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When Giving Up Really Isn’t: Taking a Step Back

“A bend in the road is not the end of the road…unless you fail to make the turn.” ~Unknown

A year ago this week I was lying on a pile of laundry on my bathroom floor, sobbing, blowing my nose into a dirty t-shirt. I was in the last stages of packing up my apartment, selling my furniture, putting a few belongings into storage, and at 34 I was moving home to my parents’ house.

It was not a good month, in a less-than-stellar year.

It was a year filled with difficult circumstances. Two years earlier I’d given up a steady career as a librarian to pursue my dream of writing a book and becoming a freelance writer. I was accepted into an excellent MFA program in Boston and had spent those two years working day and night to finish the manuscript, which I did.

But by the end of those two years I had gone through my entire savings. The jobs I had applied to and even interviewed for hadn’t materialized, and my part-time work as a web writer didn’t help much with my astronomical living expenses. I didn’t yet have an agent or publisher, I was out of money, and I was facing the unknown.

I blamed myself for not being more successful and I was afraid this had been a waste of time.

On top of that I’d been chasing a relationship with a man who left me hanging when I needed him most. I felt like a failure on every possible level. I had followed a dream, given up a career, wasted time on a guy who flaked, and I had nothing to show for it.

So I found myself on my bathroom floor, on top of a huge pile of laundry, disappointed in myself and terrified about what to do next.

I was wrong about having “nothing to show for it,” of course. I just needed to backtrack and figure out the next step.

Flash-forward a year and I’m doing well as a freelance writer and a section of my book is appearing in an anthology. The last year hasn’t been easy, but these are some of the lessons I picked up along the way:

It’s okay to not know.

This was the hardest lesson for me because I’ve always been goal-driven. When I decided to write a book I pursued a second master’s degree to get all the writing knowledge I could. I became extremely depressed, anxious, and weepy at the thought of not having a goal.

But guess what? It was okay.

After about two months of anxiety I relaxed into the idea that everything was going to be okay even if I didn’t know where I was going. I kept writing and read all the inspirational books I could get my hands on.

Clean up your messes before you move on.

For me, this meant drawing the line with friends and an ex who were too emotionally needy. In the case of my ex, it was difficult because we had a seven-year habit of codependency. I gave myself time and space to work through why I kept feeding the situation.

I read books on personal development and talked to people who had worked through similar issues. I realized I’d been hiding behind “making other people happy” instead of having the courage to focus on my own happiness.

I finally ended the constant need-to-please behavior in myself, and you’d be amazed how much time this created in my daily life. Trying to make other people happy takes up more mental energy than you may realize.

Take the time to figure out your personal blockages and work on them. It’ll free up a lot of time and energy.

Follow your own instincts.

Well-meaning friends and family love you. They want to see you happy and safe. But sometimes they’ll give you advice you know is wrong for you. It may even sound perfectly logical, but you know it’s not going to further your personal goals.

By all means, find mentors and get professional advice when pursuing your dreams. But as long as you’re taking care of yourself and working toward your goals, don’t put too much weight on well-intentioned advice from family and friends.

Thank people for caring enough to make suggestions, but learn to own your decisions.

Remember the big picture.

Even if it seems like you’ve taken a step backward, it’s only negative if you stop learning and trying. A calculated retreat gives you time to find out what didn’t work and how to fix it.

After my meltdown on the laundry a year ago, it took about six months of introspection and working on interpersonal issues to have the confidence to believe in my dream again. It took another six months of trial and error to build up a writing business with steady clients.

From the outside it may not have looked like I was doing anything. I was living at home. I spent a lot of time holed up in coffee places and restaurants, reading and writing and finding mentors to learn from.

The end result was worth it. I’m still learning about my business and craft, but one year was hardly any time to lay the groundwork.

A professional or personal setback can feel like the end of the world, but it doesn’t mean you’ve failed. It only means you’re forging a new path.

Photo by Undazir

Avatar of Jocelyn Kerr

About Jocelyn Kerr

Jocelyn Kerr is a freelance writer and researcher. She's also been a librarian, a multimedia producer and a general drifter who knows a few things about packing light. She divides her time between the Gulf Coast, the Northeast and jocelynkerr.com.

Announcement: Wish you could change your past? Learn to let go and create a life you love with the Tiny Buddha course!
  • Craig Ruvere

    This was a wonderful post! I can totally relate. I left the comfort and security of a six year career to chase what I thought was a dream job – only to find myself unemployed not long after I started. I spent months blaming myself for what happened, that I should have known better – that things are never as good as they appear. Now unemployed and filled with time, what was I to do? Well I started writing the book I always wanted to write and managed to finish it not long before I landed a new job. But now that book is complete and sitting there – waiting for me to do something with it. Your post has encouraged me to get back on track and try sending it to publishers and agents. After all if you never ask the question, the answer is always no.

    Thank you and all the best to you!

  • http://twitter.com/CarmeloBryan Carmelo Bryan

    So good. Realizing that judgment of yourself (or anyone) is a useless endeavor. We are on the journey, always. We may get off our chosen path from time to time but that’s okay.

    Just being acutely aware of what’s going on is probably all we need. With that awareness even those down times become huge benefits to us. If we fight them or ignore them we lose something. We lose the messages. We don’t hear the voice of the teacher.

    You’re so right, we don’t get everything we think we want. Sometimes it’s just not what our souls wanted. Maybe there’s a new path awaiting.

  • Dave

    Thanks. I really enjoyed this post. We like to beat ourselves up when things go differently than planned. I like to think that we are always learning and that the more valuable learning experiences involve embracing and overcoming the adversity and the obstacles on our way to achieving our goals…

  • lv2terp

    Well written and said! Great advice and perspectives! :)

  • http://www.sagegrayson.com/ Sage Grayson

    This is so relatable. I think we’ve all had our own “crying on the dirty laundry” moments. I’ve very goal oriented too, and it can be really difficult for me to relax about the unknown. I always want to be working towards some goal or endpoint.

  • http://How-toBeHappy.com/ TJ Chasteen

    Good inspiration Jocelyn,

    What you said about making sure you are working toward your own goals and not worrying too much about the well-intended advice from family and friends – strung a cord with me. I think there is so much pressure to live the “normal” life. But for peoples with abstract goals (writers/bloggers – especially), the “normal” life isn’t a good fit.

    I think it’s hard for people to understand what we are shooting for – but that’s okay. A good life is one where you try to live your dreams. And as long as you keep trying you never failed.

    Best,
    TJ

  • http://www.facebook.com/nancy.mace.125 Nancy Mace

    Jocelyn-
    A good friend forwarded this piece to me because I am going through the exact same thing; except for the fact that I am 55 years old. I normally read tiny buddha everyday but due to the stress, anxiety and deep, bottomless sadness and fear I am more concerned with cleaning out my inbox of everything almost to exert some control over my out of control life. I know what I love (many things) but my direction is not clear, the steps to take uncertain. What I gathered from your article was taking one step in front of another is the way to go, making sure I look around and stop when something rings a bell. I don’t know what will happen. All I know is that change happens when you least expect it and sometimes when you ask for something it may come to you in unexpected and often unpleasant ways. So I am working on replacing fear with love, allowing myself to feel and cry and let me loved ones be there for me. I am looking forward to that crystal clear day, when I am even older and when this will be another moment in my life that I will remember as a big fat lesson in learning how to be.
    thank you
    Nancy Mace

  • jocelyn

    Hi Nancy,
    Thank you so much for taking the time to comment. Believe it or not a good friend forwarded *me* a Tiny Buddha email exactly when I was going through this transition and I’ve been reading it daily ever since. When I submitted the piece I even mentioned to Lori what a full circle moment it was for me. Wishing you all the best in your journey, and it really is just one small thing at a time. You just never know what opportunity will open.
    Thank you,
    Jocelyn :)

  • jocelyn

    Hi TJ,
    Yes! Exactly. You’re right, the abstract goals are so hard to clarify and I’ve found myself working not to get too discouraged or defensive. I still remind myself to stay focused on the end goals every day. :) Thank you for taking the time to comment.
    Cheers,
    Jocelyn

  • jocelyn

    You bring up a good point here, Carmelo. Sometimes what we wanted isn’t what we needed or what our souls really wanted…that’s another aspect I could’ve touched on because that factored in, too. It can be hard to let go of the picture we had in our head of what we *thought* what we wanted would look like.

    I think the awareness comes with time as we allow ourselves to be silent and listen to ourselves for a while without judgement.

    Thanks,
    Jocelyn

  • jocelyn

    Yay! This is fantastic! Yes, absolutely get back on that path to finding an agent/publisher. I love stories like this because obviously I had the same issue — and I got discouraged about my book many times, but you just keep going and trying. Congratulations on finishing! And thank you for taking the time to comment.
    Best,
    Jocelyn :)

  • indu

    thank u very much for giving such an inspirational thaught ,i am suffering from the same feeling from one months ,and i really need to get out of all these nonsense

  • mauof1987

    im not alone! some people also have been in this same situation. this blog helps and inspires a lot. thank you very much.

  • Meg Bertini

    What a perfect and beautiful reminder not to be hard on ourselves when things don’t go as we had planned. Thank you.

  • http://How-toBeHappy.com/ TJ Chasteen

    Same to you! :)

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=777373896 Markof Render du Frame

    I’m starting a new business with some great friends i met in another project, we leave our job in other big companies, because we want to advance to another stage of our professional life, and it hasn’t been easy, it’s a lot of commitment and pressure because money is starting to go in red numbers… my point here is that we are facing the unknown, we abandoned our jobs with steady monthly payment to take this risk, but it’s great! somehow, you feel more… alive

  • http://twitter.com/HeyJamie HeyJamie

    It’s 2am and I’m you a year ago laying on the floor in a puddle of dirty laundry and wondering how I’m going to get up tomorrow. Thank you for your courageous story, tonight (this morning) you’ve inspired me.

  • Nikki

    Hi Jocelyn,

    I’m in a weirdly similar position as you were. I recently finished with honors from a Creative Writing MA program. I gave up a TV job to study full-time for two years. I also had to return home to live with my parents since the prospects I thought I had didn’t materialize either. Now, I’m struggling to even find a good job and my disposition has never been as dismal.

    Thank you for this post. It helped. I’m not quite sure how to start helping myself get out of this, but knowing that you were able to gives me a little hope I can as well.

  • Heather

    I totally needed this today (and many days prior to this lol ) :) I have learned a lot in the last 6 months- some choices I had wished I had been smarter about, but hind-sight…. so they say.
    Your last statement: “A professional or personal setback can feel like the end of the world, but it doesn’t mean you’ve failed. It only means you’re forging a new path”, is so true. This is the path I am on now…forging a new way, meaning not making the same decisions that didn’t work before. And, living for my happiness first, rather than pleasing everyone else first. (This has only left me exhausted, resentful, emotionally drained, and financially broke :( .) Time for a new approach!

    Fantastic blog post! Thank you!!!

  • NT

    Amazing. I found this after a sleepless night of worry, anxiety and on-again, off-again crying. I needed to read this. Thank you SO MUCH for your experiences and wisdom. My biggest thing is having to know whats around the corner and having to have answers to IT ALL. You have really helped me start believing in my personal situation and start working towards releasing some of this depression and anxiety. I really appreciate this.

  • http://twitter.com/roxycross Roxy Cross

    Inspirational.I wonder at the power of rising from the emotional squalor of defeat to step back, accept, find a way to love oneself, re-center and head towards ones true goal. In this case, the strength, security and gratitude can be used to change not only ones own life, but create a positive effect on the lives of ones immediate circle of influence and beyond. Namaste’ Jocelyn. Roxy Cross

  • Oracle

    Jocelyn,

    Thank you for writing this. I realize this post has been up for awhile and I don’t usually comment on articles written online, but your writing has inspired me to do so. This situation is exactly what I’m going through right now. At 25 years old, I am currently packing up my apartment to move back home with my parents within the next month. After completing my MFA in Baltimore, I spent another year pursuing a dwindling romantic relationship, failing to land a job in my field, and battling depression and fear of the unknown. The thought of moving back to my hometown feels like I’m taking a step backward professionally and personally, but I’ve come to realize that I need to find the courage to focus on my own happiness and new goals. Thank you for the reminder that my decisions are not the end of the road, but an opportunity to forge a new path.