The Acceptability of Quitting Creative Arts

It’s possible to quit virtually anything in life. You can quit a job, quit school, quit smoking, quit drinking. You can even quit a marriage or being a parent. Some things are harder to quit than others. Some things are more socially acceptable to quit than others. Usually, ending a bad habit is good. Walking out on your kids, not so much.

My daughter wants to quit swim class. Because of pool repairs, it’s at a different facility, and she hates it there. The water is colder, the edge of the pool is harder to hold on to, and the locker rooms are chilly. She wants to stop until the pool is fixed. I told her no.

Why? Because sometimes necessary things in life are hard or unpleasant, but still need to be done. Because swimming is a survival skill she needs to learn. Because it is, after all, only 3 more weeks. She needs to stick to it, because she is still not a strong swimmer, still uses a floatation device sometimes. So we will finish this session and sign up for the next.

Then I started wondering, what if she had said she wanted to quit dance instead of swim? Truthfully, I would have told her she had to finish out the session—because she made a commitment and should honor it—but that if she didn’t want to sign up for another session, that was fine.

Then I wondered why the difference in my thinking. I am a creative myself, so you’d think I’d push her hard to stick with dancing, right?

I think several things led to my different conclusions. First, our culture does not value creative arts, and even though I am a creative, I have been influenced by our culture. It is so easy to quit a creative endeavor. In fact, we creatives are often encouraged to quit. To sideline our passion as a hobby. To do something more…worthwhile with our time.

Second, as a creative, I know that the worst thing I can do when the passion is gone is push too hard to get it back. If my daughter wanted to give up dance, I would let her because if she has lost the joy of it, why continue? Creative pursuits need to be followed because we want them and can’t do without them. Very few of us will see monetary gains from these pursuits, so if we find no joy in them, no inspiration, no fulfillment, then what’s the point?

Third, sometimes walking away from a creative art is exactly what you need to find out how much it means to you. We all get burnt out. Sometimes a break is exactly what we need to find the passion again. And if you find you can walk away and never look back, that art was never your true calling to start with.

Despite our cultural stigma that “nobody likes a quitter,” I think it’s more important to examine what you are quitting and why. After all, I’ve quit every job I’ve ever had in order to end up as a write-from-home mom. The key is knowing when quitting is a smart move vs. a lazy move.

So ignore cultural pressures if you can. Dreams are hard to come by. Hold on tight—but if you must quit, quit smart.

What do you think about quitting a creative endeavor? When is it wise to quit, if ever?

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  1. I agree, Kerry, that sometimes we need to take a break to avoid burnout. Thanks for the reminder!

  2. I have wanted to quit many a time! But, somehow, something good will happen that encourages me to carry on.
    As to the swimming… this is a safety issue, you want to be able to swim for your self preservation. Being an artist is also about self preservation. I’d tell little one “Let’s see how you feel @ swimming when it’s time for more lessons”. Or, take a break until it’s warm and she can swim outside. Remind her how much fun she had at the beach because of her swimming lessons. And, give her a hug from me.

    • Kerry Gans says

      I, too, have wanted to quit writing many times. But I can’t ever really stop, which is how I know it’s my calling. 🙂

      Preschooler will be fine with swimming. It’s just a few more weeks!

  3. Kerry,
    You make some excellent points about quitting anything, much less creative arts. I think it’s great to try out a variety of creative arts to find which one(s) really excite you. In working with people, I’ve often found that it is one or more creative arts that have peaked and increased their problem solving skills by expanding their perspective. I also think that as parents, we sometimes have to put our foot down in requiring a child to stick with something artistic for several years until they get good enough to really know if it works for them [e.g., piano lessons, or drawing, etc.] even if they show no immediate talent for it. Among other things, the discipline of practicing such skills will serve them throughout her life so that if they do find an artistic endeavor, or even a career in some field, they will stick with it even during the “bad” times when it loses its fun and becomes “boring” for awhile. Creative arts are no different than anything else; if you want to become a master, you can expect to have to put in a good 10,000 hours of focused practice under a good coach. There is nothing in this world that doesn’t become boring, or even down right annoying, during that 10,000 hours of practice. Hence, the early discipline of sticking with a program over time. Thanks for your thoughtful post. Karl

    • Kerry Gans says

      Exactly, Karl! I don’t want her to quit when something gets hard, but only quit when it no longer makes sense to continue. Because there are really times in life when it’s best to just walk away and be done. I want her to learn the difference.

  4. I always think of the old deathbed saying. Would I regret it on my deathbed? I would not regret quitting the housecleaning job, the bartending job, the administration job. But I would regret quitting writing. AND riding my horses. When I feel discouraged (the writing takes time from the jobs where I actually make money and the riding is hard physically, now that I broke my back last year and I’m older) I think about how I would feel on my deathbed. On the other hand, there’s no rush. Sometimes I put these things on the back burner.

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