Should You Afford the Luxury of Giving Up?

The response to failure that’s better than fight-or-flight.

Anangsha Alammyan
Jan 19 · 7 min read
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“I can’t handle this drama anymore. I’m quitting.”

That’s what I told my best friend a few days ago. For months, I put all I had into a work project. I’d been the star performer of our team. But all of a sudden, the mood changed. I was held responsible for a mistake another team member made. The project failed and I was harshly criticized. I decided to quit.

My friend found my frustration funny. “This reminds me of the Jhanvi incident,” she laughed. “You didn’t quit then. Why would you quit now?”

You didn’t quit then. Why would you quit now?

Nine words — but they triggered an avalanche of memories from fifteen years ago. I’d just joined a boarding school and Jhanvi was my roommate. I was extremely shy and barely talked to anyone — not even Jhanvi. As a result, my classmates mistook my shyness for arrogance. I became the brunt of several rude jokes, causing me to retreat further into my shell.

One evening, Jhanvi returned from school and found that someone had spilled ink over her science homework, which was due the next day. I was about to offer her help when she turned to look at me, eyes filled with anger.

“How dare you do this to me?” she snapped.

I stepped back as if she’d slapped me.

By then, a group of girls had gathered around us, drawn by Jhanvi’s scream. I looked up and saw all of them staring at me as if daring me to deny involvement. I looked down and spotted the spoiled homework. Each dark blotch over her carefully scribbled handwriting felt like an insult, a personal affront.

This was it. I’d be expelled. All the months of torture I’d suffered would amount to nothing. I felt like I had failed. Like this would be a rock bottom I could never climb out of.

Would I really let them do this to me?

Somehow, I found strength in the conviction that I didn’t deserve to be blamed.

When I looked up again, my heart was filled with resolve, not fear. There was no way I’d let a bunch of girls bully me into accepting blame for something so outrageous.

I don’t remember speaking so many words at one go in my life as I did then. My fists rolled into balls, I talked and talked and talked. I defended myself, explained that I wasn’t in the room all day, and threw back their hate at them.

When I was done, my chest was heaving and there were tears rolling down my cheeks. But I’d made my point. The real culprits were found the next day and all the hate directed at me came to a stop.

As a teenager, the Jhanvi incident was my lowest. There were two ways this could have ended, and I chose the harder one. It took every ounce of strength, but I stood up for myself. Giving up wasn’t an option. I’d worked way too hard to get into this school, and quitting for something so silly would be an injustice to my dreams.

Compared to the Jhanvi incident, what was happening in my office was a cakewalk. Why was I so hell-bent on quitting then? Why did I think there was no way I could prove my worth and sway the public opinion in my favor?

After some intense journaling sessions and thorough study, I came to the conclusion that giving up is a luxury only a privileged few can afford. When it comes to matters of utmost importance, we rarely doubt ourselves. We go all in and win back whatever was taken from us.

This article analyzes that human trait and raises some important questions: how do you decide when you can afford to give up? If not, how can you get over it? How can you handle failure better by manifesting your inner badass? By the end of this article, you’ll get some science-backed answers that will make you ponder the way you react to stressful situations.

Giving Up Isn’t Imprinted in Your DNA

Humans (species belonging to the Homo genus) have been around for over 2 million years, while Homo sapiens, our type of human, evolved only in the past 200,000 years or so. But over the next 60,000 years, all other human species went extinct, while Homo sapiens thrived.

If “giving up” was a common trait of the first Homo sapiens, would we have taken over the world?

Ancient Homo sapiens didn’t have a thick coat of fur to withstand the cold like the Australopithecus. They didn’t have the muscle strength of the Neanderthals to win in hand-to-hand combat. All they had was their ability to walk on two legs, converse in ways that allowed for an exchange of valuable information and form bigger communities.

If the first Homo sapiens on this planet simply “gave up” because they weren’t strong or well-equipped enough to handle the challenges of the prehistoric earth, you wouldn’t be reading this article on your device today.

But they didn’t, and so, here you are. Quitting isn’t imprinted in your DNA. Rather, you were programmed to keep pushing on, to look for innovative solutions, to think out of the box, and build something for yourself even when the odds are stacked against you.

If your ancestors can discover fire and shape tools out of stones, surely, you can get past that fear of rejection holding you back.

Would you ignore your legacy and succumb to the comfort of giving up? Or would you stand up and fight for your dreams because you deserve happiness?

To Fight or Not to Fight

In 1929, Walter Cannon, the chairman of the Department of Physiology at Harvard Medical School, came up with the phrase “fight or flight” — something that has become synonymous with the two key behaviors occurring in response to a threat. Over time, scientists have come up with an intermittent response that might be more effective than simply fighting or fleeing.

Step one: Assess

The first response of most people is to freeze, or “stop, look, and listen.” This can be translated as the limbo before a final decision is made where you assess the situation and estimate the ground you stand on.

Ethological research has demonstrated that prey that remains “frozen” during a threat are more likely to avoid detection than the prey whose first response is to flee.

Step two: Decide

After you’ve decided how the odds are stacked in favor of you, make the final decision. Yes, it can be either to keep fighting or to quit, but once you’ve made one, stick to it.

As this article by Alina Tugend in The New York Times puts it, “It’s not that changing our minds is necessarily bad, if, with time and research, we discover that our goals have evolved. But it’s quite another thing to end up in a place you do not want to be with no real idea of how you got there.”

Step three: Monitor your self-talk

When you face failure, try and analyze your self-talk. Are you shaming yourself for it, or are you practicing humiliation?

Researcher Brené Brown points out that people often give up in the face of shame, but don’t believe they deserve their humiliation. This “not-deserving” part helps you to not internalize the rejection. It leaves you feeling angry and triggers you into taking action.

In the Jhanvi incident, if I’d chosen shame and thought to myself, “I’ve failed so hard. I don’t deserve to be here”, I might not have been able to pull myself out. However, I thought, “These people don’t know what they’re talking about. It’s not my fault. I deserve better than this.”

That’s why I could fight back.

If you infuse your self-talk with humiliation, you’ll be better equipped to handle a stressful situation and be less inclined to give up.

The Captain America Attitude

Here’s what I kept telling myself all through high school each time something threatened to bring me down: “Yes, I failed. But so what? I’ll figure out a way to manage things here on.”

This inner badass was woken the day my classmates tried to blame me for Jhanvi’s misfortune. Over time, it has manifested itself on several occasions and helped me overcome major challenges.

Failure isn’t an option. If one door closes, another will open. If it doesn’t, you’ll hammer your way through the wall. This is what I call the Captain America attitude. If you’ve watched Avengers: End Game, you might be familiar with this scene:

Natasha Romanoff: “This is going to work, Steve.”
Captain America: “I know it is. Because I don’t know what I’m going to do if it doesn’t.”

Here’s what you can do each time failure threatens you: channel your inner Captain America and say to yourself, “This is going to work.”

Don’t succumb to the comfort of not trying. Don’t give yourself the luxury of giving up.

Final Words

I didn’t quit the project. I went back to my boss, proved to him that whatever happened wasn’t my fault, worked twice as hard, and improved everything that had gone wrong. In the end, I was applauded for the competence and strength of will I’d shown.

But more than that, the inner glow of pride was a better reward. I was proud of not letting myself down.

When you hit a low and feel like giving up, remember your “Jhanvi incident.” Remember the time in your life when you felt like everything would end and no matter how hard you tried, you couldn’t make things better. Remember how hard you struggled and recognize your inner badass.

The whole world had shattered. But you built it back piece by piece.

Look at yourself. You’ve faced so much hardship and yet, you’re still here. Still fighting, still smiling despite it all. Your “Jhanvi incident” was an all-time low. But now, you can draw strength from it.

If you clawed your way out of that deep an abyss, you can crawl your way out of anything.

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Mind Cafe

Relaxed, inspiring essays about happiness.

Thanks to Li Charmaine Anne, Eva Keiffenheim, MSc, Itxy Lopez, and David Majister

Anangsha Alammyan

Written by

3x Author, Engineer, 2x Quora Top Writer. I make videos about self-improvement, body positivity & feminism on YT & IG. anangsha.substack.com | IG: anangsha_

Mind Cafe

Mind Cafe

Relaxed, inspiring essays about happiness.

Anangsha Alammyan

Written by

3x Author, Engineer, 2x Quora Top Writer. I make videos about self-improvement, body positivity & feminism on YT & IG. anangsha.substack.com | IG: anangsha_

Mind Cafe

Mind Cafe

Relaxed, inspiring essays about happiness.

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