When Should We Give Up? 4 Times to Consider It.

ideas, performance improvement, business tradeskill

This might not end well.

Entrepreneurs and innovators get plenty of advice about perservering, staying gritty, and keeping on keeping on; but almost none about when it’s OK to give up.  In fact, there’s so much bias against giving up that Nathan Lustig felt compelled to write a post giving entrepreneurs “permission” to think about closing up shop.

Today we’re going to presume that we know, as entrepreneurs, that some business ideas or businesses don’t work out.  In fact, almost every serial entrepreneur (including me) has made that decision.  But when does giving up make sense?

Reluctantly, let’s think about the unthinkable.

In this post we’re going to talk about giving up in 5 situations:

  • When persistence isn’t enough
  • When we can’t face facts
  • When the risks are overwhelming
  • When we’re in over our heads
  • When we’re disconnected from our business

If those circumstances sound familiar, it’s because we talked about them in our post describing business tradeskill.    When we can’t execute on these business fundamentals, it’s time to reassess.  We’ll describe each situation and the tripwire that tells us it’s time to think about giving up.

When to Give Up in 5 (no, 4) Situations

When persistence isn’t enough.  Everyone gets tired and discouraged.  Everyone fails at times.  Everyone has times that they’d rather be anywhere than in the middle of this business quagmire.  That’s just a part of business.  We have some advice.  Don’t give up because you think you can’t go on.  We all, every one of us, have more physical, and psychological reserves than we ever realize.

When we can’t face facts.  There are three elements of successful fact-facing.  First, we recognize that events are, or will, affect our business.  Second, we’re able to act as though we were our own best friend.  Third, we can respond with something practical and immediate.  But when (a) we’re blindsided or blind to events, (b) we can’t stop ourselves from wallowing in self-centeredness, and (c) we’re paralyzed into inaction, that’s our tripwire and we should consider giving up.

When the risks are overwhelming.  There’s a lot of hype about entrepreneurs loving risk and seeking it out.  The truth is, of course, that business is uncertain and we’re fallible.  So we plan to minimize risk.  Then we try and execute our plan.  But sometimes, as we execute, everything seems to be unknown and most of the consequences are bad.  At this point, most of us realize that we’re leaving the realm of facts and navigating by gut instinct or intuition.  For some of us, our intuition is a sure compass (Richard Branson and Steve Jobs are two examples of brilliantly intuitive entrepreneurs). But when even our intuition fails, that’s our tripwire.  Here’s another; when every consequence that we can foresee bankrupts us or the company, then it’s time to pay off our liabilities, shut down operations and  salvage what assets remain.

When we’re in over our heads.  Everyone who’s ever started or operated a business has known those times when they can’t figure out what to do next.  I certainly have.  Most of the time, I can pull myself together enough to concentrate on figuring out why I’m so clueless.  Then I can describe my ignorance.  And then I can ask for help.  It may take days and it’s very hard on the ego.  But when we can’t even figure out why we’re overwhelmed, and days later we still can’t, that’s our tripwire.  When we can’t even jump start the process of learning or getting help, we’re in way over our heads.

When we’re disconnected from our business.  Once in a while, success seduces us into thinking we understand it all.  That’s usually the point where we part ways with the realities of business.  The first signs are disaffection and discontent in the company, followed by a noticeable cooling of customer enthusiasm.  But we’re disconnected, so we don’t notice that it’s become a serious problem, even when financial performance suffers.  It can happen to the best of us… it happened to Steve Jobs in 1985, and would have driven Apple into bankruptcy if Apple’s board of directors hadn’t done the unthinkable and fired Apple’s founder.  In smaller companies where we own the controlling interest, there’s no similar check.  It’s just us, and it’s our decision to make, after almost everyone has told us we’ve lost touch.  And that’s our tripwire; when people we know and trust won’t talk to us, or when they risk a lifelong friendship to talk to us.

There’s real tragedy in each of these situations.  The company may not even be salable or salvageable.  When longtime employees and their families are involved, where suppliers are depending on us as customers, where our communities depend on the taxes we pay, a decision to give up becomes agonizing.  But giving up may be the last, best thing we can do for ourselves and our families.

I hope this gives you some idea of when to give up.  I don’t envy you the decision or even the consideration… but it’s part of being in business.




  1. I think the knowledge about when to give up is very important. It’s almost a skill that you must possess to be successful. It’s the hardest for me to do, to give up on an idea or a project. This article came in the right time, I find it very to me.

  2. Carol Orris says:

    I appreciate your candor in writing this article. Too often we are hesitant to admit that an idea simply isn’t working. Instead of seeing it as a learning experience to be analyzed and used as an example of what not to do next time, we let it paralyze and limit us. Every great businessperson has failed, and taken those experiences and gone on to build their dream. This article is a great encouragement.

  3. We really shouldn’t see giving up as a failure. Failure is not giving up when you should.
    There’s a nice theory of economic innovation and business cycle from Joseph Schumpeter that “describes the “process of industrial mutation that incessantly revolutionizes the economic structure from within, incessantly destroying the old one, incessantly creating a new one.”
    The society should be more prepared psychologically to admire and support those who fail as an benefit of creative destruction process.

  4. James Ojuok says:

    I love this article because it talks about what most business people will not tell us. Giving up is not music to many a people but when the tide gets too strong that we cannot resist it, we are left with no alternative. This kind of giving up becomes a blessing in disguise in that one avoids falling down to deep and actually salvages what is left. This is powerful and should be voiced over to the young business community without fear!

  5. Daniel Varbanov says:

    I have always been convinced that we should never give up. All of these motivational videos and wise thoughts teach us exactly that. I had not looked at the other side of giving up – that in a given situation quitting may be the only correct decision. I really liked the article. The descriped situations are not only for entrepreneurs but also for life in general and each person is confronted with any of them. Thank you!

  6. I just love that picture you used to open your article. It’s easy to say it relates pretty well with the topic. Sometimes you just need to know when to walk away in order to make it to your next endeavour.

  7. You made come pretty compelling points there. With the 5 reasons, you gave.. I can’t see why anyone would continue going forward but I guess you can never underestimate someone’s beliefs.

  8. In my own small way, I tried to find a way that would allow me to be semi-retired, so I could enjoy the extra spare time, and yet, find a way to supplement my retirement income. The first segment about “When to give up” resonates with my own experience. I tried things that my heart was in but finally realized that my age was against me, physically, and at first I was despondent about it, but then I finally started looking to what my strengths were and where I was experienced and could use that to my advantage. Once I face things realistically, circumstances changed and even though at first I thought I didn’t want to go in the direction I took, I ended up enjoying it because I had control over the situation and the experience to match. A good bit of practicality and self-analysis works!

    • Chris Chadbourne says:

      Jane, if you’re up for it, I have a little challenge for you. Honestly, “When Should We Give Up… isn’t one of our most highly rated posts. I have the feeling that it needs some editing, and possibly some more thinking, to make it really great. Could you tell how this post needs to be improved?

  9. Tami Harrison says:

    This article is true for me because for one of my businesses, I thought it was a good idea. My intuition was telling me that other people would also love my product, but after many years and money falling out of my pockets, I realized this just isn’t gonna work. The people apparently don’t want it and I can’t continue to take losses. So I had to deal with rational analysis, other than my gut-instincts. I had many nights of dreaming about it, to the point that I wasn’t getting enough sleep. Once I let that business go and went into another venture, it was a relief off of me. Now the business I have now is expanding fast and I immediately began to make money. I say to myself, now this is what a business is suppose to be like, with a big smile. Great article.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *