The Power of the Pause

Never, never, never, never, never, give up,” so said Winston Churchill in 1941, or so we are led to believe. Actually, he didn’t say that exactly. He said, “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.” And the world cheered him on, well, except for Hitler.

But sometimes ‘giving up’ or ‘giving in’ sure looks inviting. We’re just too out of gas, too out of dreams, and too out of hope. ‘Giving up’ is busy pumping out its hypnotic lies “just give it up, life will be so much easier.”

I’m sure a number of restaurants owners are feeling this way right now with the world half shut down due to COVID-19. They can’t all count on Restaurant Impossible to save the day.

So, how do we know if it’s a ‘go’ or a ‘no’?  A time to stay with your business or bolt? Can ‘giving up’ ever be a good thing?

Here are two signs that you are at this point.

You are not content.

And you keep failing.

I remember in days past when I hired a business coach for my law practice at a monthly sum equaling a house payment. That coach was laser focused on me increasing my sales. And I did. But I was miserable.  I was a divorce lawyer. Talk about a negative environment. Clients were not in the best of moods and that was before they got my bill. Other attorneys were cranky, advocating aggressively for their demanding clients.  And judges engaged in adult daycare, deciding whose whining would be given ultimate credence. After ten months of increased divorce cases I had had it. I bellowed to my coach, “Stop! I need more business like I need a hole in the head.” That was quite a shock to her and to me. Who knew?  Thereafter I transitioned my law practice to estate planning. Contentment had landed. Sometimes monetary pursuits are not the end all. Sometimes we have to climb a different mountain.

So, what about failing?  You love what you do but it is not working out. Helen Keller has said: “life will deliver what you accept.”  So, are you accepting failure as a way of life? Has it become a broken record that keeps replaying? I saw this play out in my occupation as a lawyer.

Let me explain.

I grew up in impoverished conditions, including living in public housing projects from which we were evicted. But I managed to enroll in college, graduate, and then slip into and graduate from a top 25 law school on the east coast. I then came back to Minnesota and took the two-day Bar Exam, a test required to become a licensed attorney. I needed a score of 260 to pass. What did I get?


I had achieved 99.23% of the score needed to become a lawyer but it was not good enough. I was certainly disappointed. I was a failure.

The test was offered twice a year so I took it again six months later. My score that time?

Now it had become a sick joke. Really? One point? This only happens in movies! So, I took a little break from my failures and waited a full year and went at it again. This time I went into the test with a chip on my shoulder. I knew this stuff. C’mon, just hand me my license already! I figured, 258, 259 … look what comes next! Karma!


I was doomed. At this point I wanted to take a different ‘bar’ exam, an oral one if you will. What was wrong with me? How could I slide back so much?

When I thought about it years later I came upon the answer.

My heart wasn’t in it.

This led me to adapting a saying of my own: “when all else fails, fail.”

When failure keeps returning no matter what you do to whip it, let it be. To fight failure at this point is have it suck any remaining life out of you. Don’t do that. You’re not a failure because you failed. You’re only a failure because you permanently surrendered. Give yourself permission to be where you are—for a time. And then get mad, get busy, and get back.

My heart that ‘wasn’t in it’ had needed time to rest. It needed a change of scenery. There are healing powers in that new scenery but if I wasn’t careful that scenery could become my new future. I had to be willing to risk that.

I call this ‘the power of the pause’.

During my ‘pause’, which took two years, I got a real estate license and, lo and behold, I proceeded to fail at that profession too. Perhaps your pause won’t be that long maybe just two months, or even two weeks. But towards the end you should feel that heartbeat reactivated.

So, I took the Bar Exam a fourth time.

This time I took no prisoners. I committed myself to studying like never before, a commitment backed by a new-found energy. The power of the pause had regenerated me.

And I passed.

As I look back on my 29 years as a lawyer those early years seem like a horror movie, and there was more to come. But in a manner of speaking, I gave up in the short term to never give up in the long term. I would eventually develop a successful law firm, employing three attorneys at its zenith.

The pause provided me a needed time for reflection, prayer and rest. It became an umbrella, shielding me from the ever coming ‘you’re a failure’ poisoned droplets.

So, I revised my saying.  “When all else fails, fail. … But then build again.”

Rest in ‘the pause’. Embrace your temporary lowly station with your umbrella held high. And then, at that right time, fold up that umbrella and come out like a slingshot, ready to conquer the world.