(First published in The Huffington Post)
I’m sure you’ve heard these famous sayings:
“Never, never, never give up.” ― Winston Churchill
“Winners never quit and quitters never win.” – Vince Lombardi
Whenever I heard those words as a young person, it always made me sick. They were famous sayings by famous men, repeated over and over, as if they should inspire people. But it never helped me to hear those things when I was on the verge of quitting. It just made me feel bad about myself. It made me think I must be a loser. The winners were putting me down. I was a quitter and I wanted very much to be a winner, but when the going got tough, I just could not keep going. I was weak. And it would make me sick when I heard those things, or even thought them.
They were wrong.
I’ve discovered that all winners have failed and given up, quit, many times. What turns losers into winners is not that they never quit, but that they got up and dusted themselves off after recovering, and went at it again. They persisted.
All winners have failed and quit many times. All winners have been quitters.
Think of all of us as babies, learning to crawl and walk. We try to stand, and we fall. Over and over again. There is no shame. There is just the excitement that first time, when we finally stay up and tower over everything. Then we fall. Hee, hee.
With enough practice and repetitions, we learn to walk. No one learns to walk without falling many times, thousands, maybe tens of thousands of times. This is how we all learned to win, how you learned to win. This is you. A winner.
But then, somewhere along the line, we got the idea that failing was bad. At home or at school, we started noticing that others would laugh or put us down if we were not good at something. Or we would mistakenly believe that we should be able to do something well instantly, and we’d be hurt if we did not. We thought there was something wrong with us. We’d be hurt and ashamed. We learned that the way to not get hurt was to quit, and not try again.
As babies, there was no shame in falling. It was fun, just part of the process. When we got tired, we quit, and rested. All was good. And then we tried again. Eventually, we walked and then we ran. Nothing could stop us. But then we learned to be ashamed, to be disappointed, expecting instant success and not getting it. We learned to stop trying when we failed.
“Anything worth doing is worth doing badly.” ― G.K. Chesterton
Anything worth doing is worth doing badly. The first time I heard this, my brain revolted. It was the opposite of what I had aways heard, that anything worth doing was worth doing well. It was a famous coach who flipped this for me and it took a while to sink in and for me realize it was true.
He was talking about his kids wanting to be musicians and discovering that when they picked up the instrument and tried to make music, it was absolutely awful. It hurt your ears. And the kids, making fun of each other, saying they stunk, wanted to quit. They thought that they should be successful right away.
But we know that to do anything well, especially something difficult, you have to start out by doing it badly, failing, and when you get tired, you throw it down and quit, because it is so painful. But then, after a while, if you pick it up again, you learn more and get a little better. And you keep doing this until you succeed, as long as you persist in the work.
“If at first you don’t succeed, try, try, try again.” – William Edward Hickson
This is the saying that inspired me, that helped. It said that it was normal to fail, that it is OK. Of course, it feels awful to fail. You are deprived of the success you crave, but as long as you’re not dead, you’ll get another shot at it. So, while you are OK if you failed and survived, it is not OK to just sit there, without being OK the way you really need to be.
“As long as you survive, anything is possible” – William Anderson, LMHC
I failed at weight loss for 25 years, thousands of times, and I’d hate to count how many times I quit in tears, swearing I’d never diet again. But after a while, learning more with each failure, I learned “dieting” is not the way to succeed. In my early thirties I lost 140 pounds and I have kept it off for 30 years. It’s a miracle my bad habits didn’t kill me, but I was able to change things before they did.
I had similar experiences with college and in business too, banging my head against the wall, trying to make things work with methods that didn’t work for me, until I would fail and quit, swearing that was the end of trying. But it didn’t kill me, and eventually, after enough of a retreat, I’d try another way, having learned from my last failure. I’m slower than most, but I got my college degree at 40, a graduate degree at 50, and success in business too, after some very painful failures. Fortunately, the repeated defeats never brought me to the point of no return, and my work eventually bore fruit. As long as you are alive and breathing, dreams can come true.
“Part of being successful is knowing when to quit.” — William Anderson, LMHC
Working hard at a method that will not produce the desired result is futile. The old idiom “just keep going and work hard” will not get you where you want to go if you are on the wrong road, going the wrong way. This was the case many times I dieted and many times I signed up for classes or worked a business idea. I didn’t know it when I started out, but I was working a plan that would never work. The only result in persisting in a faulty plan is failure. In that case, quitting the wrong plan is just as important as persisting in the right plan.
“Tomorrow is a new day.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson
So many times I heard this from my mother when I was young. I would be seeking solace because of some failure, or throwing a tantrum quitting and swearing never to try again at some skill or project. She would encourage me to quit for the day and forget about it. “That’s enough for today. Go to sleep. Tomorrow is a new day.”
Being persistent is not the same thing as not quitting. Persisting is getting up and trying again. To be successful, we need to know when to quit, especially if we’ve been doing something that is destined to fail. We regroup, and then get up and try again after we’ve recovered from our fall. That’s how you learned to walk. That’s how you’ll succeed in other endeavors, as long as you survive. Work the plan, rest safely when you tire, make corrections, and try again. This is how all winners have won, through failing, quitting what doesn’t work, learning, and trying again. That’s persistence.
You are still the creation and spirit you were as the infant that learned to walk. What is it that you would like to accomplish? Weight loss? Better relationships? More success in work and finances? Happiness? There is a way to win, even if you’ve failed in the past, even if you quit and had given up. You may have to rest and remember tomorrow is a new day. You may have to quit a way that does not work. You may have to change some things you haven’t wanted to change.
Believe me, you are a winner. You may have failed and quit in your past, but you have survived. You have succeeded in so many things that you can read or hear what I’ve written here. You have persisted and won. Your true self is a winner. You have what it takes to win. You just need to do what it takes to uncover it.
So, what is it you’d like to win now?