How do we know when to quit?

There has been a lot of despair lately over how to move forward after the pandemic ruined everything. I lost my job and floundered quite a bit.

Quitty feelings occur to all of us when the chips are down, and sometimes we really wallow in them. In times like this, all the well-meaning advice from parents or friends who don’t get it starts to needle at us in the depths of the night – are they right? Should we quit and get a ‘normal’ job?

Oh friends. If only I had a nickel for every night I’ve laid in bed thinking about whether I should give up or not. For every time I’ve looked at a “We’re Hiring!” sign in the window of one of my local shops and thought I should apply. Had someone say “What if you just did this?” like it’s the easiest thing in the world to just abandon what you’re currently doing to jack it in for a 9-5. 

Maybe for some people it is. But if you’re like me, it’s agony to think about.

So how do we tell the difference between brain gremlins/low points and something that actually isn’t serving us anymore? How do we know when to actually quit?

Well. I feel like I can tell you with some hard-won authority, because I stubbornly, absolutely refused to quit for a long time, and then I felt like I couldn’t quit – like I had absolutely no choice but to keep grinding – before finally making the decision to quit.

The fist real sign is that you’re miserable.

Now, I know what you’re thinking. We’re artists/creatives/small business owners. Highs and lows just come with the territory, so there is no way to not be miserable some of the time. Whether it’s fighting algorithms or the slow season or a shitty bout of art block or just some jerk’s thoughtless comment, we are all miserable some of the time. The key difference is that we also get the highs. And the highs make the shit times worth it. The happy clients. The artistic achievements. The sold-out updates. Retweets from our faves. The first time we sell enough to buy ourselves something we’ve wanted for a long time with our own hard-earned money.

These wins are so important. I am bad a celebrating them but they are still crucial to morale.

If those wins don’t land – that is a big ol’ red flag. That’s a sign of broken spirit. Brain gremlins and discouragement are normal. Apathy and utter lack of joy are not. (Obviously apathy and lack of joy may be a sign of something deeper – a mood disorder, depression, etc. – those require other solutions, but my advice here is specifically for those of you who’ve narrowed down your job as the reason you are miserable.)

I’ll give you a concrete example. 

I ran a couture bridal business for years. I loved it. It was so fun. I got to make dream gowns for people who didn’t want the traditional white cupcake and I met some of my best friends in life as clients. It was deeply fulfilling.

But you can become trapped in your own reputation. Fully 50% of my business was referrals. Which is fucking great! Happy clients referred me to their friends and family and I had steady business from awesome people I liked and got on well with.

But the hype.

The hype is hard to keep up with. The more people raved, the higher the next round of clients’ expectations got. The harder it was to please people. The pressure grew and grew – and finally tipped me over the edge. Somewhere along the way my focus had shifted from joyfully creating things people loved to working outrageously hard to make sure they couldn’t possibly find fault with anything.

That was a rough shift. It killed the fun. It stopped being fulfilling. The cooler the last dress was, the more the next client expected. Until it just all felt impossible. Until I was not sleeping, not participating in life, not doing anything except stressing the fuck out about my current client list. I had no life outside of my job. The more magical I made things, the more clients actually expected easy magic, having no clue what it required to pull it off.

And when I thought about quitting, two things came to mind:

  1. I couldn’t – I was trapped.
  2. This is the kicker – relief.

That is how you know when to quit, my friends. When the idea of stopping, of not having to do it anymore brings you nothing but a feeling of relief – it is time to figure out how to quit. 

For my bridal job, it took a really long time. I wasn’t quite as trapped as I felt, but it still took ages to organise. Bridal industry stuff books up years in advance. Even once I had finally, mercifully, joyfully, giddily made the decision to stop, I still had a full entire year of clients booked. And I suppose that might allow some people to phone it in for those last projects, but not me. Again – a lot of my clients were friends or referrals. I wasn’t going to let them down. I actually did the best work of my entire career for that last list of clients. Taking away the pressure of needing to book up the next year eliminated a lot misery that had been plaguing me. I got to make gowns for the joy of making gowns again, and be proud of my work. None of it fooled me into thinking I should continue – I was still very excited for my life to no longer revolve around the bridal industry calendar. 

And yeah, the pandemic has messed things up. The job I quit to do has been impossible the last couple years, but I can’t deny that the general quality of my life has only improved. I still go through bouts of wondering if I should get a job as a barista to support my stupid up-and-down art career, but usually that just makes me more determined to make this up-and-down art career work.

And I have advice on that, too. I sort of fell into bridal. I didn’t set out to become a bridal designer, I just wanted to do couture custom gowns, and weddings happen to be the event most people have the budget and occasion to wear a custom couture gown. I didn’t set out to be an artist – I wanted to teach advanced embellishment, but covid said fuck you and I had to figure out some way to feed myself the last few years. But lemons in to lemonade and all that. I’ll get into that more in the next newsletter, only a couple weeks from now.

How are you feeling? Are you having quitty feelings? I’m here if you wanna talk about them. My next advice for you includes how to cope with brain gremlins and build your career more systematically, so stay tuned 🖤