One of the core practices in Buddhism is non attachment. Buddhists believe that forming emotional attachments to things, will inevitably lead to suffering. Whilst this notion has been taken to extremes, with people not forming attachments to anything, abandoning all possessions and forsaking friendship. I believe that non attachment can be beneficial in certain ways, especially when it is applied to our ideas and goals.
It is perfectly natural to cling to our ideas. To want to work day and night to see them through. This is commendable. However, it could be said, that in some contexts, the idea of never giving up on something, no matter the costs, is well…inefficient.
Instead of seeing it as giving up, see it as retreating.
What is Steve Jobs famous for?
I’d bet almost all of you answered “The founder and late CEO of Apple”. I’d again bet that none of you said, the founder of NeXt. This was a company similar to apple that Jobs Founded during the few years he left Apple.
The reason for this is that the company was ultimately a failure, and was later brought up by Apple once Steve Jobs returned to the company. Though Jobs spent time, energy (and $7 million) on the company, he gave it up as it was not a success. He didn’t spend years after, losing his money and the rest of his credibility on NeXt as it sank, and Apple rose in strength and influence.
Walt Disney once founded Laugh-O-Gram, an animation studio he hoped would be the launching ground for his ideas. Laugh-O-Gram soon went bankrupt and crashed, undeterred, he founded another studio. Walt Disney Studios. You’ve probably seen some of their work.
What these stories teach us, is that, ultimately not all ideas are created equally. NeXt wasn’t the next Apple, and Jobs came to know this. For whatever reason Laugh-O-Gram, didn’t have that magic X factor that Walt Disney Studios came to have, and again, Walt Disney came to know this.
Of course, it’s good to be passionate about our ideas, but that passion can leave us blind to real faults. If we take a step back at our ideas and look at them objectively, we may see things that should be changed or perhaps the idea could be abandoned entirely in favor of a better one to come along.
Ultimately, if instead of seeing our ideas as things to fight for whatever the cost, but investments of time, effort, and money. We may come to see our ideas and projects differently.
In military history, there are countless stories of armies retreating from battles in order to win more important, larger battles. There are also stories (think Napoleon’s catastrophic invasion of Russia) of armies heading into battles or campaigns which ended in disaster (Napoleon never recovered from the loss). Its the same thing.
It’s difficult to let go because we fear that we waste the effort we’ve spent.
We like to think that our value of things such as projects or goals comes from our wish to see them through, or perhaps a prediction of their later worth. However our ultimate attachment actually comes from a complex web of emotional attachments created not by our views of its worth, but the time and effort already put into it.
In many ways, one of the most powerful aspects of our attachment to things is based on fear of our loss of that thing, as much as our liking or enjoyment of it. This false attachment based on loss is the sunk cost fallacy.
For example: have you ever played a video game for a while, rebooted it up one day only to discover that the save file has been corrupted. Our frustration here doesn’t come from our the way it’ll take much longer to see how the game’s story progresses, or even the fact that we have to re-play it again, instead our frustration comes from the time we have spent on the game to amount to nothing.
The pain and frustration we feel when we lose out, is the same reason why Buddhists avoid forming attachments at all, as they feel this suffering is inevitable. But this isn’t necessarily the case.
When the sunk cost fallacy is applied to our goals and projects, its easy to see how we can become attached to things that deep down we know might not work. Again, we don’t stick with them because we know their worth, we stick with them as we can’t bear to see the loss of it, or specifically we can’t bear to see the time spent on it amount to nothing.
In this way, abandoning the idea early on in favor of a better one can be the better option.
In the end, only you will know if or when to give up on something, but here is a short list of things to think about when in consideration.
How excited are you about it?
It could be a good idea to deeply examine how exactly you feel about your idea, project, or even current job that you may give up on. Does thinking about it stress you out? When you talk about it does you mood deflate and you try to change the subject, speaking enthusiastically about other things?
If its causing you stress and unhappiness, then perhaps its a good idea to truly consider how much it is worth to you. No idea is worth you health and happiness.
Plus, if you decide to stick with it, this unhappiness is only going to grow and expand, as deep down you know the thing you are spending your time on isn’t right for you
Listen to yourself and you’ll know the answer.
By now you’re probably thinking or saying those immortal words.
“What if this idea proves to be a great success”
“What if I am losing out massively?”
We can never be sure of the answer to these questions, that’s why they are so powerful. But one thing we can be sure about, is that it is impossible to know the future.
“What if my book idea is the next bestseller?”
“What if its the next Harry Potter?”
Consider how truly realistic this is. There are many successful and published writers who only earn a decent living from their books. Every failed book ever written was written by someone who fought hard for it and didn’t give up on it. What if they spent that time on a better book? What if that better book was successful? They never found this out as they spent all their time and effort on a bad idea.
Can quitting leave you financially better off?
This is best explained with a gambling metaphor.
How many times have you heard of a gambler putting everything they have into a bet, for that gamble to work out and they win big and are forever successful…Maybe that has only happened a few times. There are countless stories of gamblers putting everything into a bet, ending in them losing everything. Or if they win with the first bet, they lose it all in the second. Once again, the gambler’s commitment to win whatever the cost, is the sunk cost fallacy in point of fact.
It’s the same thing. If you put a significant amount of money into something, only for it to end in failure, that money is gone forever. That loss is greater still when you see time and effort spend on something as currency too.
Who else is supportive?
When you consider the sunk cost fallacy, its easy to see why you might be biased, why your thinking is too subjectively bent towards an idea. In this way, getting the thoughts of others can be a better idea. There is no point asking friends, because as friends they are almost honor bound to tell you its a good idea and act supportive. But ask yourself how many people are clearly and visibly supportive and enthusiastic about your project or goal.
If there are many people, then, well you may be onto a winner. But if there are few, or even nobody, then ask yourself why that is, you might think its because they don’t care. But this isn’t the case. The biggest reason they may not be super supportive as they don’t want to see you fail and are trying to hint that what you are working on, may not be worth your time.
Letting go of what doesn’t serve you returns to you your best feature, your unique selling point.
When you put all your effort into something, there is always a risk of losing your most important feature. You risk losing that one thing that is the secret behind all your successes. If you quit something and that thing is truly returned to you and is ready to work for you again.
But what is it?
Well, the secret behind all your successes is yourself. If you put everything in an ultimately bad idea then you aren’t working with your best, but are working with the sunk cost fallacy. By quitting and working on something else, you gain all your passion and ability back.
It is difficult to consider quitting. I know that this is hard to hear. Again, only you should take the leap in giving up on something. If you are truly passionate about something, and others support you and think it a good idea. If you are happiest thinking about it and enjoy working on it, then fight for it with all its worth. If no part of you accepts this article and thinks I’m right in any way, then please, don’t pay attention to me.
I don’t know you, I don’t know your goals or ambitions. If I knew what you were working on its possible I’d think it a great idea.
But if somewhere this article connects, and deep down quitting seems like a good idea. Then maybe it is. Sometimes, giving up on one thing can lead to success in another.
Featured photo credit: Stocksnap via stocksnap.io
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