Let go or you will be carried away: how to learn the value of giving up

Let go or you will be carried away: how to learn the value of giving up

Let’s face it, we don’t have a good relationship with our small or big failures. We easily allow ourselves to be dominated by the fear of failing or being rejected to the point of compromising our self-esteem and invalidating our existence.

Too many times, however, we dwell on the negative aspects of failure, ignoring its potential. Yet knowing how to lose or have to give up on something or someone can be a great advantage.

A Zen tale that teaches us the value of renunciation

“One day, a merchant decided he wouldn’t wait any longer. He had sent several messages to a debtor who owed him money. Annoyed by the delay, thinking he was not respected, he set out to go and collect the 10 florins he owed him.

To reach the village where his debtor lived, he had to cross a river, so he had to resort to the services of a boatman, which cost him 5 florins. Fortunately, the merchant managed to find his debtor who paid him his due without batting an eye. Felice, and back home, had to cross the river again and pay the boatman.

When the night came, at bedtime, he realized that he had invested several hours of his life and paid money to claim a debt and that, in the end, he found himself with the same amount of money as in the morning “.


This story reminds us of people who obsessively pursue a goal without realizing that they end up neglecting far more important issues and, what is worse, that their stubbornness can cause harm to themselves and others.

“Leaving means: letting things take their course for a while, letting them move freely without our intervention, until the direction of their movement shows itself spontaneously. If we give up trying to guide things and they move away from us by moving, let them go. Let’s let go. If we let them go their own way, we set ourselves free for something else. ” (Bert Hellinger, The Orders of Success)


In our society we value perseverance and we want to pass this value on to our children. There is nothing wrong with that. Provided it is done in moderation.

The problem begins when it is taken as an obligation, when we believe that we have no choice but to persevere. Undoubtedly, positive phrases that contain great naivety also contributed to this, such as: “never give up” or “perseverance makes all obstacles disappear”.

“Surrendering is just having the courage to choose yourself, instead of continuing to choose those who don’t want to be chosen”

However, any value assumed as the only possible solution implies limiting ourselves, because it prevents us from seeing other alternatives, which could be less harmful or carry a lower emotional cost.

When we think that abandoning a project that has lost its meaning or has stopped motivating us means “failing” or “being weak”, we have a problem because, after all, that thought is an expression of a rigid “me”.

Persevering is important because all great things require sacrifices and time, but it is also important to develop a detached attitude that allows us to evaluate the effort made in terms of costs / benefits, including the emotional sphere.

Our emotional predictions are distorted

When deciding whether to persevere or change course, it is essential to keep in mind that emotions can play tricks. Our emotional predictions are distorted.

Harvard University psychologists have spent years studying the phenomenon of emotional prediction and have found that although we can predict the valence of emotions, we are not very accurate in predicting their intensity or duration.

This means that we are not very good at predicting how happy or satisfied we will feel when we reach certain goals, or how long we will feel bad about having abandoned a project, or how intense the discomfort may be.

We tend to go to extremes: we think we will feel very happy when we reach our goal and we believe that we will feel terrible if we fail, but reality shows us that this is not the case.

This is due, at least in part, to the fact that the effort we made along the way has worn us out and the results obtained do not give us the satisfaction we expected.

This is why when we reach certain long-awaited goals, we may be left with a sweet and sour taste in our mouth. Knowing this, we can take a more objective attitude to assess whether it is worth continuing to persevere.

Sometimes the result is not as important as the path we have traveled

Sometimes we insist on getting something just because we don’t want to waste the time and effort invested. This phenomenon is known in the field of economics as “sunk cost”, one of the main causes that lead us to make irrational decisions.

The sunk cost is generated by our loss aversion. Basically, we think that if we don’t move forward with a project in which we have invested time, sacrifice and even money, we will lose that investment.

Continuing to invest often produces an additional cost, so we get stuck in a cycle of dissatisfaction.

We must realize that this investment is already lost, that it is not necessary to continue investing in a laundry bag. Maybe we have already spent money on the entrance ticket, but if at the last minute we decide that we don’t want to see the opera, we don’t have to waste our time too and force ourselves to do something we don’t want, we can simply change our plans.

Therefore, when a project has ceased to make sense, we are no longer thrilled or simply requires too many resources, perhaps it is time to abandon. When we are committed to something and the only reason we find to keep moving forward is “because I have already invested the time and effort”, something is not going as it should.

Changing your mind is not bad, on the contrary, it can be synonymous with growth. Changing projects or realizing that something has stopped being passionate does not mean that we have failed, we still have the lived experience, which can be a source of wisdom. In fact, it often doesn’t matter what goal you’ve accomplished, but the person you’ve transformed yourself into while walking that path.

Surrender is not negative, in some cases it can be a sign of intelligence. True wisdom consists in finding the balance between persevering and giving up, in being able to discern between stubbornness and real possibilities. Investing in this skill will allow us to save the most precious thing we have in life: our time.