When my brother Ben was a gangly, awkward teenager, he and a couple of his buddies would head to the Third Street Promenade—a popular outdoor shopping area in Los Angeles—to play music on the street and, hopefully, earn a few dollars.
You can imagine the scene. Shoppers shuffling by clutching bags from The GAP and Old Navy. A handful of teenage boys playing jazz music. An open saxophone case on the ground filled with homemade CDs and loose change.
My brother would screw his eyes tightly shut as he played. When I asked him why, he said, “Pretty girls make me nervous and then I can’t remember which notes to play.” (He might have been joking. But I don’t think he was.)
I remember those Third Street Promenade performances very well.
Do you know what I remember most of all?
I remember watching my brother and his friends play music… to audiences of basicallyzero.
Occasionally shoppers would stop to listen. But mostly not. My brother and his friends did not get much attention. They did not get much applause. It was miracle of epic, historic proportions when someone tossed a crumpled five dollar bill into their case instead of just loose nickels and dimes.
Oh, also, they were not really that “good.”
Still, they kept playing.
Let’s fast-forward several decades.
Today: my brother is a Grammy-nominated musician and composer. He’s regularly profiled in The NY Times and he’s considered one of most exciting jazz musicians of his generation. He’s been called a “striking and distinctive player.” Even Snoop Dogg gave him a compliment one time. Is he “good”? Yeah. He’s really good. He’s a full-time musician, earning a living and living his dream.
Sometimes I wonder…
Way back when…
Back when Ben was a gangly teenager playing tunes on the Promenade… what if he had lost hope? What if—after watching yet another family shuffle by without stopping to listen or tip a few dollars—he had tossed his sax into the case saying, “That’s it! I suck. They suck. This all sucks. I’m over it.”
What if he had given up?
He could have given up. Most people do. For some reason, he didn’t.
What about you?
What will happen if you give up?
(I know you’ve thought about it. Everybody does.)
What will happen if you give up on your art?
What will happen if you give up on your dream, mission or cause?
How will you feel if you walk away?
How will you feel if you don’t?
If there’s one thing that is “universally true” about humanity, it is that we tend to give up far too quickly and too easily. We don’t like hard work. We lack patience. We do everything in our power to avoid rejection, disappointment, and humiliation. We don’t like to feel emotions that are not “fun” to feel. It’s easier to give up. So we do.
But what if you didn’t?
What if you chose to be one of the few—one of the very few—who keeps marching?
Who knows where you could be—what you could be enjoying, doing, creating, savoring—five, ten, or fifteen years down the road, if you can just find the grit in your heart to keep going?
It’s your call.
You can quit right now. Un-enroll. Hand in your notice. Shut down the website. Pack up your case and go home. Never play a note again. Fuck it.
Or you can decide that following that persistent longing in your heart—the longing to create, to write, to make a difference in the unique way that you feel called to do it—is worth just a little more patience.
You can give up.
PS. The piece you just read is actually an older one from about 2 years ago. I felt an instinct to send it out again today. So I did. I hope these words caught you at just the right moment.
PPS. Did you know that you matter? So very much? Even if “only” one person cares about your work right now, even if you “only” have five blog readers, or “just” one fan, customer, or client… that is one human life that you’re influencing for the better. That matters. You matter. You are a big deal. Please keep going.
PPPS. Here is a beautiful song from the musical Hadestown. (The show required 10 years of songwriting, development, patience, persistence, and devotion before it premiered in NYC.)