When It’s Okay to Quit

Years ago, I was in a charge of a major project that involved multiple departments, a hub of creative thinkers, performers, and doers, and a hefty schedule that would bring the (project) to completion in a number of months.

I was twelve.

The project was a rather long short film (about 30 minutes) called Hidden Images; my first and only foray into horror at this point. It told the story of a young boy (played, at times, unwillingly by my kid brother) who gets lost in the woods—a la Stephen King’s The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon. While lost, he encounters supernatural beings and paranormal phenomena that eventually lead him back home, where the whole experience may or may not have been a dream. 

Not the strongest of stories, but it was a huge passion project that I had spent many months writing, preparing, and shooting. The woods near our house provided the perfect backdrop for my tale; my friends at school, the perfect crew. I had saved up money from my small newspaper route and, with the help of my parents, purchased a camcorder and a book on ‘filmmaking’ and from there, we were off.

I’m not sure how long we spent shooting Hidden Images. In my memory, there were months upon months of nights spent out in the woods, a neighborhood kid dressed up in a black cloak and ghoulish white makeup, chasing my poor brother in his pyjamas down a dirt path. It was a lot of fun and felt insanely adventurous.

And then it all…just kind of… stopped. I suppose things like school and homework got in the way; along with family events, holidays, and the like. My ambitious 45-page script remained only half-shot and, over time, completely abandoned.

This was my first experience with bowing out of a project—and it wouldn’t be my last. At a certain point Hidden Images was not working for me. It was a huge chore and not the fulfilling, satisfying project we set out to make. The fun that had kick-started our adventure had since dissipated and interest had waned. I was left with a project that, as time went on, became less and less entrancing to complete.

There is a difference between finding something difficult and wanting to quit and, in contrast, no longer gaining any sort of fulfillment from a project and subsequently deciding to move on.

It’s easy to feel guilty when we withdraw from projects. But it’s important, as creative entrepreneurs, theatre-makers, producers, and overall determined and artistic individuals, to listen to our gut when a project is no longer serving us the way it should be. That’s not to say we should be trigger-happy when it comes to our resignation emails, quitting projects before they even start or only a few days in to an endeavour. Not at all. Some—if not most—projects you tackle will be up-hill battles and not always fun. I thought of quitting my feature film, “William’s Lullaby” numerous times over its 6-year journey. I’m glad I didn’t. But the thought was there. There is a difference between finding something difficult and wanting to quit and, in contrast, no longer gaining any sort of fulfillment from a project and subsequently deciding to move on. 

The arts are no different.

My short film as a twelve-year-old was not my last experience with abandoning a project. In fact, it would happen numerous times over my life—and I’m sure will happen many more. Most recently, I had embarked on an ambitious narrative podcast documentary—six episodes—detailing the lives and careers of entertainers in the nostalgic tribute niche and the legends they honour. Each episode involved extensive research, hours of recorded interviews, transcribing, scripting, narration recording, sound editing, SFX, music—all produced by myself. The episodes took a long time to complete for the 50 minute to 60 minute end result. I made it to Episode 5 of 6 before ultimately quitting the project. For me, there was so much output for so little return. The analytics simply were not there. No one was listening. And the numbers remained stagnant with each passing episode. At a certain point, I realized I was not going to finish the series, despite being so close to the end. I didn’t have the energy and the passion was no longer behind it.

It’s at moments like these when I argue that it is okay to, for lack of a better phrase, “quit.” Any successful entrepreneur knows that it takes numerous incarnations of an idea—sometimes radically different from the last—to eventually land on the thing that will stick. The arts are no different. 

If you hear that inner-voice asking you to move on or think of something else; yearning for something different, take a moment to step back and listen. Decide if you are feeling this way simply because the task at hand seems daunting or if, in actuality, your heart is no longer in it. If the later is the case, it’s okay to move on. There may be a time in your life where you revisit your abandoned project—and if that is the case, it will happen naturally. But for now, life is short. Move on. Make mistakes. Experiment and find the projects and ideas that light the fire in you—when you find those, the thought of abandoning them will be easily trumped by the passion behind them. And it’s that passion that will keep you going during the difficult periods of bringing them to fruition. 

Quit when it’s the right thing to do, not when it’s the easy way out.

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