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Why giving up might just be the key to success

Updated: Aug 20, 2023

When we’re young we’re given lots of advice. Some of it good: Don’t eat yellow snow. Some of it not-so-good: Ignore the bullies and they’ll go away.

One rather bad piece of advice I occasionally overhear parents impart to their children is never give up. (Even typing the words makes me shudder). While well-intentioned and mostly harmless when taken on board as a child, as adults this advice can be problematic.

After all, if we never give up, we may persist in expending time, energy, and resources on something that is never going to work. (Enter stage right sunk cost fallacy).

On Big Mistake, Anna and I had the pleasure of interviewing the founder of BLUNT Umbrellas, Greig Brebner. Since he was a boy, Greig had always wanted to be an inventor. What he didn’t know, was what he was going to invent. After years of experimenting with anti-slam door devices, and pipe fittings that didn’t take up space under the sink, he finally landed on the humble umbrella.

BLUNT has now sold millions of umbrellas worldwide.

Had he taken the advice of never giving up advice, BLUNT would have never entered the marketplace, and Greig would still be leaning over his garage workbench playing with pipes.

Now obviously, building BLUNT was no mean feat. It took Greig nearly ten years to get his umbrellas in stores. If he had given up at any stage during that decade, we’d find ourselves, once again, in a world without BLUNT.

So what was different about this time? Why was giving up on earlier experiments the right thing to do, and how is that different from giving up on umbrellas?

The answer is twofold:

Firstly, drive. if you’re pursuing something that doesn’t drive you, chances are it isn’t worth your time and energy.

Note that this is not the same as ‘passion.’ I am passionate about cooking and playing the piano, but it doesn’t mean I should become a chef or a classical pianist. When things get tough, what differentiates the successful from the unsuccessful? Drive. Not passion.

But back to giving up…

The other reason it was wise for Greig to never give up on BLUNT was because of the progress he was making.

Progress is the number one motivator.

When Greig cut his losses and switched to umbrellas, he started making headway. Slowly. Sometimes painfully slowly. Sometimes going-backwards-to-go-forwards slowly…but there was progress, and with every failure, there was a new lesson to learn.

Progress, no matter how small, is usually an indication to keep going, and yes…never give up.

So, why do we have this innate resistance to throw in the towel? Aside from the fact that it’s counterintuitive to the engrained words of our well-meaning parents, I think we struggle to give up because doing so feels like failure, even when it is the most logical thing to do.

In the words of my mother, “Failure isn’t fatal, it’s merely feedback.”

How do we test whether giving up is really the best option? One simple question:

If I had my time again, would I still choose to pursue this/take this approach?

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Kia Ora Miriam,

I recently came across your thought-provoking blog post, "Why giving up might just be the key to success," and I couldn't agree more with the insights you shared. It's refreshing to see someone challenge the age-old advice of "never give up," especially in a society that often glorifies persistence without considering the nuances.

Your interview with Greig Brebner, the founder of BLUNT Umbrellas, perfectly illustrates the importance of discernment in our pursuits. His journey showcases that giving up on the wrong endeavors can be the catalyst for discovering one's true passion and achieving genuine success.

As you rightly pointed out, the key differentiator between success and stagnation is not just passion but drive. The willingness to reassess,…

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