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Sometimes You Gotta Quit in Order to Win - Timeless Wisdom from Simone Biles and Lao Tzu

Updated: Nov 25, 2021

Artwork by @LIzandmollie

I have been so inspired by Simone Biles' courageous decision to withdraw from the Olympics competitions in order to prioritize her physical, mental, and emotional well-being.

In the West, many of us grew up having been indoctrinated to believe that “winners never quit.” From a young age, we were taught to stay the course, push through obstacles, and win at all costs. Whether it comes to sports, academics, jobs, or relationships, we take pride in sticking it out until we succeed, regardless of the toll it might take on us. Those who quit their path in mid-course are often seen as weak, regardless of their reason for doing so.

This type of cookie-cutter success formula has created a toxic and ultra-competitive achievement culture in which we have been discouraged from listening to our intuition on what makes the most sense for us personally. We allow others to define “success," which in our society often means being number one, instead of coming up with our own definition that takes into account our passion, unique strengths, and personal limitations. Even after we make it to the top, we realize there are always other mountain tops ahead of us. So we're pretty much constantly running on a hamster wheel, always chasing and never arriving at a place of real contentment.

When powerful public figures like Simone Biles and Naomi Osaka put their achievements on the line to focus on what's important to them, they are challenging the deeply ingrained belief that winning is the sole measure of greatness. They create a new narrative that there are other things more worthwhile than the incessant drive for more fame, recognition, and trophies. They demonstrate with grace that it can take as much character and courage, if not more, to walk away, as it does to keep going. They get to redefine success on their own term and assert their boundaries despite the consequences they knew they would face.

Their action presents such an essential lesson for all of us, especially after the last 18 months when many of us have learned that more money, fame, or fancy job titles don't necessarily buy us health or happiness. They teach us to look into our hearts and examine what is truly important to us, instead of blindly following what we've been conditioned to believe. Most importantly, they are leading the way to normalize quitting as a form of radical self-love.

The Tao Te Ching, the fundamental Chinese philosophical text by Lao Tzu dating back to more than 2,500 years ago, touches on the wisdom of knowing when to stop:

Which means more to you, you or your renown?

Which brings more to you, you or what you own?

I say what you gain is more trouble than what you lose…

A contented man is never disappointed.

He who knows when to stop is preserved from peril, only thus can you endure long.

To be living in the Tao (generally interpreted as the Way, the Truth) is to be in touch with our true nature, where the need for fame, success, and possession doesn't exist. We flow with the currents of life instead of striving so hard to force things to happen. When we listen to what we truly need, from a place deep inside of us, we begin to note the senselessness of demanding more of everything, wearing ourselves out in pursuit of what keeps us trapped in a vicious cycle of striving and never arriving. Being in the Tao is to tune in and prioritize what's truly nourishing you at the soul level. The more external achievements we gain, the more we become focused on safeguarding them and acquiring more. But when we know when to stop chasing, we enjoy peace and contentment knowing who we are and what we have are more than enough. This ability to trust in our inner guidance is what naturally keeps us thriving in the long run.

These few lines provide me with much comfort over these months whenever I struggle with the decisions I have made to leave my career and other possessions behind in order to prioritize my health and well-being. They teach me that life is never about grasping onto the past or controlling the future. Living in the Tao means being completely present to what is and tuning into my intuition and desires to make each decision as it presents itself. And more often than not, that means letting go of what's weighing me down so that I can fly.

Dear friend, I implore you to please look deep inside of you and see if there are areas in your life where you have might overstayed a situation that is toxic or otherwise no longer serving you, be it a belief, a job, or a relationship, and decide whether it is now time to quit. Discern the difference between what your ego is pushing you to do versus what your soul is asking of you. Have the courage to say NO to the old ways that are harmful to your physical, mental, or emotional well-being. There is so much liberation in freeing yourself from the shackles that have kept you chained to the prison of your mind. You already have everything you need to break free, and you just need to act from a place of faith rather than a place of fear. I promise you, there are far better things out there in this wide and wild universe waiting for you, but you can't get to them until you decide you want to move on.

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