Have you ever thought of giving up?
Let me rephrase that. I don’t mean giving up ENTIRELY (please don’t do that!). No, I’m talking about that fork-in-the-road intervention we all face at strategic points in our lives. Who am I? What is my purpose?
In all honesty, I have had my own “giving up” come-to-Jesus talks with myself many times in the past. Not so much, “What is my purpose?” as, “Why don’t people like meeeee?!” (Or, maybe I just had a mental breakdown and started talking back to the voices in my head. But hey, I’m an artist. We embrace a little bit of insanity.)
So how does giving up work, exactly?
1. Stop being stuck in the past.
With the past, I have nothing to do; nor with the future. I live now.
Ralph Waldo Emerson
Here is my origin story of giving up (and finding freedom in doing so):
I began my journey as the kid who doodled all over her books in elementary school, then became the artsy girl in high school drawing anime characters. Finally, I graduated with a Bachelor in Studio Art, the budding artistic professional ready to take on the world. I have worked in graphic design, in preschool as an art teacher, and in all kinds of non-creative jobs scattered in between.
During some of that time, my muse stayed close. We were best friends. I had so many ideas, I thought I may burst if I didn’t get them down on paper.
Long dry spells inevitably followed. Days and weeks went by that saw me plagued with depression and anxiety and a constant struggle to find some sort of self-worth. Nothing I did was good enough. I felt inferior and longed for days past when things weren’t so complicated and hard. Giving up felt easy, but I needed to learn to give up the right things.
We should learn from the past instead of living in it. That way, when those dry spells inevitably return, we can be better prepared to handle them.
2. Give up on unrealistic expectations.
I’ve learned that universal acceptance and appreciation is just an unrealistic goal.
Like many times before, I found my footing again at the end of the dark hold of depression and anxiety. From then on I have spent every-possible-moment-since taking advantage of the inspiration. Painstakingly, I create quality content on my social media platforms. That includes making myself more marketable. I work tirelessly to grow my fan-base and extend my empire. Except that my empire is very, very small (really more of a village).
For a while that bothered me. (Okay… if I’m honest with myself, it still bothers me.) But, do you know what? I am learning that when I raise the bar too high, too fast, that’s when I crash and fall. Those unrealistic expectations can be killer to a perfectionist. And I have always been extremely hard on myself.
Which brings me to giving up on whatever measures of success have been ingrained into our brains from day one. So what if I have few followers? Those that do follow me, they are my people, my kindred spirits—they are YOU. And you are more precious to me than gold. Because you are real people who take an interest in what I do. You find value in the work I create (if not, you wouldn’t bother hanging around).
That means so much more than thousands of lukewarm followers who only stick around until the next trendy thing catches their eyes. And at the end of the day, I need to feel that my art means something to someone much more than I need to feel “popular.” If I can touch even one person’s soul, shed light on one dreary day, make only one person smile, I’ll consider my art a success.
3. Let go of what you can’t control.
You may not control all the events that happen to you. But you can decide not to be reduced by them.
I have spent years fighting for control. Control over my circumstances. Control over how others perceive me. Things that I can never hope to attain but that I continue to beat myself up over. I cannot force others to like what I do or force others to invest in my work. But I CAN foster relationships and build trust with those who do. Which means creating quality art for quality people, numbers be damned.
Sure, I may not have 100,000 followers. So what if I still have to have a day job on top of my art business? If I focus on the good things, the small wins, I start to realize that I’m pretty lucky—and extremely blessed.