A top psychologist says 'never give up' is bad commencement speech advice

More than 40% of students on graduation day hear from their commencement speakers to “never give up” on their dreams, according to University of Pennsylvania psychologist Adam Grant.

But as Grant recently said during his own commencement speech at Utah State University, the maxim turns out to be bad advice.

“Sometimes,” he said, “quitting is a virtue.”

Grant, along with Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg, is the co-author of a new manifesto on grief called “Option B.” The book helps people understand how to build resilience after devastating loss.

As Grant told the USU crowd, that could be the loss of a football game or the loss of a loved one, as was the case with Sandberg, whose husband died unexpectedly a couple years ago.

Part of building resilience is understanding that having grit doesn’t mean committing unconditionally to a goal, Grant says.

“Grit doesn’t mean ‘keep doing the thing that’s failing,'” he explained to the crowd. “It means ‘define your dreams broadly enough that you can find new ways to pursue them when your first and second plans fail.'”

Recent graduates might have a hard time landing a job in the exact field they envisioned for themselves, but they might have an easier time pinning down what fulfils them and casting a wider net to achieve that goal.

In Grant’s case, he never realised his dream of becoming an NBA star, but he did fulfil the dream of becoming a star athlete by reaching the junior Olympic nationals in diving — twice.

“Sometimes resilience comes from gritting your teeth and packing your bags,” he said. “Other times it comes from having the courage to admit your flaws.”

So stay persistent. But the second it turns to mindlessness, be wise and quit.

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