Many of us are taught that persistence is the key to being happy and successful in life. If we work hard and refuse to give up hope, then things will go well for us. This mindset serves most of us well. We struggle, but we’re resilient, so we persist.
For as long as I can remember, I’ve been quietly persistent. This balance of being persistent without being pushy has helped me advance my career and pursue opportunities that would’ve been lost to me if I hadn’t been walking this tightrope for so long. It allows me to recognize potential in my students and refuse to give up on them even when they’ve given up on themselves. Maybe especially when they’ve given up on themselves.
The “lost causes” are the ones I feel most compelled to believe in.
It sounds like such a positive thing—being persistent, never giving up, believing in people no matter what. But what happens when the things you won’t give up on are the things that hurt you?
I grew up in a family that doesn’t give up on each other. Even when a family member is toxic, manipulative, or even abusive, we don’t distance ourselves from them. Instead, we turn a blind eye and pretend like nothing is happening or we excuse their behavior because they’ve had a hard life or because they don’t know better. If you bring attention to what’s going on, then you’re seen as the one who’s causing a problem. You’re insensitive or overly sensitive. They’re family, so you’re supposed to love them unconditionally.
I’ve spent my whole life believing it’s normal to never give up on people, even the ones who continually hurt me. Extending grace and understanding at all costs has been taught to me as a virtue, but when does that virtue become a vice? When does the ability to see past someone’s behavior and understand the motive for the behavior turn into something sinister?
Where is the line between grace and violated boundaries?
I see so much potential in the people I love, and I want so badly to see them recognize that potential in themselves. I choose to let the good outweigh the bad, to focus on the light instead of the dark. There’s nothing wrong with that, but what happens when that quiet persistence leads to unbalanced relationships?
Sometimes the effort we’re willing to put in doesn’t match the effort of the people we love. Sometimes the people we love can’t or won’t see their potential, no matter how hard we work to show it to them. Sometimes the people we love see their potential but are too afraid to pursue it.
So what happens when you never learned how to give up, how to let people go, how to put your own needs first?
What happens when a fundamental part of who you are is naively optimistic that hope is never truly lost? How do you know when to let someone go, abandon all hope, write them off as lost to you?
When you finally figure out it’s time to let someone go, how do you go about giving up? How do you extinguish every last ember of hope? How do you keep those embers from reigniting at the mere thought of things changing for the better?
When the good no longer outweighs the bad, how do you give up?