the exception than the rule, and in most cases, taking success advice from successful people is not such a good idea.

The main reason is the fact there is a huge difference between being successful and being able to understand success and teach it to others. Here are some phenomena which often happen with successful people:

  • They’re naturals. They do things in a certain way out of instinct, and this gives them results. But they don’t really know what exactly they’re doing which gets them success, even if they think they do. So they will often give advice like: “Just be yourself. Act naturally.” Ha?
  • They may consciously try certain things which give them the results they want, but they try multiple things at once and they’re not able understand which one of them exactly works and is the true source of their success.
  • They discover things which help them get results, in their context, and they wrongly believe these things apply to everyone, in every context. They generalize quickly, ignoring the specifics of each human being and each situation.
  • They lack the skills to present and explain their ideas for success in a very clear and meaningful way, which would make the advice truly useful.

I know that successful people are given a lot of credibility in offering advice for success, and sometimes for personal development. People think that someone who has success is the best to teach it. Considering the points above, you can see why this is faulty logic.

Successful people need a lot more than success to also provide solid success advice. They need a high degree of awareness, analytical skills, scientific, critical thinking, communication and people skills. Only then, you can rely on them to give powerful success advice.

Beyond successful people, I believe there is one other category of people which is usually much better at giving success advice. I call them modelers. They’re the people who observe, study and model successful people, extracting the patterns of success.

Why are they better at giving success advice? For one, because they generally have a lot more of the skills presented above, which are required to understand and teach success. And also, because they don’t stop at modeling just one successful person.

It’s great that you’re looking to understand success and use this understanding in your personal development. In this journey, remember that choosing the proper sources for success advice can be just as important.