When Is It Okay To Give Up?



Daniel Ruettiger was a decent high school football player. This could have been argued and most likely was, but only in the private voices of those parents and students that had the inner urge to destroy others. A distinct trait of unhappy souls.

His only dream was to play college football at Notre Dame, but being both short and fat didn’t work well with him also being a mediocre player. His poor grades and lack of funds didn’t help either, but a few years in the Navy and a few more at a community college plus four attempts at applying and Daniel ‘Rudy’ Ruettiger was finally a student at Notre Dame.

Ruettiger’s story was told in the 1993 film ‘Rudy,’ where our hero struggles like all good underdogs do to make the Notre Dame football team. A human crash test dummy on the practice squad with a heart of gold. A montage of pure sweat and minor glories and in the end we see Rudy on the field in the last game of his senior year in an honest to God Notre Dame football game.

He gets his shot and takes the field for one play, allowing him to get listed on the roster of Notre Dame football players.


Rudy Ruettiger gets carried off the field, the only player in Notre Dame history since 1975 to get the honor.

Rudy Ruettiger gets carried off the field, the only player in Notre Dame history since 1975 to get the honor.


The story of Daniel ‘Rudy’ Ruettiger is a parable used as motivation for that common phrase of parenting — ‘you can achieve anything you put your mind to.’

Rudy fought against his size, intelligence, and income to achieve his goal. Or, partially achieve it. Technically he played football at Notre Dame, but his role was of a puckish mascot more than that of a valued player. Still, best to live a dream on a technicality than not at all I suppose.

Football was not his end career goal, but like achieving a dream creating a career can be a strange and shadowy monster.

If you want to be a lawyer, dentist or surgeon, there are well-worn and obvious paths to making that happen. Schools to attend. Classes to pass. But what if you want to be an actor? The only advice you get is to take acting classes and move to Los Angeles. Do community theater. Student films. Don’t worry about getting paid, just get the experience. There are amateur actors and musicians. Guitar hobbyists playing free shows at coffee shops. But it should be noted that there are no amateur dentists. No unpaid accountants waiting to break into the world of accounting.

Let’s pretend for a second, play a little make believe and create a young woman named Brittany. She’s 20 years-old and wants to act. Play music. Write. Draw. Paint. Build sets or costumes for films. Any of those would work but we should really pick one shouldn’t we?

Let’s go with ‘musician.’

Brittany writes her own songs and begins to play for free around town. A few paid gigs here and there and with a regular job as a waitress she saves enough money for some recording gear and she makes an album. It’s on iTunes, Amazon. All those outlets. She writes more. Plays free shows, a paid gig once in while.

Sells a few albums and maybe she does a month long summer tour up the coast, from San Francisco to Seattle, down to Portland and Los Angeles. She’s ready to give her all to music and moves to Los Angeles, where music lives.

Her routine forms — waitressing, playing shows, small tours, recording. This continues for fifteen years and now she’s 35 years-old. A lot of experience, but still no career. People go to her shows and she was written up in a few scattered magazines and websites, but there’s no steady income.

It’s frustrating and she still hears the same thing, ‘you can achieve anything you put your mind to.’

Her mind is in it. There have been over fifteen years of hard work. ‘Could I do more?‘, she thinks. Move to Austin? Nashville? New York? Europe? Quit the day job to fully commit to music? Remove that safety net?

She still has her job. She went from being a waitress to being a manager. She’s well ingrained in the restaurant business and is considering focusing on that. But what about music? Is it okay to move on? To choose a new path? Her family and friends know her as the struggling musician, they root for her and hope something happens for her. Will they think she gave up? Does that matter?

This is a common position for those who have dreams in any creative field. There comes a time when you’re tired of the struggle and the joy is gone. There should be no shame in taking yourself out of the race of aspiring Hollywood actors and stadium bands.

It’s important to note that any of these creative paths are, at their core, careers. Screenwriting is a profession. All the script competitions, film festivals, and years spent writing is to eventually get a job. Winning an award at a festival isn’t a job. An email from a producer isn’t a job. Even once you have an agent it still isn’t a job. It’s not a job until you get paid and not just one time, but continually.

The aspiring artists I’ve known over the years have put more passion and effort into forging a career than anyone I know working in a common field. If becoming a doctor were as much of a struggle as making it as a writer or actor the world would be a very sick place.

Still, the question remains — when is it okay to give up? To move on?

My answer is rather pathetic. ‘You’ll just know.’ It’s time to move on when you feel it is, when something else has taken priority and that dream of being on stage, guitar in hand, facing a throng of screaming fans just doesn’t seem that important anymore.

To those still on the battlefield fighting for their dream, stay strong. To those ready to walk away, to move on to new and exciting things, go with pride. There will always be new dreams.



3 thoughts on “When Is It Okay To Give Up?

  1. A well written piece Chris, but to me the paradox is that should “success” be measured only by “income”? Is one a “struggling actor” (substitute anything) because they haven’t made it financially or they’re just not that good an actor? Is this too “American” a measure of success? No one should “give up” on what they love, but they may need another source of income. In my career I have been/am simultaneously/in various combos, a teacher of history/cultural anthropology/theater/writing, a certified chef, restaurant/hotel manager/owner, stage actor/director and a full time international culinary & cultural travel writer. It’s everything I love, and among them I’ve collectively made a good living and put 3 kids through university. Success is more than a single income; it’s passion for what you want.

    1. Marc, I totally agree. ‘Success’ is absolutely subjective, and I’m all for doing what you love. It’s important.

      I’m thinking of the pressure that creative folk put on themselves to turn what they love into a career. I’ve seen musicians ( and a few writers, painters, photographers, etc.) start off in high school and stress about ‘making it’ still well into their thirties. It’s a unique position, I think, in a world surrounded by careers that have clear and distinct paths.

      That’s the ‘giving up’ I’m referring to — if the struggle and stress kills the enjoyment of what you love, it’s okay for acting, writing, etc. to just be a hobby. The ‘American’ part of it all is the instinct for anything that you love to do, any skill you have, must be turned into profit.

      On a side note — it’s similar to having people see you as an aspiring illustrator, they have no problem asking you to do a logo or build a website for free. It’s the ‘exposure.’ You love what you do so much that you should want to do it. No one goes into Kinkos and expects free copies, there’s no implied ‘love’ in that job.

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