This morning I opened a newsletter from one of my favorite eco-friendly style sites, and was really surprised to see the editor-in-chief, A, bid good-bye to the site as it once was. Actually, her words were: “xxx is dead.” In reality she planned to continue writing, but much less frequently, and also to have no other contributors or sponsors, effectively pulling the plug on the site as a business.
I had a lot of conflicting emotions reading her candid explanation, especially since I felt something like an internet friendship for her. A had reached out to me earlier this year after reading my piece on MindBodyGreen about quitting my job to do Peaceful Dumpling, saying my story resonated with her. We had a lot of similarities in terms of interests and background, and I’d been following her site ever since. Unlike a lot of “fashion people,” A was a poised and incisive writer. And unlike many writer’s writers, she also had exquisite taste. Her site was beautifully designed, and content thoughtfully curated. I even loved her author photo. A friend once told me I have “talent pouring out of my elbows” and A looked exactly like that in my eyes.
Because of all this, it was so chilling and sad to see the words “xxx is dead.” I only know too well that it’s not easy making a living from writing on the web. It takes more dedication and grind work and even cunning than most people realize. Just like any other job, you *have* to write when you deeply, deeply don’t want to, even if you feel like you have no creativity left. Ideally you should write more in a week than you think you’re capable of writing in a month…then you’ve written enough (maybe). You *have* to overcome your social media anxiety and share your stuff all over the web, multiple times if needs be. You also guest post at competitor sites in order to bring more traffic. You make nice with sponsors, and you make nice with other sites. You do other freelance writing/editing to pay the bills, if needs be. You also do some more intellectual writing just on the side for yourself, hopefully, to keep the quill sharp as it were. You also do other, OTHER projects that keep cash flowing in. Your head spins from everything you have to do. (So yes, feel free to substitute “you” with “I,” and there is the story of my life).
But I don’t think A gave up because she didn’t know all of this and was caught in over her head. On the contrary, I think that she put in much more effort than I can know, which would only have made her decision that much harder. Ultimately what made her quit was this:
I couldn’t reach for more when it was all about the traffic, the likes, the affiliate income. I had to get rid of that all-consuming struggle to see that I had for myself a bigger dream than to “become a blogger.”
This is an all-too-familiar struggle, but something that really caught my eye was how she didn’t identify with “being a blogger” and now wants to go forth to “make art” (I imagine, go back to design). And here is the truth: there is a subtle but indisputable difference between wanting to do something and knowing who you are. Maybe not every role in life requires you to be a certain creature, born to play that part, but for any path that’s so competitive, unstable, and creative, I think it absolutely applies. And if you realize you are not something, then it’s more courageous and noble to give up on that dream than to continue forward only because of the fear of failure. In our success-oriented culture, we always hear that “you’re not a failure until you give up,” but I think that sometimes you do need to just fail so you can move on and get on the right path.
Honestly, I have also never thought of myself as a blogger, nor will I ever aspire to that identity. But I’ve always thought of myself as a writer. Even when I’m not at my computer, I “write” inside my head–you could say, narrativizing my life. It’s not even something I can control. I don’t write because I’m a blogger–I blog because it’s a way I’ve figured out to make a living as a writer, and that’s who I am. The minute I committed to this identity was when something clicked in my life. I’m not saying that everything suddenly became easier, but I do feel almost like I can do anything.
This didn’t come cheaply. Like A, I’ve had several moments when I had to decide whether to give something up or soldier on. And each time, by far the more difficult choice was giving up. I absolutely dreaded being seen as a failure by my peers, my parents, my sister, my boyfriend. I am a really stubborn and prideful person so it hurt like hell–but now I see that these failures were necessary for me to find not just something to do, but who I am. Now I’m far less afraid of failure because I know my own resilience. (By the way, a big part of resilience isn’t just trying hard–it’s also a thick, thick skin.) If you ever fail, it’s not because you were bad at it–it’s because that wasn’t who you were, and you needed to find out who you are meant to be.
Have you ever had to make a difficult choice to give up on something?
Also see: How to Deal with Rejection
Photo: Tomasz Stasiuk via Flickr