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Should I stick it out or let it go?

One of the most puzzling questions for me is when to persevere and when to let go. I don't want to quit as soon as things get tough, but I don't want to cling on without good reason. If there's a part of my work I don't enjoy, should I keep doing it because discomfort can be a powerful catalyst for growth? Or should I take it as a sign to stop and make room for other things because what I'm doing isn't where my heart is? Isn't life too precious to spend on anything we're less than enthusiastic about?

Whenever I'm in a situation where I'm not sure whether I should stick with something or let it go, these are the questions I ponder:

Is the thing that leaves me suffering an inevitable part of my aspiration?

Following our aspirations normally includes tasks we don't enjoy. If you're an entrepreneur with a winning business idea but you hate dealing with investors, you can either find other ways of financing your venture or you must bite the bullet. If you're a professional athlete, you may have to maintain a presence on social media, even if that's something you're rarely inclined to do. Pursuing one's aspirations almost always comes with its share of undesirable tasks.

What would happen if I stopped doing it?

What if I simply stopped doing it? Would I get fired? Would I still be able to do my job? Could I still reach my ambitions and follow my aspirations? Maybe there's something else I can do instead that's more in line with my preferences. The funny thing is: Once you've permitted yourself to stop doing something, the same thing may already feel less painful. If you know you can stop, but continue anyway, it's become a deliberate choice. Now you can do it or leave it. Simply knowing you could stop if you wanted to sometimes works wonders.

Did I give it an honest try?

I like the idea of doing something hard every day (even though I still have a long way to go practicing it). But if I have done something a hundred times and I'm still dreading it - and it gets no easier - maybe it's just not what I'm meant to do. There's a point when perseverance turns into bone-headedness. But I can only discover if I do it for a while. Some things get easier with time, and some things you hate at first turn into something you enjoy. The only way to discover if that's the case is to give it a serious try.

Can I take a different view?

Can I reframe the task I don't like? Can I strip it of its importance and think of it as a game? Pretend I do it for the fun of it? I suffered quite a bit in the starting phase of writing my PhD thesis. The entire project felt like this enormous mountain that I didn't feel ready or willing to climb. That feeling shifted when I looked at my thesis as "just another thing I do". As soon as I stopped looking at it as this one giant endeavour that was going to consume all my life for the next few years, things clicked, and my thesis unfolded at a steady pace.

Ultimately, two risks are involved when we face the decision of whether to stick it out or let it go. The first one is that we will look back at our life with regrets we wasted our time on things that didn't fulfil us. The second risk is that we look back and feel we didn't bring to bear our potential because we abandoned our dreams and aspirations as soon as things got tough and failed to recognise the lessons life tried to teach us. Going through the questions above gives me more confidence that I'm making the right choice.


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