On October 29 1941, the United Kingdom’s then Prime Minister Winston Churchill visited Harrow School – his almer mater – to speak to the students. The speech he made became one of his most quoted – or rather, misquoted – speeches. The myth is that Churchill stood before the students and said, ‘Never, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, give in. Never give in. Never give in. Never give in.’ Then he sat down.
In fact, he gave a full speech which included the phrase ‘never give in.’ The fact that this line has been so misquoted and distorted tells us a great deal about society and our own attitude to success and what is needed to get there.
The reason for its power, perhaps, is that it resonates so deeply with what we have been taught. We have been brought up, for the most part, to believe that ‘giving up’ is a negative thing, and that we should keep going, keep trying, keep ‘hanging in there.’ But sometimes – perhaps more often than we would like – by not giving up, we are creating a struggle for ourselves which can be counterproductive: carrying on a job, a course or degree that we do not enjoy and do not feel passionate about, can lead to psychological distress, unhappiness and failure. I recently heard a story of someone who, on her first year of a degree realised that the subject was not for her: she had a tough decision on her hands. Numerous people would have stuck with it and been unhappy for a few more years – and would, perhaps, have been praised for doing so. However, this girl arguably did the braver thing, and gave up, despite her family’s objections: now, she is a happy, successful teacher who has no regrets about the decision she made. Sometimes, giving up really is the best option: it creates more opportunities.
Letting go is not always easy, but there can be far too much emphasis on completion and effort. Think of all of the people you know, struggling every day doing jobs that they hate but hanging on because of familiarity, fear of the unknown. In a sense, this is the easy option. It can be much harder to let go of the old and move forwards into the new and the unknown. But taking that ‘leap of faith’ can be the first step to a new experience. Perhaps you remember, as a child, jumping into the deep end of a swimming pool. You were scared, but you had to let go of the security of the pool side and ‘just do it.’ I remember the liberation very clearly – the experience of having jumped and not only surviving but been thrilled with how it felt, and immediately wanting to repeat the experience. But, had I never let go and jumped, I would never have known.
This is not to suggest that you should give up on everything in a reckless way – you have commitments and responsibilities. But do not be afraid of change. It is important to be happy, and sometimes the only way to find happiness is by letting go of what we have been clinging on to for so long. This is not a negative thing: it is creating a new life.