When You Feel Like Giving Up

Do you ever feel like giving up?

If so, what makes you feel that way? Are you being too hard on yourself, or did someone else disparage your work? Creative work is hard.

Brené Brown said: “There is nothing more vulnerable than creativity. And what is art, if it’s not love?”

She also shared three “gremlins” that always show up when you’re trying to be creative.

  1. Shame: “You’re not enough.”
  2. Scarcity: “What am I doing that’s original? Does this really matter?”
  3. Comparison: The temptation to compare yourself to others is always going to be there, but it will never be helpful.

Are you familiar with these gremlins? I sure am. And not only for myself—I’ve heard my critique partners voice them. If you could use a great argument for why the gremlins don’t matter, she talks about that in “Why Your Critics Aren't The Ones Who Count.”

I love the Theodore Roosevelt quote that she shares: “It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”

She said that reading that quote changed her life.

“So the moment that I read that, I closed my laptop and this is what shifted in me. Three huge things. First, I’ve spent the last twelve years studying vulnerability, and that quote was everything I know about vulnerability. It is not about winning. It’s not about losing. It’s about showing up and being seen. The second thing, this is who I want to be. I want to create. I want to make things that didn’t exist before I touched them. I want to show up and be seen in my work and in my life. And if you’re going to show up and be seen, there is only one guarantee, and that is: You will get your ass kicked. That is a guarantee. That’s the only certainty you have. If you’re going to go in the arena and spend any time in there whatsoever, especially if you’ve committed to creating in your life, you will get your ass kicked. So you have to decide at that moment: I think for all of us, If courage is a value that we hold, this is a consequence. We can’t avoid it. The third thing which really set me free, and I think Steve, my husband, would argue has made me somewhat dangerous, is kind of the new philosophy about criticism, which is this: If you’re not in the arena, also getting your ass kicked, I’m not interested in your feedback. Period. That’s it.”

So, how do you hold the gremlins and the critics (including the critic inside YOU) at bay so that you can focus on creating? Brené suggested that you need the following three things.

  1. Clarity of values: Why do you need to create? For Brené Brown, her value is courage, and that helps her show up. For me, I think my value is connection.
  2. You need to have people—at least one person—in your life who will be there for you when you fail, to commiserate honestly with you, and to encourage you to try again. Over the years, I’ve gathered quite a few people in this industry who’ve become dear friends. I’ve met most of them through SCBWI and Storyteller Academy. I can turn to them for honest feedback and commiseration and celebrate when I’ve put myself out there and done something especially hard. Doing something that’s hard for you is its own kind of victory.
  3. You need to show up for yourself. Look at your creative work with your whole self—the person who believes in what you’re doing—not just the part of you that criticizes. You can be your own worst critic. Don’t be. If you feel like you’re playing small, do the internal work so that you can heal. You’re worth it, and so is the work you’re meant to create. 

Thanks for reading!

Blog Contributors

Instructor Photo: Myrna Foster

Myrna Foster writes and edits content for Storyteller Academy and the WriteRiders Newsletter for SCBWI Nevada. She has spent a lot of time teaching and coaching children, including five years as a preschool teacher. She's also worked as a journalist, and Highlights High Five has published six of her poems. 

Arree Chung is an author/illustrator and the founder of Storyteller Academy. Arree’s Ninja! series has received starred reviews from Kirkus and School Library Journal. Kirkus also gave a starred review to Mixed, which recently won the FCGB award. 

Today Arree lives a creative life, making stories for children. Arree spends most of his time making picture books, writing middle grade novels, and sharing his love for art, design, and storytelling with kids and dreamers everywhere.

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