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Never give up?

July 16, 2009

You’ve heard the stories before, right? Of how people from humble beginnings hung on despite the odds and subsequently became rich and famous.

The stories often have the same pattern. A dude grows up having a tough life. Dissatisfied, he spots an opportunity and drops whatever he was doing and works very hard at his new thing He weathers the skeptics, all the ups and downs no matter what, becomes a wild success and rides happily into the sunset.

And the ending is, “So kids… remember, never ever, ever give up!”


Well, let me tell you another version of the story. A real live one.

Earlier this year, a friend in Singapore asked me for an opinion if he should continue with his little business that was hit badly by the financial crisis.

I knew what he was going through. Taking the lesser-of-two-evils approach, I said, “Dude if I were you, I’d cut my losses and wind down. I’d wait a year and then see if it makes sense to start again, if not in this line, in another line.”

Of course when I said that, I had done some due diligence on things like buyer sentiment, credit sentiment, interest rate direction and the competitive scene. I wasn’t acting on, “Oh if you want it bad enough, it will come to you. Promise.”

It was hard for my friend because all these years, he had been a serious believer in “Never give up.” Because if you give up, you’re a loser and no one wants to be friends with a loser.

Yet there he was, about to give up.

What finally tipped him over was when we went through some figures and found that if he hung on, he would burn about $50,000 a month against an income of less than $10,000 a month for as long as the recession stayed. And when the market recovers, he would have to spend the next couple of years recuperating from his accumulated losses before he could see the first real profit.

Convinced, he shut down. Well, he came from a privileged background so he’s still having fun. 🙂

Now I like “Never give up” stories too because hey, who doesn’t like heart-warming rags to riches stories? But thinking back, I wish the storyteller had been honest enough to say that this gem comes with strings attached. A helluva lot of strings in fact.

And it wouldn’t hurt to also say that sometimes, giving up can be the best thing that ever happened to you. Wouldn’t you rather give up on a losing stock, a car that gives you nothing but endless trouble, or a technology whose lifecycle is about to end? I would.

Thank goodness many of us thinking folk actually use our brains. No, giving up is not always a bad word but hanging on stubbornly when failure is all but certain, now that I’m pretty sure is a bad word.

6 Comments leave one →
  1. July 16, 2009 9:07 am

    Ok, i’m so gonna copy this topic for my blog. 😛

    You know, i used to think that never give up is a good mentality until few years became very draining and tiring. So i decided to call it off, cut it loose. I’m talking bout relationship anyway. But i think its the same.

    If you cling to something which is falling, you’ll gain momentum over time and the longer u cling on to it, the bigger the impact will be. So if you stop clinging to it at early stage, u might suffer minor wounds from the fall…but if you cling on it for too long, it won’t be just few minor wounds.

    For every success story ever attributed to “never give up,” there’s probably a bunch of unreported failures for the same reason. Some might see this as being negative but as I always say, there’s a huge difference between positive thinking and wishful thinking. Many people don’t know how to distinguish the two. The good thing is as we gain more experience, we wise up and know when “never give up” is appropriate and when its not. I myself have suffered a few times from not cutting loss because of never give up.

  2. July 16, 2009 11:25 am

    hmm..damn, i think i am that “never give up” kinda guy ,
    and the worse part is i do not know when to give up and let it go..dangerous eh..

    nice post.

    question : wtf $50,000 expenses and $10,000 income …?? what kinda shitty industry is he in?
    the only one i can think of is a F&B shop , paying insane rental with shitloads of workers and nobody is eating

    Its in a service industry where most of the expenses go towards manpower. In Sg, you just need 4 staff, an office downtown and a bit of marketing to burn that amount a month.

  3. July 16, 2009 2:22 pm

    i think it takes alot of courage to recognise that we need to cut our losses!

    i just happened to be reading a book that had a story about Xiang Yu & Liu Bang, where the later lost hundreds of battles to the former but Liu Bang never gave up & eventually won.

    So I guess what I’m trying to say is that losing once is not giving up.

    Yes, stories about heroes are like that. People admire persistence only if the outcome is positive. They look the other way when the outcome is negative. For every businessman who tenaciously clung to his vision and succeeded, there are probably unreported hundreds who did the same and failed. While persistence is admirable, the evidence tells me its only part of, rather than the sole reason for success.

  4. July 16, 2009 2:26 pm

    Lots of serious thinking to be exercised considering all aspects that may involve and their respective consequences . Good judgment and foresight are much required. Not easy task. Sometimes guts feelings tells.

    Yeah, I think its called wisdom. And it tells us that sometimes, it is wise to take a step back to take 2 steps forward, often in a new and more meaningful direction.

  5. July 17, 2009 11:42 am

    Sometimes I think it depends on what you can handle or how much of it you can bear. There are things in life you can rough it through happily no matter how tough the going gets, and there are things you just can’t do. On looking back, if I hadn’t given up this one challenge I thought I could I’d have ended up a vegetable…

    Hmm… I read it and yup, u wanted to get away but they wouldn’t let you. Your arteries lived through it tho so you are tougher than you thought, hehe. 😀

  6. July 19, 2009 5:40 pm

    I wouldn’t challenge those arteries though, esp the ones in the brain. I have a few friends who almost got it. They were lucky their lop-sided mouths managed to straighten up after a few sessions of acupuncture.

    Ooh that sounds bad. I’ve been thru a lot but never in a situation where anything might pop.

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