Knowing When To Throw In The Towel


We all give up many things in our lives – most of which subconsciously and unintentionally without much effort. The few things we give up in life with a conscious effort are probably countable with our two hands, mainly because those are usually something dear to us.

Anyone would know that sometimes, we have to say “no” to many things when we say “yes” to one – whether is it in our career, relationships, or even free time. And there’s always this “what if” that lingers at the back of our heads.

We make up alternate realities in our heads where we chose something over another because it’s just human nature to think about possibilities, especially when it’s no longer within our control anymore. It’s just how our brains work, I guess.

Sometimes, this kind of regrets can really get to us, causing us to lose sleep and motivation to push on with life. That’s probably what we all know as “being stuck in the past”.

Maybe if we could have some signs or symptoms to look out for when deciding whether to give up on a career, relationship, or hobby, we might be better off. At the very least, we would know that we tried and it’s time to move on.

I’d like to share what I consider when deciding whether I should throw in the towel (for anything, really) and give it up so I can move on with the rest that are more important and worth it. Hope it might help others who are overwhelmed and troubled about what to give up for something else.

The process is no longer enjoyable

I used to enjoy dreaming and imagining myself in various situations, sometimes to impossible degrees and spending countless hours doing nothing but just playing it in my head.

Fortunately, I would eventually take some action to try to achieve it, whether is it a new hobby or a potential new skill that could help my career. As with any new activity, the novelty tends to keep you moving up to a certain stage where progress slows down dramatically. That’s when I would subconsciously give up.

That’s because I was only intrigued by the idea of achieving it, not the entirety. And I realised it’s usually because I saw someone else in the limelight. I used to be obsessed with games – I saw many professional gamers and the “glory” they enjoy as a public persona.

Over time, I understood what professional gamers give up to “enjoy” what fans and wanna-bes see as a glorified career, and wasn’t ready to do the same. In the end, my interest in gaming slowly faded away, because I was more focused winning than getting good at it.

In the process (pun intended), I learned that falling in love with the process is what gives the activity longevity in my life, and investing in the process is what differentiates someone who will see results and someone who will eventually quit altogether.

For Yoga, it’s never about achieving a pose, it’s about following the prep poses and drills to strengthen and train the muscles, and attempting at a pose until I finally achieve it. And even then, I still have to keep practising, and challenging myself to work on even harder poses.

When we don’t enjoy the process of the activity anymore, it’s likely that we won’t even give our 100%. To me, that’s just the beginning of the end. It’s either we try to reignite the love for the process or consider throwing in the towel.

Finding excuses to not show up

While the previous point about process is more applicable to activities and not relationships, finding excuses to not show up – both mentally and physically – is a huge red flag that it’s time to reassess priorities for the matter at hand.

Whether it is a romantic relationship or friendship, not looking forward to show up for a meeting or appointment is a sign that whatever it is that you’ll be doing instead, is more important at that moment.

If a dinner meet-up is at 7pm, and I’m still pondering if I should reschedule or even call it off to do something else that isn’t urgent, (unless it’s a work-related duty that suddenly cropped up) it shows how much I value the time of the person or people I’m meeting.

Likewise, if I’m calling in sick for work just because I don’t feel like attending to work matters, I’m dreading my job and we all know those people who obviously don’t care about their jobs or careers. Or maybe we’re guilty of that before.

Finally, if I’m not ready to invest time and money in a hobby or skill I’m trying to pick up, which in my case, was when I was about four years into learning Korean, I knew I had to give it up to really see how I felt about it.

Either way, we only answer to ourselves, and we’re all very aware about the activities or people we’re not too hot or warm to show up to. It’s better to make the tough decision sooner than later so we don’t waste anyone’s time and efforts, especially when it involves other people as well.

Diminishing curiosity

I always believe that curiosity is deeply underrated and ignored by many people – we seldom like being asked questions, especially when those questions challenge the status quo. Organisms in general like equillibrium – that’s why biologically, our bodies always seek a state of balance.

However, think about how this applies to everything in life. If everyone is happy with the status quo, there won’t be progress and we wouldn’t be living in the world we are today. Curiosity is exactly what drives humans towards change and advancements in practically everything.

If there’s diminishing curiosity in a relationship, career, or hobby, that means there’s no more motivation to challenge the boundaries to see what’s ahead and up for grabs. Sure, it’s not wrong to want to cruise along in anything, but it’s a real pity if we’re capable of so much more yet we’re not hungry for more.

There’s a reason why some of the most successful and fulfilled people in the world usually work way past retirement and often not for the money. They stay curious about what is possible despite their age and continue improving themselves.

We will give up on many things in our lifetime, but the ones we constantly keep close to our hearts and souls are relationships and activities that we enjoy the process of, are always excited to show up, and are curious about what’s possible.

About the author

Vance Wong

Brain-picker. Cinephile. Koreaboo.

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by Vance Wong


Vance Wong

Brain-picker. Cinephile. Koreaboo.