Saturday, October 6, 2012

Not Yet Quitting Time

Image by Sherman Yang

Newspapers once reported about a young Taiwanese man who wrote 700 love letters to his girlfriend over two years. That’s a letter almost every day. And I’m not talking about e-mail. Seven hundred hand-written letters that included folding, licking, stamping, addressing and sending. Seven hundred letters that proclaimed his feelings toward her. Many that even tried to persuade her to accept his marriage proposal.

Two years of correspondence finally got results. She announced her engagement...to the postal worker who delivered all those letters. Of course, it makes sense. She saw HIM every day. Maybe it was lucky for the mail carrier that her boyfriend didn’t give up too soon.

There may be a time to give up, and her boyfriend might have missed some good opportunities to step out of his apparently one-sided relationship. Sometimes it just makes sense to quit trying and move on to something else. Anyone who has been in a destructive relationship or a high-stress job that has taken a personal toll knows what I am talking about.

But there are also times when we need to persist – to keep trying. My experience tells me that quitting too soon is the greater problem. And the reason is simple: it’s usually easier to give something up than to stay with it.

My kids often wanted to give up music lessons. I encouraged them not to quit too early. “Stay with the lessons,” I told them. They did, and were later glad of it. I have spoken with many adults who said to me, “I used to take music lessons when I was a child. I regret the fact that I quit too soon. I wish I knew how to play the piano today.” I have never talked with an adult who said, “I took music lessons when I was a child. I regret the fact that I didn’t quit sooner.”

Of course, it’s not about music lessons...it’s about knowing, when things are rough, whether to keep going or to throw it in. How many books were never written because someone quit too soon? How many relationships died prematurely and how many dreams never bore fruit because someone gave them up?

There are good times to leave a job, to move on to a new relationship or to quit pounding on the same old nail that just won’t budge. But too often, I’ve given in to the temptation to quit too early. I didn’t stick around long enough to see what might happen if I persevered just a bit longer.

Dr. Albert Einstein once commented, “I think and think for months and years.” Can you imagine staying with a problem that long? “Ninety-nine times, the conclusion is false,” he continued. “The hundredth time I am right.”

I don’t think that Albert Einstein had the problem of quitting too early. “It's not that I'm so smart,” he famously said, “it's just that I stay with problems longer.” He understood the value of not giving up too soon – and that alone shows how smart he really was.

I’ll never begin to understand the physics of the universe like Dr. Einstein, but it doesn’t take a genius to know when it’s not yet time to quit. Success is often just the result of staying with problems a little longer. And even I can do that.

-- Steve Goodier


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