Why We Should All Just Give Up

In the dark hours of a Wednesday morning, I sat at a railroad crossing. Red caution lights flashed silently as a train roared by. I was in the middle of a crummy week. And I finally gave up…

true self

The carpet guys had found asbestos tile under the decade-old carpet in our bedroom. The hazardous waste guys wanted a lot of money to remove it. A window sash had rotted through. The window people couldn’t find a replacement and wanted to replace the whole window. More money.

I took my son to the wrong gym for his first basketball game and I dropped the ball on something at work and the future of my book manuscript seemed uncertain and I got angry at my family—more than once—because when things start falling apart it’s awfully tempting to alienate the very people who hold you together.

And, finally, I had awoken at 4am on this particular Wednesday morning to discover the technical solution I had implemented for a problem with blog emails had broken the email service altogether. My weekly email wouldn’t send to anyone. So, I spent ninety minutes with customer service—to no avail—before racing out the door to drive two hours to an appointment for which I was already running late.

My travels needed to go perfectly for me to arrive on time.

Remember that train I mentioned?

As I approached the railroad crossing only a few blocks from home, the arms descended, blocking my way. I was becoming a little unhinged, wondering what could go wrong next when, as the end of the train approached, another light began to flash and a robotic voice declared repeatedly, “Another train coming.”

Which is when I finally I gave up.

What if we all just gave up?

What If We All Gave Up?

What if we gave up on all the agendas of the false self?

What if we gave up on the false comfort of financial padding?

What if we gave up on perfect public personas?

What if we gave up on worrying about what everyone will think of us?

What if we gave up on avoiding rejection and disappointment?

What if we gave up on never making a mistake?

What if we gave up on all the things we think we need to achieve?

What if we gave up on creating storybook relationships?

What if we gave up on blaming everyone else for our problems?

What if we gave up on trying to win—in our minds and relationships and lives?

What if we gave up on thinking any one thing is going to fix all things?

What if we gave up on regretting the past and worrying about the future?

What if we gave up on trying to live cautiously and love safely?

What if we gave up on trying to have it all together?

Giddy Madness and Crazy Joy

I sat at the red-flashing train crossing, and I gave up.

And though the roaring outside doubled with a second train passing, the roaring inside of me began to subside. I gave up on finding a cheaper solution to our household woes and gave up on my hope for our savings account and I gave up on being the perfect husband and father (again) and I gave up on being a blogger who can do it all and I gave up on punctuality and I gave up on keeping it all working smoothly.

But the giving up didn’t feel like despair.

The giving up felt like a giddy madness.

Because I wasn’t giving up on life; I was giving up on the life my false self tells me I must live. I felt laughter begin to swell up from somewhere inside of me. I’m guessing it was rising up from my soul, because that’s where all laughter comes from, and because our soul is what’s left when we give up on our false self. The laughter sounded a little maniacal at first, probably because returning to your sanity always happens at the edge of it. The giving up felt like a crazy joy.

The giving up felt like giving in to something beautiful.

What if we all just gave in?

What If We All Gave In?

What if we gave in to the freedom of our true self, the freedom of our soul?

What if we gave in to this one wild and messy life?

What if we gave in to being broken and limited creatures?

What if we gave in to apology and forgiveness?

What if we gave in to authenticity and vulnerability?

What if we gave in to mutuality and surrender?

What if we gave in to the lessons we learn from our failures?

What if we gave in to being a little unpopular?

What if we gave in to more authentic belonging with fewer and fewer people?

What if we gave in to our common humanity?

What if we gave in to our fragility?

What if we gave in to uncertainty and mystery?

What if we gave in to the peaceful present?

What if we gave in to the unpredictability of love and loss?

What if we gave in to the risk and uncertainty of being alive?

What if we gave in to our quirks and idiosyncracies and embraced who we are?

What if we gave in to our inalterable worthiness?

What If?

True selves and giggling souls.

Giddy madness and crazy joy.

That’s what-if.

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Kelly is a licensed clinical psychologist and co-founder of Artisan Clinical Associates in Naperville, IL. He is also a writer and blogs regularly about the redemption of our personal, relational, and communal lives. Kelly is married, has three children, and enjoys learning from them how to be a kid again. You can find him on Facebook, Twitter, and Google+.

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61 thoughts on “Why We Should All Just Give Up

  1. Great share – in my opinion – that experience of your craziness leads to sanity – which takes courage to live – outside of what is “expected” from us !

    • Yes, exactly. The moment of epiphany is one thing, but the courage to live it out daily is another thing altogether. It may be the most important work of our lives!

  2. Brilliant and true! …. Now let’s allow ourselves to do it…..It’s wonderful to understand it and so the next step is courageousness to actually do it!

    • Yes, indeed, Cat. The word courageous is derived from the Latin word “cor,” which means heart. Turns out, to be courageous is to live from our heart instead of our ego!

  3. Thanks Kelly! Thanks for the almost absolute honesty. Thanks for the lists. Lists are a lot simpler to remember than long paragraphs. Thanks for the little lights of hope in the “what ifs.” Manageable bites of imagination that help create our better reality. Where does the courage come from to manifest those “what if?” I think courage comes from realizing, and knowing, that our true life lies beyond the shackles of all the culturally imposed “have to’s.” Thanks for the reminder of “surrender.” For giving up on an artificial matrix, to be free to welcome real, honest, heart-based living, and loving. Thank you Kelly, from my soul. Rev. Bill G.

    • Thank you for this, Bill. And, yes, I think it starts with courage, and then as we get more and more tastes of the freedom of it, the relief of being “unshackled,” as you say, becomes more self-perpetuating.

  4. Awww so sorry it was such a rough week…or two…but glad you found a way to write a happy “ending.” Now I feel a little bit joyful, too! 🙂

  5. Seems like the very thing the “rich man” couldn’t do to enter the Kingdom of Heaven. He couldn’t give up on what he thought he’d “earned” to get in to Heaven. I think this blog is spot on the nail as to what Jesus was trying to teach us to do; give up on trying to do it all ourselves, on the very expectations we set, and enjoy the joy that is all around us.

    • Thanks for these thoughts, Jason. As I read your comment, the word that came to mind was “attachment.” What attachments must release in order to be free?

      • When you get right down to it, Dr Kelly, the attachment of the identity of self is the most important one to release. Christ spoke of the tree and the branches, and how important we all are, collectively. When I am focused on me, I tend to be in tune with my struggles of who I am trying to be or not be and the selfishness associated with those identities, and when I am focused on Christ it is easy to be reminded that I am not a branch floating in air, holding myself up on my own; maybe that is why God hasn’t allowed us to conquer self levitation…

  6. i have the same asbestos tile in my downstairs rumpus room. it is not friable and therefore not a real hazard, but can be stabilized by applying an epoxy cement binder over the tiles. Don’t get scammed by the asbestos sharks. K
    kate bean, Oakland, CA

    • Kate, thanks for the advice. Fortunately, we were able to get it resolved without too much trouble!

  7. “Returning to your sanity always happens at the edge of it.” Our “inalterable worthiness”, Love, love, love what you say and how you say it. Beautifully written piece, Dr. Kelly.

  8. I love reading your posts. This one made me tear up this morning. I guess it hit home. I think you write beautifully.

  9. I am a Laughter Yoga leader and teacher. In my practice, I find that the more people regularly laugh (even if at first, it’s for no reason at all), the more joy they find in life. Their perspective changes; something inside shifts, much like the experience you describe. You blog has motivated me to create a new laughter exercise: the ‘What If’ laugh! You ‘what if’ moment resonates with me completely!

    • I have never heard of Laughter Yoga, but it sounds brilliant! I recently had a conversation about intentionally fake laughing until it turns into a real laugh. My daughter has made an art of it, and it’s contagious. Wish I could be in one of your classes!

    • That sounds amazing. Nothing is hopeless when you’re laughing. For me, that is what makes it so powerful. Despair and laughter can’t be present at the same space/time.

    • You’re welcome, Catharine. Your poem this morning about laying awake was splendid, as well. Thank you for that.

  10. Wow how freeing … to stop (automatically) blaming others; to drop the agendas of the false self – YES! And having some of them nominated is the first step hey, one needs to be aware of what they are before one can decide to stop doing them … I had to read each false agenda really slowly to allow it in and really FEEL it in me and to know that yes it’s there – and will re-read them. And the same with the giving-in nominations … to really feel each one and allow … and allow the living and expression of each one, ie, the joy! Hmmm, this could be a daily practice developing here!
    Thank you indeed for a magnificent blog.

    • Marian, I had not thought of it as a possible discipline. But I think I may, for a while, review the “lists” at the beginning and end of each day, to see what I need to be letting go of on that particular day. Thank you for the idea!

  11. Love this and so freeing. I gave in a while ago when after we relocated due to a job layoff, we almost lost my oldest daughter to horrific medical conditions. She was in the hospital for a very long time. It was so challenging, but when giving up after we had all healed emotionally a year later and knowing we just live with Medical Debt that one day will be paid off (yes with insurance you still wrack up a lot of medical debt with extended hospital stays), I will be late from juggling 3 kids and a business but arrive with a smile and good heart, my house will be sometimes messy but comfortable and full of loving kids….it all works out one way or another. It always does… my time is better spent having fun and knowing life isn’t in balance or perfect but my attitude towards enjoying the most of each day is. That is what I want to teach my kids. Thanks for sharing, love your blog.

    • Erin, thank you for sharing your story, and I’m really glad to hear your daughter is doing well. Your words reminded me of what my wife’s grandmother would say during times of strife: “All will be well, all will be well, and all manner of things will be well.”

  12. This is, hands down, one of the best blog posts that I ever ever read anywhere. No lie. Thank you so much for this!!

  13. This is so beautiful and reaches me resoundingly. I the ‘give up’ and ‘give in’ lists have a rhythm to them that make them stay with me. It seems so hard to let go of the idea of how I thing things “should” be, but on the other side of that is such freedom. Thank you for this very human invitation to that freedom – and giggles. I heard Anne Lamott say that laughter is “carbonated holiness.” Fits right in with your post this week!

  14. I love this posting, a really great sharing. I have been learning to ‘give up’ as you say. I call it letting go – of all those ideals and beliefs that I have been holding. How I am to be, how I am to look, particularly how I am to be as a woman. I am gradually learning to trust and listen more to my own innermost as to what is right for me. This last one has been the big one, learning to TRUST what truly feels right for me. Not to be as society tells me how I should be, particularly for me as a so-called elderly woman. I no longer hold myself back and disappear from society, as I grow in confidence.

    This is so hard now for the younger women and girls, the way they are now portrayed in society, through all the media, women’s magazines etc. is so hyper-sexualised. Those of us who have learned to truly be themselves have to be role models for those young girls still finding their way, to show them there is another very fulfilling way to be.

    Thank you for your great articles

  15. What a wonderful point you’ve touched on. I sometimes feel that life is like that – madness and mistakes made that can’t be taken back, money needed, more time needed. All it does is create stress and infuriating madness and ultimately our loving, rational selves give way to a horrendously ego-centric self. I agree that we need to sometimes just give up on trying so hard and just BE present and realize that we are not all-powerful nor all-knowing; that only realizing our fragility and the knowledge that we need God to help us let go and be real; that only in that can we be our best. I just know it’s a daily challenge that is hard to keep up with. It’s good to see you’re human, too! Thanks for sharing such a wonderful vulnerable insight with us!

  16. What if I stopped trying to be in control and just let life unfold? What if I stopped putting myself last on the list and embraced that which would cause that joy to bubble up …. What if!!! As always you challenge me to the core!! Thank you!

  17. Thank you, thank you for this serendipitous morning meditation. This unrelenting cold and the colliding pressures at work had my shoulders up around my ears this morning! Just reading the questions aloud, litany-like, again and again was so healing and tears came so naturally restoring peace for this moment.

  18. HI Kelly. You’re right, this surrender is really freeing. Keep encouraging yourself and others to give up. This world could use a few more under-achievers 😉

    The question I finally asked myself was “Who am I trying to impress?” After some soul-searching, I found out that I was trying to impress “my false-self,” to use your phrase. You know the guy: he’s convinced that there is something wrong; the guy who is firmly convinced that I’m not enough; that I’m always wrong; that something must be done and that it is likely too late. That guy.

    Thing is, I found out he’s *never* impressed. Once I saw that simple truth, then I started entertaining the idea that I should stop trying to impress the UN-impressible.

    Best thing found out when I stopped trying to impress that jerk? He’s totally wrong – about everything

    • So much appreciate everyone’s comments here. And wanted to let you know, Mike, how much I’ve enjoyed your comments the last few weeks. I don’t often get a chance to reply to comments after Wednesday, but I wanted to let you know I do read them all as they’re trickling in later in the week! Thanks!

      • Thanks. I appreciate you creating this forum and picking the topics.
        These topics, these vulnerabilities are things we all share but they
        don’t get discussed in a public forum. Heck, they won’t even get acknowledged privately unless some personal catastrophe (like divorce or maybe addiction) forces one to do something radical. Like get honest.
        What is rarer still – and here’s where this forum adds value- is to show someone that there is hope and relief in acknowledging our fears and our shame. That those things are covering up something really wonderful.
        We been sold (and sold ourselves) a bill of good about ourselves, our true nature, and what we are supposed to be and do in this life. I love it when someone is willing to stand up and metaphorically say “The Emperor has no clothes!”

  19. Hi there,
    I can’t seem to listen to the audio version of this post. When I try to click on the audio, it leads right to previous one (Why Siblings Fight)

  20. I gave up last week Monday. Six weeks into a job I felt pressured into taking by loved ones and financial circumstance. Six weeks into a negative environment that is in complete contrast with my values system, yet was sucking me in somehow. Six weeks in and I realized I am not impacted by the success or failure of the project, it won’t even end until more than three years after I leave this place. I have no investment in it. So why was I giving it so much mental and emotional energy?

    The giving in allowed me to free up that energy to return to what will bring me value.

    I was free when I walked in the door, it is up to me to choose if I am free when I walk back out. I happily choose to give up so I can give in.

  21. This was beautifully written and brought tears to my eyes. I’ve been struggling with trying to do it all and please everyone which is impossible. This was just what I needed to read tonight! I’m new to your blog but am finding it refreshing and thoughtful; so needed in our busy world of today! Can’t wait to read more of your postings.

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