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The Subtle Art of Surrender & the Difference Between It and Giving Up

This past weekend I was on a bike ride, the route planned by my husband, to which I’d agreed. I was game! Excited and ready, I’d made sure I knew what the elevation gain would be, as well as the total mileage. Piece of cake, I thought. As I passed the said elevation, 500 more, 600 more, 800 more, and I was still huffing my way up the road, not knowing for how much longer I’d be climbing in the 100-degree heat, with a swarm of flies hitching a ride on my face and following my every pedal stroke, so many voices were shouting at me.

“He said it was only a 1300-foot total climb!”

“I can’t believe you didn’t check the elevation yourself!”

“You can’t be mad at him; he supports your rides and loves planning them for you!”

“Pull over and rest in the shade!”

“You can’t stop! You have to finish what you started!”

“Why didn’t you bring your road bike instead?!”

My husband had dropped me off and was going to sight in his gun and explore with the dogs for a bit, then head up the road I was traveling to get to our camping spot ahead of me and get set up. An hour and 20 minutes into my ride, he appeared next to me. He and the dogs had huge grins, so excited to see me doing what I love.

“Are you having fun?!” he asked

“I’m already far past 1300 feet, babe. So if fun is being followed by a swarm of horse flies and not knowing how much longer I’ll be climbing, then yes!” I replied with an annoyed, angry tone, pausing to catch my breath. I kept pedaling, and he kept driving alongside me for a moment.

“What do you want to do?” he asked.

Even with all the voices, there was no question. “Keep going,” I said.

“I’ll go set up camp then. I love you!” he said as he drove off.

His response was perfect. My fate was sealed. It made everything easier as there was no longer a choice to hitch a ride.

Life often presents us with challenges that require a delicate balance between perseverance and acceptance. In the face of difficulties, we might find ourselves torn between two seemingly similar choices: surrendering and giving up. However, there exists a profound distinction between these two paths.

Defining Surrender and Giving Up:

You might believe the concepts of "surrender" and "giving up" to be synonymous, evoking images of throwing your hands up in the air and defiantly acquiescing. In fact, they represent contrasting approaches to life’s perceived difficulties!

1. Surrendering: Surrender is not synonymous with weakness or resignation. Rather, it is a courageous act of letting go of control over the things we cannot change. Surrender invites us to release our attachment to outcomes and embrace the present moment with acceptance and grace. Surrender is an acknowledgment that life is unpredictable, and instead of fighting against the tide, we flow with it, trusting in the unfolding of events.

2. Giving Up: On the other hand, giving up implies an abrupt cessation of efforts driven by fear, doubt, or impatience. When we give up, we abandon the pursuit of our goals prematurely, without fully exploring all possibilities for growth and transformation. Giving up may stem from a lack of faith in our abilities or a reluctance to endure temporary discomfort.

In my case, I surrendered to the discomfort. It wasn’t going anywhere at the moment, but it also wasn’t stagnant. I knew it would cease or at the very least shift and change as I kept pedaling. There would be a summit, and although I was tired and there were many unpleasant aspects about the ride at the time, I had a lot more in me. I knew that any expectations or ideas about how the ride “should” be completed were not true (i.e., “You have to get there faster than the Google Maps predicted time!” and “You can’t let him set up camp by himself!”). As I rode, there were the splatter marks of a past cattle drive, and I kept thinking, “Hey if the cows can do it!” And I saw that everything was transient.

Navigating the Subtle Art of Surrender & Thin Line:

We must delve into the core of our intentions and motivations to navigate the thin line between surrendering and giving up. Ask yourself:

1. What drives my desire to surrender or give up? Is it born from a place of fear, exhaustion, or self-doubt, or is it a genuine recognition of the situation's limitations?

2. Am I surrendering to the present moment with grace and openness, or am I seeking refuge from the challenges at hand by giving up?

3. Can I distinguish between surrendering to external circumstances and staying true to my inner values and aspirations?

Embracing the Wisdom of Surrender:

Surrender is not an admission of defeat; rather, it is a powerful act of self-awareness and self-compassion. Embracing the wisdom of surrender can offer us:

1. Inner Peace: Surrender allows us to release the burden of constant striving, leading to inner peace and contentment.

2. Resilience: Surrender enables us to adapt and bounce forward from setbacks with newfound strength and resilience.

3. Growth: Surrendering opens us to valuable life lessons and opportunities for personal growth.

4. Flow: Surrendering invites us to embrace the flow of life, nurturing a deeper connection with ourselves and the world around us.

As I continued up to the summit, more voices became clear. “You will feel so happy that you did this ride!”

“You’ve done much harder things.”

“You have plenty of food and water.”

“You have as much time to rest as you need when this is done.”

“Look what you get to do! Ride through the beautiful Pintler mountain range and see this gorgeous country from a bike!”

“This is a no-fault game; you’re looking for someone to blame for your discomfort, and it’s just discomfort, plain and simple.”

“Every time you do a hard thing, you reinforce your ability and trust in yourself to do hard things.”

"Don't forget you're riding at 3000-4500 ft higher elevation than normal!"

I was very aware that I wasn’t trying to just stay positive or turn a blind eye to any concerning reality. I was perfectly okay. No risk of heat exhaustion, no debilitating cramps or injuries. Sure, less oxygen and my heart rate was higher than it would have been at home with this same grade, but nothing dangerous that I was ignoring. What I was doing was advocating for myself, knowing that I was capable and prepared, and I was focusing on what was true without adding commentary or some valence to it.



Chalk mouth.

More elevation.

Higher elevation.

Halfway to destination.

Car passing.

Pedal stroke.

Cool breeze.


Bear sign.

When Surrender Transforms into Giving Up:

Though surrender holds great transformative potential, it is essential to recognize when it might transform into giving up. Watch for signs like the following:

1. Escapism: Surrendering can unintentionally become an escape from taking responsibility or facing challenges head-on.

2. Self-Sabotage: Surrender may turn into giving up when we allow fear and self-doubt to undermine our efforts.

3. Limiting Beliefs: Beware of limiting beliefs that may disguise themselves as surrender, preventing us from reaching our full potential.

In this journey of life, understanding the difference between surrendering and giving up is crucial. Surrender is an invitation to open, trust the process, and find wisdom in embracing uncertainty and the unknown. It’s an expansion. On the other hand, giving up arises from fear. It feels like a tightening and restriction, and it can hinder our growth and fulfillment. During my ride, there were elements of giving up. I felt my mind contract and turn on itself. I felt the voices consuming the air I needed to reach my hardworking muscles. But I knew what to do.


Surrendering shifted my energy to alignment with the ebb and flow of the present moment, with reality, with my values, and with the truth of my capacity. Surrendering meant I didn’t turn away or resist what was arising; it meant I turned toward and leaned it with interest, curiosity, and discernment vs desperation. I often ask my clients to consider offering themselves the question, “… and what else is here?” And this one, “What is life inviting me into here?” Or this one, "What is my relationship with the elements of this situation?"

Is there a place in your life or a situation in which it would help to ask these questions?

Where do you notice you’re contracting, resisting, and feeling stuck?

Using the language of parts (see previous blog series), is there a thought, train of thought, way of thinking, pattern of feeling, or emotion in particular that you notice your relationship with having a quality of constriction, aversion, disdain, and resentment? What might it be like for your relationship to feel trusting, connected, respectful, and engendered with a healthy level of separation?

Please note: this blog is not about admonishing quitting. Quitting is a skill that we often must exercise in our lives as we recognize that what we’re doing is not serving us. I often work with my clients as they quit something or someone that is wreaking havoc in their lives. Ironically, surrender will often lead us to the act of quitting. Because we’re open to and able to reckon with the possibilities of certain behaviors in our lives and the lives of others, quitting is often in our best interest for our long-term well-being.

So on that note, is there something you know you need to quit or change direction with, but you’re feeling stuck?

Please comment and share your thoughts!


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Marian Pease
Marian Pease
Aug 01, 2023

😍Dr. Kori: This blog was perfect timing for me. I saw this post a few days ago, but did not have time to read it until this morning (8/1/2023). I feel like I am right there with you as your words/descriptions are so vivid. In the past few weeks, when it has been so hot here in Phoenix, but I am training for Alaska and Oregon and quitting really is not an option, my mantra at times has been, "I don't like this, but I am good", as I kept check on my body and the rising temperatures. After reading your article, I realize I surrendered each day, but did not realize that was what I was doing. It hap…

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Mmm, Marian, that is so good: "I don't like this, but I am good." It's a beautiful recognition of the dialectic-- two things, seemingly opposing, being true at absolutely the same time! 💗💗💗 So much of life is this way, but we often don't orient this way. Instead, we get stuck in the binary. It's all this or it's all that. Rarely is this truly the case! I'm so excited FOR you, with what is ahead of you AND what has passed. You belong, my friend, you belong. You. Are. Enough. 🙌🤗💯

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