Maybe You Should Just Quit

When you’re a young artist, you meet people just like you. Everyone’s the same — trying to get into the game and figure out what they’re going to be.

You make friends with local people from your city, neighborhood and school, or people from the internet and other weird places humans connect.

In that friend group, there will be special folks, one or two big dreamers who seem to have so much talent that it’s almost impossible to imagine them not making it.

And then, for whatever reason, it’s ten years later and maybe you’ve got your own thing going on, and they’re still stuck where they were back then, figuring their shit out.

Nobody likes to be told they should stop doing something. If it’s in your heart, it’s in your heart. And while these days teenage viral stars do little more than upload some silly Vines and poof! they’re overnight sensations, many successful creative people still have to wait a while for their ships to come in.

This shit takes time.

But I suppose there’s the rub, right? Because at a certain point you really have to ask yourself if it’s realistic that anything will ever happen with your music, writing, painting, or whatever it is you choose to do. Because people sometimes sound like broken records.

“I’m just trying to get my music thing going.”

“I’m working on my album.”

“I’m trying to get everything right.”

“I’m putting my team together.”

Artists should spend time mastering their craft, and you can’t rush things, but there is no perfect time to do anything, really. There’s “then,” there’s “now” and there’s the “future.” That’s it. Pick which one you want to exist in and just get on with it.

If ten years have passed, if twenty years have passed, if thirty years have passed — heck, if your whole life has passed — and you only have but so much work to show for your ‘career,’ there’s got to be some inkling in your brain saying it just wasn’t meant to be.

Why you done so little? Why haven’t you released anything? What’s holding you back?

It’s probably nobody else’s fault. It’s probably all yours. You’re probably less focused on your art than you think you are. You’re caught up in what it means to create art and all the other peripheral shit that comes along with being an artist, and not actually creating anything.

And you’ve got to get over this hump, or you’ve got to resign yourself to the fact that maybe you’re just going to be a lifelong hobbyist.

The word hobbyist is a loaded one because it suggests that you’re an amateur, but there’s often nothing remotely amateurish about being a hobbyist. Only a special, select group of people are fortunate enough to make art their career, and it has more to do with luck than skill, so I think being a hobbyist is best case scenario for most people these days.

Unless you’ve got an infrastructure built around you, or you’re super resourceful, no matter how hard you try you probably won’t make much money from art, and you should have a job. If you use your spare time wisely, and you have a little luck on your side, your hobby can become your career.

It can happen. But you’ve got to be productive. You’ve got to do something.

Now I’m not saying being prolific lends itself to creating great art. Some of the best artists have only a few pieces of work to their name. Maybe it’s one album, maybe it’s one book, maybe it’s one app, but the romantic notion of the “creative,” toiling away at some type of project for umpteen years, is an archaic one.

That stereotype is for a different generation when, for example, merely recording one song involved spending a thousand dollars a day in a recording studio, and the people who mixed the records walked around in white lab coats because doing that meant you were damn near a scientist.

Things are significantly different now. The barrier of entry is much lower. As a result, this generation is practically littered with creatives. And they’re everywhere, producing so much work that the idea of toiling away on a masterpiece seems comical.

Think about it — how are other people pumping out 20 things a year and you can’t get one thing out in 5 years? Is their process that much different than yours? Probably not. The difference is you’re just talking about the work; they’re actually doing it.

Maybe you’re just lazy. I don’t know. I’m not sure anything’s wrong with laziness either, so long as you’re honest with about it. I like laying around as much as anyone. Garfield and Bill Murray might as well be my idols. But I still get things done.

When a person talks to me about what they’re trying to do, I like to give them the benefit of the doubt. If you can think about it, you can probably do it.

So, start having a conversation with yourself. Maybe start today. Because you really only live once, and you’re getting older every second.

What are you really doing? Do you really want to do this or is it just something unrealistic to talk about achieving one day, like world peace or eradicating poverty?

I’m not saying you need much of a plan. You don’t have to have everything mapped out. You just need to start doing something. One foot. In front of the other. Little by little. Each day. Until you’ve got something.

It all comes together quicker than you think.

Or, you can just do what you’ve essentially already done.

You can just quit.

Wrote for the New York Times, New York Magazine, Esquire, Rolling Stone, Vice, Fader, Vibe, XXL, MTV News, many other places.

Wrote for the New York Times, New York Magazine, Esquire, Rolling Stone, Vice, Fader, Vibe, XXL, MTV News, many other places.