Busting the Myth of “Never Give Up!”

Winston Churchill said it, so did Ross Perot. Never give up. Never, ever. It’s downright un-American to give up. Suck it up, soldier on. No matter who tells you you can’t, do it anyway. For me, there is a difference between being determined and being stubborn. Half of being smart is knowing what you are dumb at and not doing it. The other half is knowing what you are smart at and doing that, instead.

Winston Churchill, from NobelPrize.org

So, just to set the record straight, what Churchill actually said was:

“Never give in, never give in, never, never, never, never – in nothing, great or small, large or petty – never give in except to convictions of honor and good sense. Never, Never, Never, Never give up.”

The capitals are Churchill’s. Notice the small part we seldom see,”except to convictions of honor and good sense.” And those are the ones I didn’t see either. Churchill was determined, but he was no fool. And I was. I should have memorized the “except . . .good sense.”

Freelancers (full disclosure: I’m one of them) actually have excellent reasons to give up. My failing is that I seldom do give up when I should. No, I will cause myself harm in order to please my client. It’s simply not a good idea.

Here’s what happened, and it was totally my responsibility: I took on a job that was missing five of the seven non-negotiable demands before taking on a job. What was I thinking? (What did I learn from this?)

1. Read the Statement of Work (SOW). All of it. If the client says, “the other three pages are just budget stuff that you shouldn’t see,” a sticky-note-size red warning flag should start to wave. If the client says, “Here’s the paragraph that is about writing, I’ll just tell you about the rest of it so you don’t have to read it,” the red flag should double in size. Maybe more, the size of a placemat.

2. Know your team. If you haven’t met the team, don’t agree to anything. I’m not a big fan of teamwork because past experience has proven (often) that 20 percent of the team does 80 percent of the work. At the very least, get the team members’ emails, and ask for a meeting well before the project starts. If you don’t get any answers, call them. If you still don’t get answers, the red warning flag is now the size of a table cloth. You are in Dismal Swamp territory of work.

It's a choice. Sign from linguagreca.com

3. Know the exact pay and how it will be paid out. Just because you have worked for the client for years for the same amount does not mean the amount didn’t get cut in half last week. Ask. If the amount is much less than usual, ask to think about it overnight. Do not nod your head because you want to be nice. Nice is wonderful, but think over your decision.

  • Can you afford to be nice?
  • Are you being nice just to be a people-pleaser and you are already feeling resentful? Not fair to anyone.
  • Does nice pay your mortgage or buy enough groceries?

4. Know the project leader. If there is no leader, run. The idea that any idea is as good as the next idea, or that no leader is needed, or that any process will do, just doesn’t work. Don’t Twinkle, Block. The red flag is now big enough to cover a king-size bed, with room for pillow shams. (Yes, I deliberately used “sham.”) If the leader is weak or over-stressed, you are in way over your head.

5. There must be a kick-off meeting. Without a kick-off meeting that includes the team leader and all the team members, no work can start. Kick-off meetings clarify roles, set priorities and deadlines. Everyone must know them, hear them from the team leader. Red flag is now the size of a tarp on a baseball field in the rain. 

6. Know the deadlines.The biggest warning sign of all is a starting date that

Know the deadline and how firm it is.

has been pushed aside by the client several times, with no corresponding shift in the completion date.

7. Ask to see the pre-work, or existing materials before you start. A client may say, “Half of this is done already,” but if you don’t see it, that half may be just in the client’s magical thinking list.

It’s easy to ignore the rules if you have worked with a client for a long time, if you are an inveterate people-pleaser, or if you afraid of being disliked. If you break your rules, you will be stuck with someone else’s rules. There is a time to quit, and that’s when the signs point to disaster that you can’t fix, adjust or avert.

And that’s what I did. With five of the seven signs flapping in the tornado of disaster, I told the project leader I couldn’t continue. I was disappointed in myself and then learned why I set boundaries. More on boundaries tomorrow.

Oh, as soon as I said I could not meet the deadline under the circumstances, and was told I had agreed to it, and I was breaking the contract (I hadn’t signed one), and shamed; as soon as I walked away, the deadline was moved weeks into the future. Because, you know, it wasn’t possible to meet it.

Quinn McDonald is re-reading the seven non-negotiable steps to taking a pressure-riddled job. Because she needs to.


10 thoughts on “Busting the Myth of “Never Give Up!”

  1. Oh this is SO true, Quinn. I am at the tail end (I hope) of a project that has shifted direction so many times it looks like a corkscrew — however I have always been paid, and when I tripled my rate I in hopes they would say “too expensive” and walk away, they said fine. . . . but really is the extra stress worth even that . . . questionable — I have learned a lot about m own boundaries on that one!

  2. You always say it so well. I have found myself in a situation that has become detrimental to my health because I am a rescuer and people-leaser. Now how do i get out of it without hurting a very vulnerable person? I am working on it and learning a very important lesson at the same time. Boundaries, boundaries, boundaries, I matter too, other people aren’t as helpless as I think they are and i need to rescue myself not everyone else. Thank you for a another enlightening post.

    • This is a hard position you’ve put yourself in, Leone. (I recognize it very well!) In order to please others, we often become super-woman, or cheerful martyr, or crash down our boundaries. If you look at it closely, the reason is almost always a need to be wanted or liked. We also believe that if we say “No” or set a boundary, we must be the villain. And our friends, particularly sensitive ones, will happily say things that we take to heart and believe of ourselves. At that point, our opinion of ourselves is entirely up to others, which isn’t healthy. People won’t like your boundaries, and push against them, but for our own sense of self, we have to have real boundaries.

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