This is a guest post by Ginna Martineau, who submitted the following essay as an assignment in Dr. Chris Patti’s course at Appalachian State University.
This essay has been featured on the Optimal Living Daily podcast – Episode 1181.
From the time I took my first steps, prancing around on my tippy toes and spinning in circles was protocol anywhere I went. The world was my stage, and I made sure everyone knew it. But blossoming into the prima ballerina I dreamt of becoming brought many challenges: I was obligated to dance with pulled muscles and broken toes; costumes cost an average of $300 a piece; and single parents made transportation difficult. This magical world of ballet proved to be a domain of unhealthy self-expectations. I was graced with advice from dance teachers and coaches telling me to never give up. Their words were encouraging, especially as I gazed across the studio and noticed I towered over the other girls my age. I knew never giving up was valuable advice, but for a long time I believed it was the only way to succeed.
I have come to realize that Western culture tends to romanticize perseverance. We paint beautiful pictures of struggle and determination by praising the success stories that involve overcoming countless setbacks. Surely, the stories of never giving up are inspiring; but such a rigid mindset around quitting can also be detrimental to our health and happiness. I had a unique experience in my Interpersonal Communication class this past semester at Appalachian State University. It reminded me of the old adage attributed to Alexander Graham Bell: “When one door closes, another opens.” My professor, Dr. Chris Patti, showed me that deeply listening to yourself and identifying your needs can make you a better, happier instrument for communicating genuinely with others. To me, he also emphasized the often forgotten ending to Bell’s saying: “We often look so long and so regretfully upon the closed door that we do not see the one which has opened for us.” Our lives present us with the tools we need to build our dreams around the inevitable obstacles we face. That those dreams cannot change is the toxic idea that keeps us running in circles. My professor reminded me that we don’t have to wait for the door to be slammed in our faces; we can learn to be courageous and close some doors ourselves. That was advice I wish I had embraced sooner.
Communicating with myself more has shown me that, just as people and relationships evolve, so do their passions and aspirations. Learning to trust my intuition and lean into the discomfort of change highlights the moments in life when it’s okay to give up. Unhealthy relationships, jobs that leave you exhausted and unsatisfied, college majors or hobbies you no longer have enthusiasm for—opportunities for change are all around us. Ye tang che is a Buddhist phrase that describes this normal human experience of hopelessness; essentially, it means totally and completely tired out. It reminds me that abandoning hope and giving up is a difficult and beautiful truth of existence. Ye tang che is a form of radical honesty that gives us space to relax and reexamine our reality in the present moment. The ability to cut our losses and walk away is a noble pursuit of self-preservation. Psychologists Carsten Wrosch and Gregory Miller have even coined a term for it called “goal disengagement.” If you’re interested in this topic, you can learn more about it by checking out an article written by Dr. David Feldman in Psychology Today titled Why Giving up Can Sometimes Be Good. The article explains how giving up is an essential, adaptive ingredient to emotional well-being, as well as a sign of strength, not weakness. Stepping away from things that cause you to lose sight of who you are is a powerful, discounted part of being a full person. And it should not come with any shame.
How do we do this? How do we know when it’s really okay to give up? The scariest part of the process for me is noticing when I am doing something for the wrong reasons. Befriending oneself is the only mechanism for learning when it’s time to let go. Previously, I operated in a very harmful way that let my accomplishments define how much love I deserved: if I achieved this body weight; published this research; could do the most pirouettes in the class, then I would be happy. Over time, I realized self-worth isn’t about external accomplishments. Each of us is already worthy of happiness, peace, and love. When we begin to see our innate worth, we can make the choices that help us flourish. Undoubtedly, perseverance is critical to reaching many goals. However, if your reasons for persisting do not involve feeding your own soul, it might be time to step away. It’s okay to face the fear of letting others down and embrace the vulnerability of the unknown.
As Buddhist nun Pema Chödrön explains, in her book When Things Fall Apart:
“Only to the extent that we expose ourselves over and over to annihilation can that which is indestructible be found in us.” @AniPemaChodron Click To Tweet
Our most profound opportunities for growth arise as we become intimate with our constraining fears. It is time to promote an atmosphere of support, where it’s okay to change our minds and throw in the towel on an old goal.
Dance was something I truly loved, but as I entered high school I realized doing it twenty six hours a week took the fun out of it, made me insecure, and robbed me of other social experiences. I learned to give myself permission to let go. Quitting the dance academy didn’t mean I had to stop expressing myself, it just meant I got to open my eyes to new truths and opportunities. Now I would like to leave you with permission to close any doors in life that are holding you back, and encouragement to notice all the open doors around you.
Ginna Martineau is studying Psychology and Recreation Management at Appalachian State University. Her current endeavors include training her pet pig Linus to be a certified therapy animal. Her passion for mental health and the outdoors fuels her goal of one day being a farm or wilderness therapist. She can be reached at: ginna.martineau [at] gmail [dot] com.
Dr. Chris J. Patti (PhD) is an Assistant Professor of Communication at Appalachian State University, nestled in the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina. As an ethnographic writer, his research highlights intimate, relational processes at the heart of human experience through listening to and richly representing stories of love, loss, and transformation. He has published several peer-reviewed articles and chapters on the theme of suffering and compassion. His other passions are rock climbing, longboard surfing, and intentionally doing nothing with his mindfulness meditation club Zen & the Art of Applied Communication. Follow them on Twitter: https://twitter.com/awarenessbites
You can email Dr. Chris Patti at patticj [at] appstate [dot] edu.