3 Times When It’s Smart to Surrender
As kids growing up in the U.S., we are taught from a young age to never give up - to try our hardest, to do our best, and to believe in ourselves. We may not win at everything we do, but we’re expected to maximize our efforts. We’re supposed to give things our all and never surrender.
What exactly is our hangup with surrendering? It’s as if we view it as being synonymous with accepting failure. It seems cowardly. It feels weak.
But is the act of surrendering always a bad thing?
I personally believe that there are times when it can behoove us to surrender - when, perhaps not giving up, but at least letting go might serve us.
Here are three such instances:
1. When you experience substantial discomfort, but know that pushing yourself to extend beyond your comfort zone will lead to positive growth
By way of example (and in true Colorado fashion), I spent this past weekend rock climbing, mountain biking, and camping in Aspen with a group of friends. After a long day on the wall, we made our way over to a gorgeous swimming spot called the Devil’s Punchbowl to hang out and wash up a bit before heading back to our campsite.
Devil’s Punchbowl prominently features a 20-foot cliff jump off of a steep rock face that plummets down to a deep circular pool below, and nearly everyone in my crew seemed to be stoked on doing the jump that day.
I’d never gone cliff jumping before (at least not from anything remotely that high). And although this drop looked pretty safe, it was also fucking intimidating.
I’m no diver, and even though everyone was leaping from the ledge feet-first, I kept picturing my body somehow twisting, over-rotating, or hitting the water at an awkward angle that would wreck me. (Oh, and that water was going to be frigid).
All in all, the Punchbowl looked awesome, but I couldn’t picture myself taking the leap.
Of course, that’s about when the peer pressure started to mount. A member of our crew was going to be capturing everyone’s jumps on drone footage. It was going to be epic. I had to join.
So I started weighing the pros and cons.
Given the setup of the area, it appeared relatively unlikely that I’d hurt myself doing this (barring some fluke accident, at least). The “punchbowl” is estimated to be a hundred feet deep, so I wasn’t going to bottom-out, and a jumper would’ve had to really make an effort to hit one of the rocks to the sides of the fall zone.
More importantly, however, I knew deep down that if I jumped, I’d be glad that I did. I’d be proud of myself for facing my fear and doing something that scared and challenged me.
And that’s why, after tepidly teetering on the edge of that rock ledge for what felt like an eternity and gazing down at my friends and the freezing blue-green water below…
I surrendered and let go.
And, not only was I totally fine, but it proved to be so very worth it to take that risk and face my fear. I was rewarded with a massive adrenaline rush and an incredible post-jump bonding session with my friends (complete with sunbathing, brie, and a bottle of rosé). The entire experience was pretty fucking spectacular.
Now, choosing to tackle my fear and jump off of a cliff may strike you as the opposite of surrender. At worst, it might sound idiotic, and at best, it might sound like I leveraged my courage to boldly forge ahead in spite of my fears and prospective failure. However, even though you might not think of this as a form of surrender, I believe it qualifies.
Here’s why: surrendering isn’t limited to just “giving up.” It can also mean leaning in, embracing discomfort instead of resisting it, and rather than striving to control the outcome, choosing to open yourself up to learning and growing from whatever results.
2. When doing so makes you vulnerable, but the person with whom you’ve chosen to be vulnerable has shown himself/herself to be worthy or deserving of receiving your vulnerability
Sometimes we need to surrender in order to fully open ourselves up to other people and truly connect. If we are holding back, putting up emotional walls, or hiding parts of ourselves, we are preventing others from connecting with us. We’re denying ourselves the potential to cultivate deep relationships.
We need to be willing to take some emotional risks in order to reap the reward of real connection.
There’s an important caveat to this general rule, however: not everyone is deserving of our vulnerability.
We must learn to be discerning. Wantonly surrendering to everyone with abandon is not a noble practice or a wise pursuit. It usually will not serve you, and it’s even liable to get you hurt.
Personally, I tend to wait to surrender and really open myself up to someone on this level until I feel they’ve acted in such a way as to earn it - for instance, by proving themselves to be trustworthy and nonjudgmental. But it’s important for you to figure out your own metric for gauging whether or not you feel comfortable being vulnerable with another person, because what might feel comfortable for me may not feel appropriate to you, or vice versa.
The point is to practice surrendering with others. To take the risk to connect. Because connection is what gives meaning to our lives.
3. When things get hard, and you are able to recognize that you’ve hit your limit
It’s a great thing to take on difficult challenges. To extend beyond your previous bounds and push yourself to level-up. But, I would argue that it’s *just* as important to know your limits.
Some of us have greater self-awareness than others. I, for one, have terrible self-awareness of my body’s physical limits and will sometimes inadvertently push myself in a given activity (running, climbing, mountain biking, etc.) to the point of injury. Similarly, I’ve seen loved ones neglect to psychologically protect or care for themselves after going through a traumatic event.
It’s critical to develop self-awareness and gain an understanding of your own limitations - both mental and physical. And while that may sound easy, it can be immensely difficult to do in practice - particularly so because our limits can (and often do) dynamically shift over time.
At one or more points in our lives, we may be extremely physically or psychologically resilient. And, at other times, we might be especially vulnerable.
It can be crucial to gain an understanding of where we fall on that spectrum at any given time so that we’re able to treat ourselves with the self-respect, self-love, and self-care we deserve.
The way that we treat ourselves provides others with a model for how to treat us as well. Know when to set boundaries for yourself and stop pushing. In this sense, being your own hero can sometimes mean surrendering and knowing when to quit.
How can you integrate more opportunities to surrender into your life? What are some fears or challenges that you’d like to face and possibly conquer? Who are you willing and able to be vulnerable with? And what are some areas where you should respect your own limits and show yourself some self-compassion by pulling back?
Once you’re able to find and strike the right balance, you’ll discover that there can often be a beauty, grace, and even a release to surrendering - that sometimes surrendering might just be your salvation.