In case no one else says it to you, I am proud of you. I’m still proud of you, because I know that’s more likely what you’d prefer to hear. Even though that part of you is missing like a limb, your identity holding on by scraps as you try to rebuild, I am proud of you.
I bet you have a thousand and one reasons why you stopped. If I could hear you right now, I’d listen to every last one. Because I know that deciding to stop doing this full time likely didn’t just feel like a choice that you made. More likely it felt like defeat. And now you’re on the outside looking in at something that you were sure would make you feel whole to be a part of.
And maybe it did. Maybe one of your thousand and one reasons for stopping was truly out of your control. Maybe your body stopped being able to do what you asked of it. Getting up onstage day after day, putting it through the rigours of perfection. Maybe it was your mind. Maybe those voices chewing you apart from the inside out, crueler and harder on you than any coach or teacher (despite how cruel and hard on you they may have been) finally wreaking so much havoc that you had to stop. Maybe it was either you stop doing this or you stop doing life all together. If so, I’m endlessly grateful that you’re here reading this rather than not being here at all. In case no one else has told you, it matters to someone that you’re here, even if you’re not doing your art, your craft, your sport. You mattered long before you ever found your way to that thing. You matter to me, for sure. Without the shadow of a doubt. You could email me right now and I would be grateful.
So maybe it wasn’t your choice fully to stop. Maybe something got in your way.
Or, maybe, it was partially your choice. I say partially because I don’t think any of us actually really want to stop performing/competing/whatever your form of elite performance was. Why would we want to stop when we feel like we’re finally doing the thing that people will respect us for? The thing that will define us and cement our worth beyond the shadow of a doubt?
Why would we ever want to stop when the narrative has always told us that stopping is for the weak, for those who were never really meant to do this? Especially when we’ve fought so long for a seat at that table just to say we were meant to do this, that we were one of the few good enough to merit the respect earned by that title we were bearing?
I know I didn’t want to stop. I didn’t want to lose it all. My identity, my idea of the future, my clear-cut understanding of myself and why I mattered at all. It feels like jumping off a cliff into pitch black churning water when you take the leap to walk away from the one thing you knew you were good at. And it is a brutal swim upstream to try to figure out who else you are, besides that thing you did.
But for some reason, some of us do stop. For injury, for illness, for sustainability, for joy or the hopeful prospect that it might exist.
And I’ll be honest, sweet reader, that it doesn’t really get easier with time. Well, not just time. And it’s not as easy as just leaving that community. Most of your friends on Facebook will still be posting about it. People will still be going to the summer festivals, the conferences, the meets. The people you’ve met and love most dearly might still be doing it full time, and you’re not. That grief? The way that it hasn’t actually died and yet you aren’t interacting with it, that’s not something people really talk about. Yes, you’ve made this decision to respect your health or your wellbeing and not push yourself devastatingly closer to further injury or mental health crisis, but it doesn’t mean it’s fucking easy or happy all the time. It doesn’t mean you don’t feel that sucking, aching feeling in your stomach when you see other people still doing that thing you used to do, you almost did.
It doesn’t mean that you don’t feel like less of a person because you gave up on that part of your identity (and listen, I don’t think any of us actually gave up, but I know what that voice can say).
It’s brutal. Leaving elite performance. So many years. So much identity. So much pain. So much gratification. So many inextricable ties.
And, it’s also okay.
My goodness, is it ever okay. The truth is you are yourself without the things that you do. Those activities you do? The work? The play? The art? The sport? Those are the flowers you bloom. Your roots and stem, they are unaffected by what you graciously put out for the world to take from you. You exist in and of yourself, and with that comes inherent worth.
You can miss it, you can grieve for it, you can wonder about what might have happened if you just pushed a little harder. But the thing is, you and your body and the universe are all just responding to the variables of your unique life. If you’ve stopped, you were meant to have stopped. There is no it could have been, there is only what is. You’re here now, hopefully finding yourself to be a wonderful, beautiful human because you are.
And when you look back in, see those posts, or miss those events…cry for it. That’s okay. It doesn’t mean that you’ve made a mistake and should never have left. It doesn’t mean you’re less of a person or less incredible just because you aren’t doing feats of wonder for an audience. It just means you’re sad, and that you miss something that was so familiar to you and was a part of your world on a very deep level. You can miss something dearly and it still not be right for you, your body and/or your mind.
My dear reader, I am proud of you. And I hope that you are still bravely swimming against the current of that churning, black water so that you can find that place upstream that is waiting for you to offer you the peace you were in need of when you chose to, or had to stop. I hope desperately that you can close your eyes on a sunny morning and just feel warmth on your skin with no pressure, nothing nagging at you that you should be practicing or training, no part of you scorning yourself for no longer being so highly visible and hustled. I hope that for whatever reason you’ve stopped, you can find the joy in a quieter life. A simple life. And that you realize there, in that quiet, that you were and always have been enough. That no matter what happens, what you decide, what your body and mind decide for you, you can find a life that makes your heart sing even when you get sad sometimes.
The world was grateful for your art, and more than that, the world is just grateful you exist. I know this because I don’t know you, or your art necessarily, and yet I know I am grateful you exist.
So just keep going. Time will pass, you experience that sharp, breathtaking pain of grief, and you will carry on as you redefine what your life is and can be. As you see who you were before the craft you devoted yourself to.
Whatever your reasons, whatever your thoughts, you deserve peace and joy.
I’m proud of you.
A musician who had to stop.
You can get in touch with Lucy at email@example.com for sessions and support!