chess pieces

Be honest with yourself; knowing when to quit

I have spent a lot of time chasing ‘a passion’. Almost my entire undergraduate life to be specific. I wanted to go the Olympics. Well, World University Games (FISU) first, then World Championships, and then Olympics. I failed. FISU wasn’t a far-fetched dream, I watched some of my own teammates qualify and go, whilst I stayed behind. I poured everything I had into the pursuit of that dream –  time, effort, money, hope. I poured my entire soul into it, training every single weekday, mornings and evenings. Up to 4hrs a day on average dedicated to that sport. I even trained on vacations, although not as intensely as during school days. I neglected any other form of self development, chose not to pursue a first class for my academic degree and barely had time for some of my friends. Of course I had days when I didn’t want to train, and times when I was severely demotivated…but I turned up anyways.I couldn’t quit. I gave it everything I had…and still came up blank, still failed. Why?

It took me a while to realise something very crucial. Something most of us don’t like doing and so we end up making really poor decisions, then blaming the outcomes on anything and everyone but ourselves. The practice of self-honesty. I wasn’t being completely honest with myself.  Being honest with yourself requires that you look at yourself , your current situation and environment as objectively as possible. It demands that you suspend your emotions, skewered beliefs and be very frank with yourself. Be brutally honest about your abilities, your skills, your capacity to endure and your available resources. This isn’t to say be pessimist and tear down your self-esteem, but see things as realistically as possible. View your dreams from the ground. See, the thing is, a lot of the success stories we hear have big chunks of information missing, and most of it is oversimplified. Yes, hard work + talent + persistence = success…but that sum is incomplete. Too many factors are missing. It should be a page long equation. And then again sometimes the answer isn’t always ‘success’, which is highly subjective in itself. It depends on who’s telling the story, on who is defining it. Sometimes you do all that and more but never quite reach your objective. You could be very near to it, or you don’t even come close.

Let me give an illustration.Who’s the fastest man in the world right now? Yes, his last race was tragic but he still holds the record as the fastest man alive. Anyways, he has achieved enormous success as an athlete. I mean almost every male sprinter I know wants to be the next him, or better than him. Or have their names synonymous to speed just like his. He basically has the spotlight when he is competing in a race. He’s a champion. But have you ever thought of the other athletes racing against him? I’m not talking about the silver or bronze medalist (at least they even get medals). There are 8 athletes on that line-up. Have you thought about the guy who trails in fifth? The guy who comes in last? What about the one who didn’t make it into the finals? And the one who didn’t get through the first heat? All these people. Did they not have the passion? Did they not work hard? Believe in themselves? Persevere? Did they not have the talent? Obviously they did, otherwise they wouldn’t have gotten to the Olympics or World Championships in the first place…but usually none of them get the gold medal isn’t it? I mean only one person can win it, and he usually does. So it’s perfectly possible to apply the “formula” and still not get the expected results.

Clearly, the case of Bolt and the other competitors is a little extreme. Qualifying for the Olympics alone is a massive feat in itself and i have the deepest respect for sportspersons who do. But my point is sometimes you simply won’t make the cut, and nobody ever really talks about that. We focus so much on the success stories and forget the flip side. Using the Olympics example, in 2016, there were about 72 male athletes competing in the 100m, and only one got to take home the gold medal. Minus silver and bronze, what about the other 69 hopefuls? The majority. Now, back to us everyday people, who are dazzled by these success stories. The danger in never thinking about the other 69, is we tend to blind ourselves to some very important truths. We are not always honest with ourselves. Again, my example was a little extreme, given those athletes are probably the best in their countries and they are success stories in their own right, but you got my point. Scaling it way down, we find there are a ton of times we keep at something but don’t make much progress. And yet we keep going. Keep digging, until we reach a bitter, frustrated dead-end, when instead we could have quit and changed tracks ages ago. Done something you’re better at, or you were more likely to improve at, and to yield better results. Being honest with yourself can save you grief and wasted time. Time being the most important aspect.

Sometimes we need to know when to quit, and that can only come from re-evaluating yourself and your goals honestly. Winners know when to quit, or to change strategies. Of course this entire post was based on the assumption that you don’t quit easily and hang in there no matter how tough it gets. If you’re not one of those people who persist, you may have a whole different set of problems which I won’t dive into. For the non-quitters, there’s such a thing as hanging on for too long, which almost always results in bitter disappointment and anger.

What we need to remember is that shit happens, and sometimes we make bad decisions. It’s okay to quit and pivot if after a long hard struggle you realise you’re in the wrong place, and your efforts could be re-directed elsewhere. If you’re content and happy where you are, that’s awesome for you; but if you’re frustrated with your progress or lack of, then maybe it’s time to have a deep and honest talk with yourself.

PS: How I came to the realization that I should move on, and how I eventually did, is another story which I’ll tackle in the next post, which deals with the ‘fallacy of sunk costs.’

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