Today’s post’s impetus was an Instagram image caption on negativity from late last year. Over the course of the comments, a friend made the solid point that the failure of something in life to pan out the way we envisioned isn’t an excuse for us to give up on it. While the original post’s aim was to address unwarranted negativity and not resignation from arduous endeavors, her comment highlighted the need for deeper explanation of a topic that was too complex to be brazenly oversimplified on social media.
I had written that in order to be happy, one should remove the stress factors that inhibit it. Simply writing down what keeps you awake at night or stirs negative emotions throughout the workday is pretty easy. Once these have been underlined, one can take action to remove them. (But you and I both know that happiness is way more complicated than not having obstacles, and, in fact, success is often defined by overcoming them). The issue in question revolves around muscling through hardship or straight up throwing in the towel. How do you know which action to take?
If you were someone who takes commitment seriously, you wouldn’t simply give up on your marriage, right? If you were deeply invested in your career, you wouldn’t suddenly jump ship. If commitment presupposes that you’ll have to endure some kind of negativity, then it’s not circumstantial. It’s unconditional. You stand by it even when it gets difficult. You don’t just walk away from something and still classify your resolve as resolve, because the quality of what you initially professed rots with your double standard. But is it okay to give up? First I say no, and then I say yes. Here’s why.
Giving Up & Self Preservation
I talk to my clients pretty regularly about reframing failures in their training and nutrition. Sometimes success evades us either through no fault of our own or entirely on account of our miscalculations or laziness. Either way, I employ the reframing strategy to adjust my clients’ perception so that we can learn from what went wrong, attenuate the consequent stress, and set the stage for improvements. This makes failure manageable, but it doesn’t resolve the struggle of sticking to the opening, formative months of a lifestyle change. People are hesitant to change because it means they have to forsake their accustomed notions of comfort. Like any other creature, humans hate pain and don’t want to exert effort if they don’t have to.
In my opinion, the economy of self is why people give up. If there’s too much risk involved, if it’s going to require lots of time, personal sacrifice, vulnerability, transparency, and persistence, people may begin to look at other options. If the risk outweighs perceived value—and if commitment doesn’t mean so much—they give up. But this is not what I was getting at when I said people should highlight and eliminate the things that get in the way of their happiness and success. This is why I say NO to giving up. If you want to be a better version of yourself, if you want something worth keeping, you have to invest in it. You fight to make it work when times get tough. Commitment means staying loyal to what you said you were going to do long after the emotion in which you said it has left you.
If The Seas Are Uncertain, Abandon Ship!
Our excessive consumerist culture gave birth to the belief—especially among Millennials—that if your relationship or job is on rugged seas, you can throw it away in exchange for a new one. If we think of people and employees as mostly expendable, then people are nothing more than a commodity. And that’s the problem. If you work a thankless job, it’s almost natural to entertain the idea of finding another. And relationships? One little “innocent”, cheating-quality flirt is hidden behind obscure messenger apps, dating websites, and liked images on social media. It’s become too easy to let some attractive person’s photo charm you when you just had a nasty argument with your significant other.
If you had a mind to follow through with this, you could get away with it. And people do! But this road does more long-term damage than it offers any benefit. It’s the people who take this path whose selfishness eclipses their ability to realize the pain they’re causing others… and themselves. So if you fall prey to someone or some company like this—if fighting to maintain a status quo infringes on your self-respect, loyalties, and crosses your value boundaries—then it’s time to consider dismissal or departure. Chasing after things that are worthwhile to you shouldn’t cost you your dignity. This is why I also say YES.
In both instances of giving up, the act is unequivocally selfish. The distinction, however, is that one is a delusive error and the other protects you.
The Cost of Obtaining What’s Worthwhile: A Chink In The Armor
Making oneself vulnerable to another is like telling them where your armor doesn’t protect you. With trust comes the understanding that you could be seriously injured. Maybe someone flagrantly betrays you. Maybe, as I mentioned above, they injure you out of their own pain. And when that trust is broken? The damage inflicted modifies behaviors.
Ever heard of the idiom “building up walls”? Putting distance between yourself and the situation that led to your pain is a prime example of modified behavior. People also adapt to injury by adopting impatience, cold cynicism, nervousness, exhibiting atelophobia (the fear of never being good enough), and developing situational anxiety. Our insecurities become the root of our hostilities. As humans we’re adaptive, because it helps us avoid the same pain in the future. But adaptability is a two-edged sword. While these boundaries help keep pain out, they also fence us in, leaving us isolated to deal with our baggage. So much that does for healing.
The Unknowingly Consented Forest Fire
We’re our own worst enemies not because we hurt ourselves directly, but because by not facing the mirror candidly we inflict damage upon ourselves and unknowingly allow the backlash to hit those around us. That makes it pretty tough on those who are emotionally invested in us. The people who hurt you are sometimes themselves hurting and acting under duress of the monster they’ve raised inside. We too feed our own within us if we refuse to resolve the mirror honestly.
Personal Responsibility: Destroy What Destroys You
We could leave it at this—that we’re all just living at the caprice of others—but that doesn’t leave us much in charge of our own lives if we’re always being tossed around. You can choose to play the victim and live with a defeatist mentality or you can say “to hell with negativity” and empower yourself as the owner of your own life. There is absolutely no reason to allow negativity to live rent-free in your life.
“There are very few people who are going to look into the mirror and say, ‘That person I see is a savage monster;’ instead, they make up some construction that justifies what they do.”
– Noam Chomsky
The point of ridding your life of negativity is not throw people out or to give up personal endeavors. That should be the last thing you do. The point is to acknowledge the unrelenting red flags that insidiously wear at your peace, undermine your groundwork for happiness, and uproot your dignity. Negativity is a rot; life’s too short to tolerate garbage that eats away at you. The charge, then, is to take personal responsibility for unwarranted negativity in your life—insofar as you have control over it—instead of becoming a walking incarnation of your environment’s erosive sentiments and a reincarnation of the demons of people who’ve hurt you. Face yourself truthfully, live liberated, and you not only empower yourself but even those around you.