“Let me tell you something you already know. The world ain’t all sunshine and rainbows. It’s a very mean and nasty place and I don’t care how tough you are it will beat you to your knees and keep you there permanently if you let it. You, me, or nobody is gonna hit as hard as life. But it ain’t about how hard ya hit. It’s about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward. How much you can take and keep moving forward. That’s how winning is done!” – Rocky Balboa
It’s interesting. I used to think, like Rocky Balboa and Cornelius Robinson and Walt Disney before me, that “Keep moving forward,” was the best advice I’d ever heard. I lived my life as if there were no other alternative than to keep plodding along, to keep pushing forward, to never surrender, no matter how brutal the beating life had delivered. I just got up, dusted off, and got back to moving forward.
But you know what? I’m over it. I finally figured out that “Keep moving forward!” isn’t quite the great advice I’d made it out to be. Before your head explodes, allow me to explain.
In one of his lesser-known books, The Dip, Seth Godin discusses the American tendency, notably in the world of business, to hang on and fight to the bitter end. He suggests, though, that in spite of phrases like “A winner never quits, and a quitter never wins,” there actually is a time and a place to give up; that sometimes, the right decision is to just walk away and try something else.
The same can be said of our personal struggles: sometimes, the best thing you can do when challenged by some life circumstance is to a) contemplate what happened, b) consider what part you played in what happened, and c) decide what you’re going to do next. Then and only then should decide whether to resume the fight (keep moving forward) or beat a hasty retreat.
What I’m encouraging here might sound like cowardice, but it’s not: it’s mindfulness. Actually giving thought to your responses.
Ever since the reptilian stage in the evolution of life on this planet, our brains have had two responses to actual, real danger: fight or flight. Why? Because sometimes running away is the only appropriate course of action. Staying to fight in some situations might mean the end of your life. That’s why the flight response exists. It’s not cowardice. It’s a safety mechanism.
So think again about the advice to “Keep moving forward.” In many, many cases in our lives, it is absolutely the right thing to do…but not necessarily in every case. Remember this bit of wisdom from Ecclesiastes:
There is a time for everything,
and a season for every activity under the heavens:
a time to be born and a time to die,
a time to plant and a time to uproot,
a time to kill and a time to heal,
a time to tear down and a time to build,
a time to weep and a time to laugh,
a time to mourn and a time to dance,
a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,
a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing,
a time to search and a time to give up,
a time to keep and a time to throw away,
a time to tear and a time to mend,
a time to be silent and a time to speak,
a time to love and a time to hate,
a time for war and a time for peace.
In other words: sometimes when life knocks you down, the best thing you can do is sit for a moment in quiet contemplation, absorb the lesson, then get up and keep moving, yes forward, but in a different direction.