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Why You Should Never Give Up

Posted: 06/26/11 12:01 PM ET

A few years ago, at a local dive, I ran into a few girls I had gone to middle school with. One of them was a local actress. We spoke about our artistic pursuits. Both of us, about 22 at the time, had reached some sort of slump. Acting was such a tough business to break into that she had finally decided to enroll in a local state college to study psychology.

And just a few nights ago, I watched from my living room as she performed on the Tony Awards.

It turns out that not long after our meeting, she got her big break when the producers of "Hairspray" needed to replace the headliner. She was perfect for the lead, and since "Hairspray," she has continued to go on to bigger and better things.

The worst thing you can ever do is give up, especially if you are bluffing and intend to eventually go back to what you started. As a writer and artist, I received many rejection letters over the years. After I got rejected from MFA programs, I was so discouraged that I stopped writing for six months. The road had been bumpy even before the subsequent MFA rejections started to come in. Before finishing my undergraduate degree, I began asking my professors to write me letters of recommendation. When I asked one of my professors, one that I respected the most, for a recommendation for MFA programs, he laughed in my face. I told him that I wanted to be a professor. He told me not to bother and to "just go teach elemetary school or something."

I was beyond insulted. I never did get my MFA, but it wouldn't stop me from writing or even teaching. I have always known in my mind what I was capable of accomplishing. Oftentimes our goals and dreams can be considered lofty, especially when other people give us their opinion about them.

One of my favorite examples of this scenario is Susan Boyle's first appearance on "Britain's Got Talent." When she walked on stage, the audience immediately laughed at her. Then Simon Cowell asked her what her dream was. She replied, "I want to be a professional singer." Not only did she want to be a professional singer, but she went on to say that she wanted to be as successful as Elaine Paige, the famous West End star. With that disclosure Susan had the audience really balking.

We all have great aspirations; many of them never even leave the realm of our
imaginations. Think for a moment about your most lofty and exciting goal, a goal that you would categorize as most impossible. Now, why do you think it's impossible? Have others discouraged and shot your dream down? Maybe others weren't even a factor, and you were able to discourage and deflate your dream all on your own. Despite people saying that I can't or shouldn't complete my goals, or that they couldn't picture me doing so, I have ignored them.

When I picture my dream in my mind, the ultimate picture of myself appears at the end of a long tunnel. Maybe the tunnel is real; after all, the distance between me and my goal does exist, as I have not yet reached it. But the point is, regardless of distance and the work I will put into getting there, I can still see it, and if I can see it, I know it is possible. What a cruel joke it would be for the universe to give you the free will and imagination to dream these dreams yet no way to accomplish them.

When Simon Cowell asked Susan Boyle why she hasn't accomplished her goal of becoming a professional singer, she replied, "I haven't been given a chance before, but here's hoping it will change."

Perhaps Susan had "never been given the chance before." It is also possible that she tried and failed a few times along the way, not finding the right chance. Regardless, Susan did not get her big break until she was 47 years old.

I know people in their 30s who have shelved their dreams, saying they were "too old." What if Susan had done that, too? She was almost 50, with a body to match, aiming for a career in a business that typically favors the young and beautiful. Why didn't Susan give up? Given that I have never met or spoken with Susan Boyle, I can only speculate, but I think that since she was a child, she held the image of this dream version of herself, Susan the professional songstress, in her mind.

When we give up on something important to us -- a dream, a person, a venture -- it does not always let us. It haunts us. It won't let us forget this thing that we held so close to our heart. The only thing we can do to soothe the pain is to block it our of our mind completely. When we give up on a dream, our image of perfection and what could have been no longer exists in our mind because it is too painful to conceive of. Susan Boyle always kept her goal in the back of her mind and never gave up on it completely. She never let go of that image, and each year, she got closer and closer to her dream, until finally she came out on the other side of the tunnel and stunned the world with her rendition of "I Dreamed a Dream."

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