Don't Give Up Before You've Even Tried

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by Amy Rigby

In college, a friend of mine dated a guy who was intelligent, handsome, musical, and artistic. In both a charming and annoying way, he seemed to be good at everything.

Once, after seeing a sketch he made of Michelangelo’s Pietà sculpture, my friend remarked, “How do you do that? People don’t just do things like that.”

His reply? “That’s because people don’t try.”

That little exchange has stuck with me all of these years, and I think about it when I’m feeling discouraged.

When we marvel at the works of others, don’t we realize we are capable of achieving similar things? Have we even attempted to do those things?

When people set out to chase a dream, I’ve noticed two things stop them before they’ve even begun:

1. They do a little research and realize there’s so much competition that it doesn’t seem worth pursuing.

2. Other people (who, often, have never achieved it themselves) dissuade them from doing it.

So let’s dive into these two dream killers, and find out how we can overcome them.

There’s so much competition; what’s the use?

Seeing others excel at something can often inspire us, but did you know it can also discourage us? In one study, researchers found that when students assessed an excellent essay written by one of their classmates, many then quit the course.  

In another study, researchers found that when students perceived there to be a lot of competition, they would actually lower their effort so as “to win by not losing.” In other words, they’d rather be able to say they didn’t try really try than admit they gave it their best but still failed.

Writing about the study, Dan Laitsch notes:

“In a situation where high effort does not ensure success (or after experiencing unexpected failure), students might reduce effort to avoid negative self-worth.”

Sound like you? I know I do this all the time. If I know I’m not going to be good at something, I pretend it doesn’t matter to me, or I just don’t try. We do this because we’re trying to prevent the sting of failure.

But failure is an important part of personal growth. It teaches you how to get better; it teaches you lessons that success cannot.

“It is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all—in which case, you fail by default.”

- J.K. Rowling

One of the most famous examples of this is author J.K. Rowling. The book industry is notoriously competitive, but that didn’t stop Rowling from shopping around her Harry Potter manuscript to a dozen different publishers—only to be rejected each time. She didn’t give up, though, and the rest is history. The Harry Potter series has sold more than 400 million copies worldwide.

Once you accept failure as just another stepping stone on the road to success, you’ll be less likely to give up when you experience it.

People keep saying it’s impossible

When you share your dreams, some people, sadly, will bash them. There could be many reasons for this, such as:

They’re jealous of your ambition.
They don’t want to be reminded of how they failed to follow their own dreams.
They’re worried you’ll wind up disappointed.

Whatever the reason behind the discouragement, it can really deflate you, but you shouldn’t let it stop you.

Early in her career, actress Judi Dench was told by a director after an audition: “You won’t ever make a film because your face is wrongly arranged.” Ouch.

Dench, now 82, has won more than 50 awards for her acting, including an Academy Award for Best Actress in a Supporting Role and two Golden Globes.

When someone tells you you can’t achieve something, ask them, “Have you tried?” If the answer is no, then who are they to say it can’t be done? If the answer is yes, just realize part of their motivation in discouraging you could be that they don’t want you to prove that it can be done. Everyone is different, and circumstances change. Just because one person wasn’t able to accomplish that dream, doesn’t mean you can’t.

Before You Say You Can’t, Put Forth a Good Effort

So the next time you’re tempted to give up, ask yourself, “But have I tried yet?” If the answer is no, you owe it to your dreams to give them your best shot.

And I don’t mean putting a paintbrush to canvas one time and then deeming yourself incapable of making art. I don’t mean sending your poetry to one literary magazine, getting a rejection, and deciding your writing career is over.

Achieving your dreams takes time and effort. There will be failures, but those don’t have to be the end.

Silence your fears and shut out the haters. You’ve got goals to conquer.