In 1981 I was failing. I had dropped out of college and was working for a company that supplied produce to restaurants. It was certainly not where I wanted to be.
I had started lifting weights and found I was pretty good at it. Not great, but pretty good. It felt good. I would go to the gym in the evening and work out the frustrations of not being where I wanted to be.
One of the other guys that frequented the gym was Kevin - a guy that was on the University of Colorado Powerlifting Team. He was everything I wanted to be. He was completing a business degree and was successful in his events. His goal was to someday compete in the Olympics.
I was working out on a Saturday and he was there. I had been working toward a new personal record on the bench press and that day I was going to lift 405 pounds. Certainly not a record-breaking weight, but one that I was excited to reach. I did my warm-up sets and got myself ready. Kevin helped me lift the bar off the bench and it settled into my palms. I gently took it down to my chest and started moving the bar up. I got it halfway up and stopped - I couldn't take it any further. I failed. Again. And all of a sudden every bit of frustration came bubbling over.
After Kevin helped me take the bar off of my chest and nestle it onto the stand, I put on gloves went and hit the heavy bag for about 5 minutes, trying to take the sting of the failure away.
When I finished and took the gloves off, Kevin came over and sat down. We were the same age, some body type and with the same mental abilities. Yet he was better at everything. And he was wise.
"What happened?" he asked. "I couldn't do it. It was too heavy." I replied.
"That's bull*&#*" he said (The whole conversation was much more colorful than it appears here. This IS supposed to be a family-friendly blog).
"The bar was still going up when you stopped. That means you quit. You f*&^*&# gave up". "And next time I spot you, you had better never do that again."
I remember that clearly. In the following two weeks, I stepped back a little and built back up and then, two Saturdays later, I bench-pressed 405. Not once, but two reps. And afterward, the only reward I got from Kevin was "I'm glad you didn't give up. You could have done a third rep, by the way."
Eventually I set lifting aside in favor of family, finishing school and career. I have never hit 405 again, even though I returned to lifting in 2011 (30 years later). But the bars are different now.
Over the years afterward, that experience stuck with me. Never stop while the bar is still raising. It taught me a valuable lesson and it gave me the ability to judge for myself whether I was quitting or whether i truly had good reasons for my temporary set-backs. It has also helped me to judge whether other people were giving their best efforts or not.