I’ve seen a lot of creatives succeed, but I’ve seen even more quit. In fact, quitting is the most common reason I see for failure in any creative project and often a primary reason for depression in creatives.
Now, don’t get me wrong: sometimes, quitting is the right move. If you’ve thought it out and realized that a certain job or endeavor isn’t serving you, your long-term goals, and your desire to “create happy” in your life, then choosing to quit might be the best decision you’ll ever make, and will ultimately get you closer to where you want to go.
But more often than not, you don’t need to quit. You need to create.
Fear and quitting
In my experience, most quitting is rooted in fear.
Fear you aren’t good enough
For creatives, insecurity and self-doubt are real problems. They can hold you back when you’re trying to be fiercely creative, and if they get really bad, they can make you want to quit.
If you have this fear, you might think thoughts like:
“I’ll never be good enough at this.”
“I have no idea what I’m doing, and it shows.”
“Who do I think I am?”
“I’m not the right person for this project.”
Fear you’ll fail
Failure is scary. No one wants to put their heart and soul into a creative project, only to have it fall flat. You might be tempted to quit rather than face that failure (although, of course, quitting at the wrong time is its own kind of failure).
If you have this fear, your thoughts might sound like:
“This is never going to work.”
“I can’t make this what it needs to be.”
“No one’s going to like this.”
“Why should I keep working on this if it isn’t going to work for me?”
Fear of criticism
A negative review feels like a death blow to a creative. If you’re too afraid of what other people think of you or your work, quitting might feel like a good option. (By the way, this post can help you learn how to handle criticism in a healthy way.)
Thoughts around this fear will sound like:
“I can just imagine the bad things people will say.”
“No one is ever going to hire me again because of this.”
“I’m going to lose any respect I had in my field.”
“People are going to laugh at me.”
Fear of hard work
Sometimes, fear feels noble. Other times, it feels shameful. Admitting that you’re afraid of the work it would take to make this project succeed can feel shameful. But if you can admit it, you can face it. And if you can face it, you can overcome it. So…do you want to quit because you’re afraid of hard work?
Thoughts like these might signal that you’re struggling with this:
“I don’t want to put in any overtime on this.”
“I don’t have the time or the energy this project requires.”
“This is just too much for me to handle.”
“I don’t know how to do that, and it would be too hard to learn.”
Fear vs the inner dragon
Fear is the enemy of creativity. And it’s always there, telling you to quit.
The good news is that inside of you, there’s also a champion of creativity. It’s also always there, and it’s telling you to create. It’s your inner dragon, and it symbolizes the fierce creativity inside of you that is driven by passion, magic, and love.
Because both of these forces are constantly battling inside of you, you have to constantly and deliberately choose which one you’re going to support in the fight.
Will you give in to fear, giving up on projects because you don’t think you’d be able to handle it if they don’t go exactly right? Will you choose to quit rather than face your fears?
Or will you unleash your inner dragon, choosing to:
- Reject fear
- Believe in yourself
- Take deliberate action
- Design thoughts that will serve you
- Build your confidence
- Leverage the magic
- Be stubbornly optimistic
- Find solutions
- Move forward in love
It’s time all creatives gave their inner dragons a little more power in their lives. Stop letting fear run the show. Don’t quit, create.
Questions to ask yourself before you quit
Yes, “don’t quit, create” might be easier said than done. How can you convince yourself to create when you feel like quitting?
An important first step is asking yourself some key questions to get to the heart of the problem.
Why am I quitting?
Remember that there are good reasons to quit, too. A project, job, career, or endeavor that does not support your dreams and goals is probably good to let go of, for example. If you’re quitting for the right reasons, it might be the right call.
A lot of times, doing some genuine soul-searching will help you determine whether or not your intentions for quitting are good or not. But in case things get a little confusing, here’s a quick guide to help.
|Good/useful reasons to quit||Bad/harmful reasons to quit|
-The project isn’t in line with your goals
-You’re experiencing frequent burnout
-The motivation for the project has changed
-You are making a career change and the project only benefits your old career
-The project has gone as far as it can go and isn’t going to accomplish what it was supposed to
|-Fear (see above section on various fears)|
-Someone else went a different direction with a similar project and you’re playing the comparison game
-You’ve faced several setbacks along the way
Before you quit, make sure you know why you want to quit. Is that purpose healthy, or harmful?
Is there a way besides quitting to solve the problem I’m facing?
Whatever your reason(s) for wanting to quit, consider the possibility that there might be another way to solve the problem.
For example, if you’re quitting because you’ve received negative feedback on your progress, you could ask the feedback-giver for more details; or make a list of all the positive comments you’ve received; or remind yourself why you’ve gone in the creative direction you’ve gone, so you can regain confidence in your decisions.
Even if you have an arguably good reason for quitting, quitting still might not be the answer. If you’ve realized this project isn’t directly in line with your goals, is there something you could learn from the creative process that will help you get closer to your goals? Or does it point towards a goal you do have, but haven’t defined yet?
Explore all avenues before quitting. Consider quitting a last resort.
How will I feel after I quit?
Look ahead to after you’ve quit. How will you feel?
If you can see yourself feeling…
- Like a weight has been lifted off your shoulders
- Hopeful for your future creative endeavors
- Courageous for letting go of something that wasn’t moving you forward
…then quitting might actually be what you need to do.
On the other hand, if you envision yourself feeling…
- Disappointed in yourself
- Ashamed to tell others you quit
- Discouraged about your future as a creative
- Sadness at letting go of the project
- Unsure what to do next
…then you might want to reconsider before you quit.
What advice would I give myself about quitting?
Sometimes, it can be helpful to think of yourself as an objective third party—someone who doesn’t have personal skin in the game. If you were giving advice to a friend about quitting this project, knowing what you know about the reasons behind wanting to quit and how they’ll feel after they quit, what would you tell them?
Take your own advice.
How to create when you feel like quitting
So what if you’ve decided that you shouldn’t quit, but you aren’t quite sure how to work past that desire to quit, and to create instead.
Here are some tips, in no particular order.
What’s a small step you can take to help you make progress on this particular project? Sometimes, a baby step is all it takes to get the creative juices flowing. So focus on taking one baby step at a time, and soon, you’ll be off to the races.
If you don’t want to quit, but a project simply isn’t working, it might be time to go back to the drawing board. Start from the beginning. Explore the project’s objectives. Remind yourself of the reason you wanted to take this project on in the first place. Try to forget the work you’ve already done that wasn’t working for you. Start with a clean slate, and see where you can go from there, with a new direction and a fresh perspective.
Eat the frog
If “start small” doesn’t work for you, then “eat the frog” might. If “eat a frog” was on your to-do list for the day, would you do it first, or would you put it off and dread it until the very end? Many productivity experts say that it’s better to do the hardest thing on your list first. Not only does it give you a burst of feeling accomplished, but it also makes the rest of your day feel easy in comparison.
If you feel like quitting, tackle the biggest part of the project. Face the biggest, scariest monster first. Once you get that done, the rest will feel easy, and you’ll be less likely to quit.
Remember your “why”
When the going gets tough, your “why” can keep you going. A strong motivation can help you work through those discouraging moments.
Compare your “why” to your fear. Which is more important? Which one do you want to go after? The answer will likely point you to “don’t quit, create.”
Give yourself a deadline
Don’t decide to quit today. Instead, give yourself some time. Set a deadline. Work on the project in the meantime. If you’ve gone a week (or a month, or three months, etc.) and you still feel like you want to quit, then it might be reasonable to do so. At least you’ll be able to feel like you gave it your best shot.
Use your habits (or create new ones)
Habits can make creating easier. These habits don’t have to be complicated. Maybe you dedicate the first 30 minutes of your day to creative endeavors. Maybe you reward yourself with a treat right after you do creative work. Or maybe you set a goal to write/paint/draw/design/cook something every day. Turn creating into a habit. If you can do that, the urge to quit won’t be so strong.
9 times out of 10, “don’t quit, create” is the answer.
Remember: you started creating for a reason. At some point, you believed in this project, and you believed in your ability to pull it off. You believed that creating this would benefit the world in some way. You believed that this work would help you “create happy” in your life.
Don’t give up on that.
Don’t quit, create.
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