Never give up, never surrender; 3 feet from gold; blah, blah, friggin-blah. Cliches and advice abound on why you only fail when you give up… it’s a lie. There is a razor-thin line between finding success in business from the “never give up” mantra and being imprisoned by it, slowly choking the life out of yourself. Knowing when to give up is just as important as persistence. Maybe even more important.
Every day a driven individual like you doesn’t give up could be another day you dig a deeper, darker hole. I’m guilty for sure. I’d certainly be the Captain of a ship still bailing water on the ocean’s floor.
But here’s what you don’t know: for every success story where someone didn’t give up, there are dozens of untold stories of others who were smarter, worked harder, and still failed.
Sometimes persistence pays off as it did for the founders of Guitar Hero. They kept at it for nearly 10 years before becoming successful. But I’ve also watched intelligent individuals with amazing products take a beating for decades, only to still lose.
Hard-working, well-intentioned people punish themselves because there is this ugly belief that giving up is surrendering—that giving up is never acceptable. But sometimes when we’re already failing, we keep pushing forward without knowing it.
Failure is fuel, and the only true failure is not learning from your screw-up. Sometimes, if you don’t actually give up and admit failure, you don’t learn a damn thing.
When to give up. 5 things to look for.
Here’s the big question then, how do you know when to give up? Obviously, the first step before giving up is to get a coach or mentor and get advice. Outside perspective is extremely helpful no matter how smart you think you are. It’s also vital to take a full account of who depends on you—if you’re a leader of a company, you can’t simply call it in without appointing a replacement so those you care for are taken care of.
But if you’ve checked those boxes, there are concrete times to give up and close down your startup. According to my many podcast interviews, and my own failure-ridden journey, here are 5 moments it’s time to bail out, rather than bail water.
1. When The Passion Is Gone
When you’ve lost the passion and belief in the end game. When your heart isn’t in it, get out. If your passion is still there and you still believe in the end game, then you’re just in the messy middle, says Scott Belsky, CPO of Adobe.
If the passion is gone, and you’ve lost the vision, that’s how you know when to give up.
2. When You Aren’t Good At It
I pushed my graphic design business to the limit. I had some great clients, but the truth is this: I wasn’t naturally good at graphic design. Sure, I did well by my clients, but only because I outworked other designers. But I couldn’t keep up, it was exhausting and I didn’t have natural skill.
If you’re not naturally good at something, can’t hire, or can’t get there with hard work, that’s how you know when to give up.
3. When There Isn’t A Market Need
I’ve worked with some amazing companies, and have heard their nightmare stories of products that were too early or too late. Steve Jobs was one such leader that buried projects he considered were ahead of their time. The fact is, just because you’re passionate about it, doesn’t mean the market is.
If there’s no market need and you can’t make a living, that’s how you know when to give up.
4. When Your Relationships Are Eroding
Putting relationships on hold to find success is a stupid decision 100% of the time. The founder of Best Buy, Richard Schulze explained to a group of us in 2006 he made this mistake in a big way. He justified time away from his wife to make a better life for themselves. She died of cancer and he never got that time back. He said if he’d done it all over again, he would have never started Best Buy. CEOs like Toby Lutke of Shopify are proof that you can spend plenty of time with family and still grow a business—he talks about prioritizing family quite a bit on Twitter.
When your relationship with family, friends, and God are compromised, that’s how you know when to give up.
5. When Your Health Is Dwindling
I’ll openly admit some of my early struggles as an entrepreneur have caused some irreversible emotional damage. Some of the things I put myself through were simply not worth it. Period. I see entrepreneurs gain unhealthy amounts of weight, slide into depression, and do permanent damage to their health. This is not acceptable and never worth it.
If your emotional or physical health is deteriorating and you can’t fix it, that’s how you know when to give up.
How To Give Up, But Move Forward
In many cases, giving up, embracing the failure, and learning from it, is the only way you can move forward and be successful. If you need permission to give up right now, I’ll give it to you on one condition: Commit to learning from your failure and commit to move forward better than before. Knowing when to give up, provides clarity in how to move forward.
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