EPIC POST: A Creative's Guide on What to Do When You Feel Like Giving Up
Feeling like giving up for me, is on the same level of scariness as losing your enthusiasm (read that epic post here).
When I feel like giving up, I go really deep into a spiral of shame, frustration, depression, and to be honest, I usually sink into an all out existential crisis.
And this is a snapshot of what’s going on in my head when I feel like giving up:
What is the point?
Who gives a fuck? No one cares, no one’s ever going to care and this is just pointless bullshit. Let’s just burn everything, and move the hell on.
Who was I to think I could do this in the first place?
That’s it. I’m done. This is pointless, I’m useless and ARGHHH.
Fuck it. Just fuck it. I’m not doing this anymore. I don’t care what anyone thinks and I’m sick of this shit.
And from that, I just sink into this place where I think nothing I do matters, nothing I could ever do would matter and I just want to eat Ben & Jerry’s, get under my duvet and cry.
Or I go into this place of deep sadness where I wish I didn’t care so much, wish I didn’t have a dream or vision in the first place and wish I could just be happy going to some mundane desk job and getting on with life.
I know I’m not alone in this. As creatives and multi-passionates, and as people who want to leave a mark, this happens to all of us. This happens with the people who inspire you and the people you’re inspiring. None of us are exempt from this one. So I wanted to write a practical guide that might help you, full of things that have helped me and people around me.
But first of all, I want to start with a couple of reminders if this is where you’re at right now.
1. You my love, have so much value to give the world. But it’s completely up to you how much you give and how you give it. That’s your decision alone.
2. You’re not defined by what you do and what you achieve. Your worth does not stem from there.
3. It is okay to feel the way you feel. Your feelings are valid and it’s time to give yourself permission to feel them.
And if that’s what you needed to hear right now, and that’s taken the pressure off even a little bit, get offline right now and go have a break. Go do something that gives your head a bit of a breather and lights you up (for me, that’s going for a walk in a park and getting lost looking at dogs) or do something that reminds you of who you (listen to a song that makes you feel alive, read your favourite book).
Now we’ve got those essential reminders out of the way, let’s dig into some really practical things you can do to help yourself where you’re at right now.
Start becoming aware of what makes you feel like giving up.
To give some examples, here are 5 things that I’ve come to recognise send me on that downward slope. Mine might be similar to yours or they could be completely different. The idea behind this is to start acknowledging the things that send you on that downward slope and thinking of ways you can stop yourself before you go in deep. So the things that make me feel like packing it all in:
1. Measuring the success of something I’m doing by traditional means and numbers.
I get the need for stats, analytics and having a real picture of the effect of something you’re working on, but it’s all too easy to get bogged down with numbers and the ‘shoulds’. You know what I mean - at this stage I should be at this point or if I want to be successful at this, then I should be doing much better than I am right now. And that shit just makes us feel bad. If I start looking at my blog stats, or analytics, it’s so easy for me to fall down the rabbit hole of giving up because I’m looking at cold hard data. And cold hard data doesn’t show the stories, it doesn’t give you any more details. Some people are motivated by that, and that’s great, but that’s definitely not me!
Instead, I’ve really turned around what success means to me, and tailored it to what is important to me. When it comes to writing, if I’m proud of it, then it’s successful. If it’s helped me, or someone else, that’s great. But the number of engagements isn’t the bee all and end all. Something that’s really helped me, is capturing the other things, the stories. On my desktop sits a folder called ‘Everybody Loves Meg’ (a play on the sitcom Everybody Loves Raymond), and in that folder are screenshots of nice tweets from people, lovely emails, and things that have made me feel really proud. That way if the stats start to get me down, I’ve got somewhere to go to fix that!
2. Working too hard and too long without a break
I feel like I need to remind myself ever single day that it’s possible to get burnt out doing things you love as well as things you don’t want to do, or don’t fill your cup. I know for me, if I feel like I can’t stop, then that’s exactly the time I should stop. Even if I am absolutely loving the work, if that’s all I’m doing, or I’m staying up late to work and not spending much time with Mr. Meg, I know I need a break. Because here's the thing. No matter what you’re doing,we all need a break and to find our own rhythm. It’s like job searching - you can spend every day all day doing it and feel like you have so much further to go, or you can set parameters around it and have a life at the same time.
For me, it’s all about spotting the signs early. If you’re feeling completely overwhelmed, take some time out. Even if you’re on a deadline, go put on a TV show, go have a nap, or go get some fresh air. Try getting out of your head by changing your environment and getting a fresh perspective, and chances are you’ll return with a lot more energy and get things done a lot quicker!
3. Sharing my excitement and it not being reciprocated
This is a big thing for me. I’m like an excitable puppy. When I get excited about something (and it happens A LOT), you can tell. But my version of excitement, like many things, isn’t the same as everyone around me. Everyone has their own way of being happy, being excited, being sad, being scared, the whole she-bang, and it’s going to look different for each person. And what I’ve come to learn is that when I share my excitement and it’s not met with the same level of enthusiasm, then it feels like a bit of a downer and my mood goes down pretty quickly. (FYI, I think sharing your excitement with someone can be really vulnerable).
So now, when I get excited, instead of rushing to share it with everyone I know, I give myself space to feel it first. This often looks like turning Macklemore up loud and having an epic mime-athon (where I basically pretend I’m Macklemore) or writing what I’m thinking so I can go back and read it. I try to carve my own memory first then send it outwards. That way if my excitement isn’t met with what I’d love it to be, I’ve already had my moment.
4. Comparing myself to where others are at
Holy shit, can we just have a moment for this one right now. Seriously. We spend so much time comparing ourselves to others and it’s now so easy to do just that. I’ve definitely been in the place where I compare myself or get stuck looking at someone else is doing too much that I start seeing them in my writing and in my work. And that’s when I know it’s got bad. It’s so easy to start looking at what everyone else is doing (which is always going to be different than what you’re doing) and think that you should change course, or do something else. And right at that moment, it’s hard to remember that we’re the only ones who can do what we’re doing. I feel the need for another reminder here: Facebook or whatever you’re looking at NEVER gives you the full story. EVER.
If I find myself stuck in that comparison paralysis, I know the first thing I need to do is get off Facebook (is it just me or is Facebook the worst for this?!) and focus on my own stuff. I know I need to start thinking about why I started in the first place and start counting my own achievements. The best thing I’ve found to work is by reducing the amount of noise I’m surrounded by, in my industry, online and on social media to just the people who I respect, and share my values. As with any project, it’s your baby and boundaries are really important
Try and remember what brings you joy (aka go chill the fuck out)
This is a huge one. Joy is so important. So much of the time, we get completely bogged down in work, work, work mode, or hustling (eww, I hate that word) that we forget there are things in the world that can even bring us joy. By the time we come up for air, it’s been so long since we’ve done something just for ourselves that we forget how to do it.
Try and establish a self care routine, and make joy a huge part of that. And give yourself permission to have your own definition of joy that you don’t have to explain or defend to anyone else. If the Gilmore Girls theme tune makes your heart swell, go watch that. If you love the feeling of chopping vegetables and trying a new recipe, do that. It only has to make sense to you.
Self care is one of the best things you can do when you’re feeling like giving up. Because often, it’s in those moments that you take for yourself that you start to replenish your energy, when glimmers of light start to shine through and hope starts to appear.
Self care is also a great time for reflection, and you might find that with a certain project you’re working on, in fact you do want to give up - it’s come to the end of the road and you’d prefer to leave it as it is than flogging a my little pony (is it just me but is flogging a dead horse a bit vile?).
And if you do want to give up, give yourself permission to. It only has to make sense to you. If other people are involved, be graceful, explain your reasons and leave in a way that feels good to you.
Look at how far you’ve come
If you feel like giving up but you don’t want to give up, actually do something to record how far you’ve come. Start a list, and include all the baby steps. The baby baby steps.
Go year by year and see how things have changed, and instead of searching for negatives, look for the positives. Art journal a page of all the things you’re proud of, and remember, they don’t have to be completely tangible - go as abstract as you like.
Write a list of your skills and ways you use them in your life, and if the inspiration strikes you, how you’d like to use them in the future.
Once you’ve done something to see how far you’ve come, celebrate the shit out of that motherfucker! And if you’re looking for ways to celebrate the shit out of your small wins, check out my 26 ideas here!
Do something FUN and completely unproductive
Sometimes all the introspection in the world isn’t going to help, and instead you just need to go let your hair down and have some fun. The work of being a creative and putting great shit in the world can be wonderful but it can also get very serious very quickly.
Take off your cloak of creative responsibilities for a minute and just go do something silly. Do karaoke or mime to epic love ballads on one of the music channels (just me?). Find somewhere you’ve wanted to check out in your area and go do it. Start a new completely random project. Start a funny collage. Turn embarrassing photos of yourself into memes.
Whatever it is, go do some meaningless fun. Don’t open the TED app, go do something completely unproductive, for the sake of it. In fact, start a challenge - see just how unproductive you can get! And don’t use it as a way of procrastinating - do it with intention and do it on purpose!
Go back to your values
If you’ve been around here a while, you’ll know I’m huge when it comes to values. Things have to feel good to what is right to you. Some of the time, our projects and our work stretch into things that just don’t feel good anymore. Perhaps we’ve been persuaded by someone else to go in a different direction. Perhaps we’ve got so caught up in comparing ourselves to others that we’ve lost the soul of what we’re doing.
Write your values down on a post it note and keep it where you work, or keep a list on your phone. Honesty is a huge value of mine, and I find if a project starts getting glossy or I’m hiding part of the story, it quickly makes me feel uneasy. Challenge what feels uncomfortable and what doesn’t feel right and ask yourself how you can do it in a way that only you could do it.
Try something completely new
Trying something new doesn’t have to link to a direct outcome of becoming a sudden genius in X new art form. Perhaps you’re a performance poet and you’ve always wanted to know how the mechanics of something like an old radio works. Perhaps you only write and want to check out a painting class. Perhaps you’re a hand letterer and you want to try your hand at animation.
Do something creative for the pure fun of it. Forget the accolades, the outcome and the bigger picture. CreativeLive by the wonderful Chase Jarvis has some fascinating free courses - go check them out! I bet you can find something that intrigues you!
Follow your curiosity. You’ll never know where it might lead to.
Go back to your zone of genius
This one’s short and sweet.
It’s really easy to be tempted to try and do everything. And that can get pretty overwhelmed pretty fast. Of course there are lots of things to do, and often it does feel like you’re the only one who can do it. But as much as you can, ignore the other shit and just give yourself some dedicated time to really focus on what brings flow into your life. You know, the thing you do when you forget the time and just get completely and utterly absorbed.
And if you can’t remember the last time that happened, that’s your new challenge.
Make the necessary bullshit more fun
There is so much bullshit that comes with being a creative.I know for many of us, the ability to just knock off work until we feel inspired isn’t an option. If only the act of creating things was the bigger part of the pie chart. There’s self promotion, admin, daily bureaucratic bollocks and more often than not, having to balance what we really love (the creative stuff) with daily life, which can often include doing work that doesn’t make us feel quite as happy or fulfilled.
But I’ve found a couple of ways of approaching it to make it more fun, and to start making you feel a bit more human:
2. Batch task the things that bore you to tears, and play your favourite music while you do it, and cook an epic lunch to look forward to
3. See self promotion as sharing and not as marketing. Give a bit of yourself in a way that feels good to you, and see what comes back your way
4. Start ignoring the ‘experts’ whose values don’t align with yours. It’s never going to work. Instead, seek out people you actually respect and people who get you and what you do, and listen to them instead. And take everything with a shitload of salt.
If you find yourself often sending invoices, make them more colourful, make them more you. If you find replying to emails challenging, put on a good album and see how many you can reply to within the 45 minutes. If you’re creating graphics for social media, go outside the box and have fun with them.
Talk to someone who inspires you and gets your work
It’s been said so often, but so much of the time we feel like giving up, it’s at a pivotal moment when things are just starting to turn around for us, but we just can’t see it.
I don’t know if it’s true, it could in fact be a steaming pile of bullshit, but it makes me feel better!
Don’t suffer alone when you feel like giving up. Instead, reach out to fellow creatives and share your struggles. They’ve been where you are, and they can relate. Allow yourself to feel less alone.
If you have an audience, reach out to them. You inspire far more people than you know - there are always people who admire your work and who you are from afar, but never hear from. Get vulnerable about how you’re feeling, and see if stories start to emerge. Allow yourself time to remember why you started in the first place.
So in summary, chill the fuck out, go have some fun, get some rest and go experiment.
The world needs what you have to give. If what you’re working on right now - even if you’ve been working on it for years - is no longer serving you, and you can’t think of a way it could serve you, let it go. That’s okay too. Start the adventure of finding something new.
But if you feel like giving up but wish you didn’t, chances are that the work matters to you more than you know.
You my friend, are so important and have so much to give the world. But you need to give yourself a chance first. You have a story to tell, and you need to live that story as well as share it.
So go have so fun, give yourself some space and give yourself a fucking break!
What makes you feel like giving up? What strategies do you put in place to start preventing it from happening? Let me know in the comments!