Professional Guitar... When You Decide to Give Up the Dream

Courtesy of Anthony Cerullo... 

Commitment and persistence are important, honorable, and necessary. And, many life-goals require dedication in order to achieve them. That being said, sometimes professional music career goals are simply unattainable.

Remember the 1999 film Galaxy Quest with Tim Allen? No? Well, to refresh your memory, a motto from the film was, "Never give up, never surrender." While it was more of a joke in the movie, this philosophy has become a popular one to live by in Western culture. But in terms of your guitar career, this might not always be the best advice.

When it comes to chasing a music career, "Never give up, never surrender" doesn't really apply. There are moments when we need to see that a goal has become unattainable. We only have so much time, energy, money and resources throughout our lives, and they can be put to better use towards a new goal. Here's how to know when it's okay to give up.

Why all the hate on giving up?
For the most part, society views people who "give up" as failures. After all, we cherish strong will and determination so much that anyone who falls short of that must be weak or depressed. In actuality, it's quite the contrary.

Think of "giving up" in different terms: it's not so much failing, but more so disengaging. By disengaging, you demonstrate control of the situation, and that you were able to see what was working and what wasn't.

Halting your pursuit for one goal doesn't make you inferior: there's even science to prove it. One study took a sample of college students and asked them to explain any unattainable goals they may have.

In the study, the students were first asked if they were likely to stop pursuing these goals. For example, they were told to rate how easy it was to stop thinking about them. They also reported on their chances of pursuing alternate goals and how much effort that would take.

You might be wondering what constitutes as an achievable goal. Perhaps a goal is not achievable because the opportunity doesn't exist anymore; maybe a certain life challenge is preventing you from making progress. Things happen and they can affect our individual pursuits. This isn't always a bad thing, though.

The upside of giving up
In the aforementioned college study, the results showed that those who had the ability to disengage from their unattainable goals showed signs of lower stress. They also had fewer negative thoughts and felt more in control of their lives.They were more flexible people that could re-adjust their direction and take on new paths and direction.

Those who couldn't break away from the truth and still pursued their unattainable goals experienced the opposite. These people had higher levels of stress, more negative thoughts and less control over their life.

The reasoning behind this lies in the aftermath of "giving up." When the group members realized a goal was unattainable, they did one of two things. They either became sulky and depressed, or re-engaged in something else more productive.

Those in the latter group found themselves in a mental state of well-being. It's not just about disengaging: you must pursue another goal to replace the previous one. Otherwise, you're not being productive at all, and that's arguably worse than wasting energy pursuing an unobtainable goal.

Choosing a new goal
Choosing a new goal is especially helpful for those who can't quit their old habits. The stubborn ones are usually very resilient, if a bit in denial. If they can find a way to channel that ambition somewhere else, though, they might find great success.

These people will find that re-engaging in a new direction will reduce their overall distress due to lack of accomplishment.

It's going to be hard to shed that "never give up" mentality, but it's all a matter of perspective. Think about all the opportunities out in the world. How can you possibly explore them all if you don't at least try?

Maybe it's been a dream of yours since you were 10 to play Madison Square Garden. Twenty years later, you're still playing open-mic nights and have a kid on the way. Not that there's anything wrong with that, but considering your life situation helps you establish real, achievable goals and develop a plan to reach them.

No one was "born deserving to be a musician." There are a wealth of musical paths out there, and you can succeed at any number of them. The thing is, though, you have to give several musical paths a try. You have to be willing to let go of that unobtainable goals as soon as they begin to show they are not working out and immediately put your efforts elsewhere. As mentioned earlier, this is never easy but you'll be much better off for it down the road when you're succeeding across some other musical venture.

How to know when enough is enough?
So how exactly do you know when enough is enough? Well, that's not exactly an easy question with a single answer. It's an art form. For some, this might be obvious, while for others, it might require some digging.

One quick and easy way to judge this is with stress. If you're feeling so stressed about a particular goal that it has a negative effect on your life, then perhaps it's time to drop it. Goals are supposed to be challenging, but you shouldn't need sleeping pills to fall asleep, have health issues, or be in a state of constant depression just to achieve them.

The only goals that are really worth stressing over are the ones that will help you grow as a person. If becoming a rock-star is turning you into a monster and hurting those around you, it's simply not worth it.

Are you in the music game to make money or to prove your superiority over the world? If so, you're in it for the wrong reasons. Leading a happy, productive and fulfilling life should ultimately be your first goal. If your music career, or any career for that matter, interferes with that, then it's time to consider moving on.

Anthony Cerullo is a nomadic freelance writer and keyboard player. In his spare time, he can be found reading, hiking mountains, and lying in hammocks for extended periods of time.


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