The Difference Between Giving Up And Moving On
The lesson that took me six years to learn
Growing up, I was taught never to give up. This was a good lesson; we shouldn’t give up. When we give up, we:
- Miss out on the best things in life, because the best things in life don’t come easy.
- Spend the rest of our lives wondering what could have been.
- Make it easier to give up in the future.
- End up never delivering on our potential. We end up feeling like we could have been more.
I took that lesson to heart. As my friends and family know, once I set my mind to something, it’s practically impossible to get me to change course. I am going to achieve what I set out to achieve, or else.
But when you teach people not to give up, you also need to teach people how to move on from things that aren’t serving them. People who don’t give up and who don’t move on relentlessly pursue goals without the ability to adjust course.
This is what happened to me. I set a series of goals in my adolescence, goals which ended up not serving me very well. But since I felt that no longer pursuing these goals would be giving up, I barreled after them like a runaway train. And wherever there’s a runaway train, there’s a crash. Allow me to explain.
One of the goals it was difficult for me to let go of was my goal to become a millionaire startup founder. At fifteen, I founded my own business making apps for autistic children. This business found unexpected success. Many people around me, myself included, expected me to take venture funding and become a big shot founder.
But after a few years running my startup, I was sick of it. I was sick of digital marketing lingo, I was sick of “talking business,” I was sick of keeping up with the venture capital Joneses, and I was sick of hustle culture. This isn’t to say it’s a bad line of work — but it’s not the line of work for me. I don’t have the will to power that being a startup founder requires.
But I was the wunderkind! The child founder! I won an award for being the best high school business founder in the world. I was destined for greatness (or so it seemed).
These expectations weighed on me. It wasn’t that anyone said point-blank that they expected this of me. What weighed on me was little comments people would make. “Remember me when you’re famous/a millionaire.” “I know people twice your age who can’t do half the things you can.” “I can’t wait to see where you are in ten years.” They piled up in my subconscious, one after another.
I didn’t want to be a famous founder. I didn’t want to be running some multi-million dollar business twenty-four-seven. My fondest dream was and is to be running an online business, part-time, and pulling in a couple thousand a month. That’s a worthy goal, but it’s not something people win awards for. It’s not what the hustle-hard founder culture is going for.
The fact that I didn’t want to be a famous founder made me feel guilty, for several reasons:
- People spend their lives salivating after the amount of money I had a chance to get. So few people get this kind of opportunity, and it was being handed to me on a silver platter. I felt it was selfish of me not to want this.
- I felt I owed it to myself and everyone around me to “make the most of myself.” I felt that this was my shot at greatness, and to pass up my chance at greatness would be the same as giving up.
- Because my customers were autistic children from needy families, I felt I had to make these apps.
- I felt that if I could make money, I had to, and then donate it to charity. I felt that choosing not to make money was the same thing as making it and then not donating it.
But in my heart, I didn’t want any of it.
Because of that, the company never took off the way people expected it to. It had ample opportunity. Schools and hospitals reached out for partnership. Venture capital firms waved dollars in front of my eyes.
I never closed on these deals because some part of me knew that since my heart wasn’t in it, these deals would go sour. These people deserved to partner with someone whose heart was in it.
Luckily for me, you can’t become a multimillionaire startup founder without wanting it. It’s not a career you can slide into. So as my motivation died, I was closed out of that career field. As my motivation died, my performance sank. As my performance sank, I stopped getting awards and calls from venture capitalists. Opportunities stopped appearing.
This upset those around me who were rooting for me, but all I felt was relieved.
Finally, years too late, I admitted to myself and the world that I had no business being a founder. I closed the company down and moved on.
Sometimes I think about the fact that I passed up the opportunity to have hundreds of millions of dollars by age twenty-five. Even if I didn’t want it, it’s sort of awe-inspiring that God gave me the choice.
But no matter how hard I try, I can’t feel bad about it. My income may currently be below the poverty line, but I am much happier as a poor writer than I ever could have been running a high-growth startup. My only regret is not admitting it to myself sooner.
I struggled with these questions for years, but I didn’t need to. There are a few simple questions which reveal where your heart is. If you have the courage to answer them, that is.
- First, do you want to achieve your goal? If not, then you need to move on, for sure. If so:
- Are you looking forward to reaching your goal?
- If so, why? Are you looking forward to the reward? Or are you merely looking forward to being done?
- Why do you want to achieve your goal? Is it because you are looking forward to the reward?
- Are you afraid of letting people (your friends, your family, yourself) down?
- Are you trying to achieve your goal because you’ll feel like a loser if you don’t?
- Do you feel like you have to have this goal? If you let the goal go, will you feel guilty?
These are simple questions, but they can be uncomfortable to answer. They force you to confront the truth about what you want and why you want it.
Uncomfortable or not, you must confront this truth. Any time you spend running away from the truth is time wasted. It’s time you’ll wish you could get back.
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