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

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

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