Hitting Your Limits: What Does it Mean to Give Your All?

Persistence, patience, and integrity are virtues rightly celebrated in an individual. As adults, we recognize even more than we did as kids that some things are worth working for or are worth preserving, even when there’s a significant cost involved. Setting out to conquer a task brings its own sort of fulfillment and satisfaction, even if we’re not entirely certain our goal is as great as we once believed it to be. Sometimes, the rewards will be richer and more poignant than we could imagine, but other pursuits may leave us asking whether that castle in the sky we worked so hard to build was worth it.

While life is very much about the journey and no straightforward, smooth going road makes for interesting story telling, in today’s post I wish to examine the other side of this philosophical coin: when does it make sense to relinquish a particular path and move in another direction? What is Life telling us when we’ve done everything we can and the situation doesn’t improve? Does giving our word or taking a vow mean that we are now consigned, forever, to frustration or disappointment? Is it “better” to make peace with the situation or see this as a sign that we’re meant to utilize our time differently?

At what point are conscientious, well intentioned adults relieved of the need to continue shouldering a heavy burden?

Sometimes the answer is we’re not. There are certain situations where we bear responsibilities that will never cease. Usually this means caring for those who are incapable of caring for themselves. But, setting aside this particular group of people, what I want to examine is how we draw the line elsewhere in our lives. How do we go about the excruciating process of setting aside one dream in pursuit of another? What does it mean to hit your limits beyond which we’re simply throwing ourselves on the funeral pyre?

Is it stronger, braver, more admirable to carry on no matter what or to recognize that our efforts aren’t helping, the wheels continue to spin with no forward motion. Things aren’t getting “better.” What does the vow “for better or for worse” actually require?

This line of inquiry extends far beyond marital vows. It can apply to all sorts of pursuits where we feel responsible and invested: another infusion of cash into a stumbling business, another social invitation declined in order to care for a passed out or mopey relative, another try out attended in the hope that this time we’ll get a break, or accepting that a cherished friendship is over. When do you decide to move on with your life?

When things aren’t getting better, do you stay or do you go? As imperfect as anyone’s life is, when do you reach a point where remaining in place involves exponentially higher costs than calling it quits? As a responsible, conscientious adult who is aware of the impacts of their decision, what does it mean, “to give your all?”

I have witnessed multiple of scenarios where individuals valiantly struggled to make something work when it was clear that nearly everything about their circumstances was untenable. Having lived through something similar myself, I am nothing but sympathetic. It’s hell. I’ve listened and nodded as friends have shared their fears, their loathing, their fury, their grief, their guilt, and their overriding sense of responsibility.

Having finally thrown her husband out after yet another drunken episode of rage, one friend told me about going to her very devout parents and putting before them her decision to end her marriage despite recognizing that her husband was a good but very troubled man. The response they gave lightened her burden considerably. “When you took those vows,” they reasoned, “that didn’t mean you were sacrificing every possibility of future happiness or reasonable partnership.” Another person I know told me that they had resigned themselves to a life of chronic dissatisfaction and unhappiness, believing that only by being physically present in the house could he see clear to fulfill his parental duties. In the long run, the marriage ended, anyway, and he’s now found other ways to parent his kids while building a healthier life for himself. I asked him if, in hindsight, he was glad things resolved the way they did versus his original plan to stick it out. “Most definitely,” he replied. “I had boxed myself in with rigid definitions of how I thought a good man should conduct his life.”

There are an infinite number of relationship examples I could trot out—ones where people stayed and created lives outside the home, no longer seeking any sort of real relationship from their spouse. But, let’s switch gears and consider other instances where we must decide how far to pursue a goal that simply isn’t happening. For instance, say your dream is to be an artist of some sort—you may even have a modicum of talent—but opportunities aren’t manifesting, no matter how hard you try. Maybe you’re not as talented as you believe. But maybe you have other strengths for which there is a demand. At what point do you make peace with this? At what point do you follow a path of least resistance? Isn’t it possible that Life wants you to pursue this other road instead of the one you set your heart on? And what does the process of reaching this conclusion and following it teach you about humility, stubbornness, and adaptation?

We all hit pot holes in life. The question arises when we keep hitting the same hole over and over, having to change out our tires and rims repeatedly, never moving beyond this single stretch of pavement. Do such actions prove our dedication to this road? Does committing to a single choice made years prior signify greater virtue and wisdom than pulling up stakes and starting anew?

When it came to my choice and my decision, my sense of responsibility and fears about the future, all I could do was look at what my life had become and ask myself if I could be ok with continuing on in this manner? I had given my all and it hadn’t taken me to where I wanted to be. Nothing I could do would change that answer, not if I remained rooted in place. A quiet voice whispered to me that better things awaited… I listened. I believed. I trusted. Somehow I managed to do this, and thank God I did. Your answer and your reasons may be very different from mine, but locking ourselves into particular parameters because of what we agreed to or expected back then fails to take into account changed circumstances. So, looking forward from this point in your life, what can you live with?


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