From the time we are very small, we’re inundated with the message that we must give everything our all. Give 100%. Don’t give up. Keep trying. Keep going. Never, ever quit. Growing up, all my favorite shows and movies were driven by this message. In its simplest form, it’s great advice. There are many parts of life where we must press on and keep trying, where quitting isn’t an option. In fact, there are plenty of Bible verses that talk about enduring, persisting, and never giving up, too. But recently, I’ve learned that when taken all the way to its end, giving everything your all is a terrible way to live. Like all things, this message needs context and boundaries.
I’ve written about this before, but I’m someone who tends to do too much, stay too long, and try too hard. If the metaphor about a frog sitting in a pot as the water slowly boils around it was a person, it would be me. My problem is internalization and overthinking. When I think about doing the right thing, I think of the right thing, period—not the right thing for me. This has meant putting myself on the back burner, placing others’ needs way above my own, stifling myself, and thinking that everything I’m doing is coming from a place of humility.
For a benign but apt example, a few months ago I was texting a friend. We had been talking about them, and I ventured a little bit to talk about me. Suddenly, they didn’t respond. Some time went by and when I finally heard back from them, they had to tell me about something they had done the night before right away. It was extremely early in the morning. (We’re talking 7 AM on a Saturday.) I was exhausted from the work week and desperately needed to sleep, but the moment I saw their message, I was ready to text right back and be their sounding board.
I could guess what they had to say, but if I was wrong, I didn’t want to miss them. Responding right when I saw the message felt like the morally right thing to do as a good friend. I thought, I can be there for them, and so I was. When we eventually finished talking about the news from the night before, they disappeared again. The message was clear: in light of their stuff, my stuff wasn’t important.
The sad thing is, this example is just one of many. I’ve let myself believe that being a good friend and a good person means chronically putting myself second because I’m giving everyone else 100%. This is a pattern I’ve accepted, played into, and struggled with for most of my life, partly because of my faith, and partly because of my own moral code. I’ve had the midnight and the three AM texts that I answered because I happened to wake up and see them. I’ve let myself be interrupted, forgotten, and taken advantage of because I deemed the other person’s need higher than my own. I go out of my way and do the most because I would want someone to do that for me, but I’ve realized a couple things:
- If I’m giving everyone else 100%, what’s left for me?
- Would I even want people to downplay, stifle, and overstretch themselves for me?
The answers are: 1) Nothing and 2) No.
One thing I love about Jesus, He wasn’t a doormat. He was compassionate and filled with grace, but He was strong-willed and protected his peace. He made the ultimate sacrifice with his death, but in his life, he did unto himself as he did for others: took care. I’ve only been doing half the job. I don’t do what I do for recognition, but it begins to feel pretty hollow when doing the most is met with requests for even more rather than thanks or simple acknowledgment. That builds resentment and hurt, which are definitely not of God. So, though I want to give 100% to everything and everyone that matters to me, I can’t. And I shouldn’t. In fact, I’ve had to give myself a rule that I must follow no matter what: give more than half, but less than all.
For me, that falls to around 70% of my time and effort given to others. For me, that means sometimes saying no, walking away or giving up because it’s the most loving thing I can do for the other person and myself. For me, it’s seeing the non-urgent text and choosing to go back to sleep so that when I do respond I’m refreshed and rested. I’m comfortable with 70%. For you, it may be less than half, or right at 50%. It depends on each of our needs. But despite my favorite well-meaning stories, heroes, movies, and characters, I think giving ‘your all’, ‘never giving up’, and not allowing quitting to be an option can be dangerous.
I know doing those things sounds scary, but remember: context and boundaries. Give your all to taking care of yourself so that you can take care of others. Never give up on yourself when it feels like you can’t break the toxic patterns you’re in. Allow quitting when quitting is the healthiest and most loving choice.Leave a Comment