Monday, November 11, 2013

On the virtues of giving up

There are a lot of inspiring true stories out there about authors who persisted for many years against great odds to break through and become successful.  But sometimes I think we forget that giving up can also be a virtue. For example, if I had never given up (for the most part) being an illustrator I would never have discovered my abilities as a fiction writer.

If I had stuck with my career goals from high school I am quite sure I would now be in a job that made me miserable, not the rather weird but extremely satisfying career I wandered into five-career-aspiration-changes later.  Because, unlike what many a gold medal winner or NFL player might tell you, not everyone can be where they are if they just train hard enough and believe in themselves. You have to have the right goal for you, for any amount of effort to pay off.

Selective giving up is a crucial part of finding your path to success.  And persistence on the wrong path is an obstacle, not a virtue.  Sure, you need some irrational persistence in the beginning when where your are and where you want to be is so far apart you have no way to even guess how long the journey will be, how steep the climb and how arduous the obstacles.  Or, indeed, whether the place you are trying to end up is even where you really want to be.

At several points in my life I have closed in on a long cherished goal only to discover it was not what I wanted after all.  But I had got far enough up the mountain to see a destination I had previously not even known to exist.  That is why I am not a journalist, an architect, a psychologist, a university professor or a full time writer--because those where not the areas in which I found (respectively) my interest, my talent, my patience, my fulfillment, or my lifestyle.

So sometimes I wish people added a little subtlety to their aspirational advice.  Yes, you should dream, strive, persist and not be discouraged.  But also analyze, strategize, adapt, and evolve.  The dreams you have as a child might be your fated mission in life, or they might not.  So if something stops looking like the prize you really want, take your eyes off the damn thing and have a good look around.  You never know what you might find.

1 comment:

Penny Watson said...

Wow. This is the best post I've seen in a very long time.