Quotations about Giving Up a Dream?
August 6, 2019 1:29 PM   Subscribe

I'm looking for quotations related to the idea of giving up a dream or ambition. There are plenty of inspirational quotes about not giving up, but I'm looking for the opposite--coming to terms with the reality that something you wanted isn't going to happen.

Sources can be anything--prose, poetry, TV, film. The emphasis can be on acceptance, grief, or knowing when to give up, as long as it's connected to the idea of letting go of something you wanted.
posted by Pater Aletheias to Writing & Language (30 answers total) 40 users marked this as a favorite
When a door closes, a window opens.

(Often seen as When God closes a door, he opens a window.)
posted by mochapickle at 1:37 PM on August 6, 2019 [1 favorite]

I have had my dream--like others--
and it has come to nothing, so that
I remain now carelessly
with feet planted on the ground
and look up at the sky--
feeling my clothes about me,
the weight of my body in my shoes,
the rim of my hat, air passing in and out
at my nose--and decide to dream no more.

----- William Carlos Williams
posted by DMelanogaster at 1:39 PM on August 6, 2019 [25 favorites]

Found some quotes about the costs of false hope here:


I'm not generally a quitter, and that has often served me well. But I have also pursued some things past the point where it was a good use of my time and resources.

Something that I've found useful to fight this tendency is the concept of sunk cost fallacy and opportunity costs. Sometimes giving up is just the reasonable thing to do.

"No matter how far you've gone down the wrong road, turn back."

Marked your question as a favourite. I've found that giving up certain hopes/dreams/ambitions can be quite liberating/free up a lot of energy for more fruitfuil pursuits. Curious to see what others do with that idea.
posted by sohalt at 1:43 PM on August 6, 2019 [3 favorites]

In college, when my friends and I hated having to exercise, we said to each other, "no pain, no pain."

Some comedian, not sure who, said "That which doesn't kill you, probably should have just killed you."

A bad example, but Nick says to Alex in "Flashdance": "When you give up your dream, you die."
posted by Melismata at 2:05 PM on August 6, 2019 [2 favorites]

Go for it, they said …

        So I went for it!

        … but it had gone.
— John Sparkes, Sîadwel.
posted by scruss at 2:13 PM on August 6, 2019 [9 favorites]

“It is the most shattering experience of a young man's life when, one morning, he awakes and quite reasonably says to himself, ‘I will never play the Dane.’ When that moment comes, one’s ambition ceases. Don’t you agree?”

-Withnail & I

[Maybe not inspirational, but in certain situations it has cheered me to say I will never play the Dane in a super dramatic Uncle Monty voice.]
posted by betweenthebars at 2:15 PM on August 6, 2019 [8 favorites]

“It is possible to commit no mistakes and still lose. That is not a weakness; that is life.”

YouTube: ST:TNG
posted by ilovewinter at 2:16 PM on August 6, 2019 [15 favorites]

God answers all prayers. Sometimes the answer is no.

If you don't succeed, try, try again. Then give up. No sense being a damn fool about it.
posted by Jane the Brown at 2:41 PM on August 6, 2019 [6 favorites]

I've considered getting the line "a dream too tired to come true." from The Replacement's I'll Be You tattooed on me.
posted by Duffington at 2:43 PM on August 6, 2019 [5 favorites]

" the world is rather bad and extremely difficult and all you can do is the best you can."
- Terry Pratchett, Dodger

“Coming back to where you started is not the same as never leaving.”
― Terry Pratchett, A Hat Full of Sky
posted by wwax at 2:48 PM on August 6, 2019 [26 favorites]

I can quote Ecclesiastes here (“What do mortals get from all the toil and strain with which they toil under the sun? For all their days are full of pain, and their work is a vexation; even at night their minds do not rest. This also is vanity.”)

But it’s more fun to quote the Teacher of our times:
“Kids, you tried your best and you failed miserably. The lesson is, never try.”
posted by Huffy Puffy at 2:59 PM on August 6, 2019 [2 favorites]

From Orient Point

The art of living isn't hard to muster:
Enjoy the hour, not what it might portend.
When someone makes you promises, don't trust her

unless they're in the here and now, and just her
willing largesse free-handed to a friend.
The art of living isn't hard to muster:

groom the old dog, her coat gets back its luster;
take brisk walks so you're hungry at the end.
When someone makes you promises, don't trust her

to know she can afford what they will cost her
to keep until they're kept. Till then, pretend
the art of living isn't hard to muster.

Cooking, eating and drinking are a cluster
of pleasures. Next time, don't go round the bend
when someone makes you promises. Don't trust her

past where you'd trust yourself, and don't adjust her
words to mean more to you than she'd intend.
The art of living isn't hard to muster.

You never had her, so you haven't lost her
like spare house keys. Whatever she opens,
when someone makes you promises, don't. Trust your
art; go on living: that's not hard to muster.”
― Marilyn Hacker

Also, several things in the vein of "careful what you wish for" - (A bit of a sour grapes strategy, but I have to say for me it tends to work more often than not. Sometimes I have indeed been quite glad not get what I thought I wanted at some point):

“Initially all he dreamed and wished for, eventually it became his bitter lot. Those who live for power are destroyed by power, those who live for money by money; service is the ruin of the servile, pleasure the ruin of the pleasure-seeker.”
― Hermann Hesse, Steppenwolf

The stoics probably have a lot of quotable stuff on that issues as well (although I personally find them often quite questionable in their insistence that it's all in your head. It's all a bit too convenient for the powerful. But advice on how to deal with loss and grief and thwarted ambition is their thing.)

“Think of the life you have lived until now as over and, as a dead man, see what’s left as a bonus and live it according to Nature. Love the hand that fate deals you and play it as your own, for what could be more fitting?” – Marcus Aurelius

“No person has the power to have everything they want, but it is in their power not to want what they don’t have, and to cheerfully put to good use what they do have.” – Seneca

Of course various religions also have lots of things to say about the value of abandoning your earthly ambitions, transcending your desires and surrendering to some divine plan. Just mentioning for the sake of the comprehensiveness.

That said, I don't think you have to be religious to find some value in resignation:

Poor David Hume is dying fast, but with more real cheerfulness and good humor and with more real resignation to the necessary course of things, than any whining Christian ever dyed with pretended resignation to the will of God.
Adam Smith

Resignation, not mystic, not detached, but resignation open-eyed, conscious, and informed by love, is the only one of our feelings for which it is impossible to become a sham.
Joseph Conrad

The mind which renounces, once and for ever, a futile hope, has its compensation in ever-growing calm.
George Gissing

Pain and pleasure, good and evil, come to us from unexpected sources. It is not there where we have gathered up our brightest hopes, that the dawn of happiness breaks. It is not there where we have glanced our eye with affright, that we find the deadliest gloom. What should this teach us? To bow to the great and only Source of light, and live humbly and with confiding resignation.
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (okay, that one is probably somewhat religious again. But I do think he has a point about pain and pleasure from unexpected sources.)

Pain reconciles one to existence. Infinite resignation is that shirt in the old fable. The thread is spun with tears, bleached by tears, the shirt sewn in tears, but then it also gives better protection than iron. The secret in life is that everyone must sew it for himself.
Soren Kierkegaard

One might also skip the resignation and keep struggling without hope, for the sake of the struggle:

The absurd man will not commit suicide; he wants to live, without relinquishing any of his certainty, without a future, without hope, without illusions … and without resignation either. He stares at death with passionate attention and this fascination liberates him. He experiences the “divine irresponsibility” of the condemned man.
Jean-Paul Sartre
posted by sohalt at 3:08 PM on August 6, 2019 [10 favorites]

“the world as it was could never be more than a fraction of the world, for the real also consisted of what could have happened but didn’t, that one road was no better or worse than any other road, but the torment of being alive in a single body was that at any given moment you had to be on one road only, even though you could have been on another, traveling toward an altogether different place.”
― Paul Auster, 4 3 2 1
posted by jocelmeow at 3:58 PM on August 6, 2019 [6 favorites]

What happens to a dream deferred?

Does it dry up Like a raisin in the sun?

Or fester like a sore--And then run?

Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over--like a syrupy sweet?

Maybe it just sags like a heavy load.

Or does it explode?

Dream Deferred - By Langston Hughes
posted by KillaSeal at 4:30 PM on August 6, 2019 [2 favorites]

From a demotivational poster I once inherited from an office mate:
Winners never quit. Quitters never win.
But those who never win AND never quit are idiots.
posted by heatherlogan at 4:42 PM on August 6, 2019 [7 favorites]

It's a tenet of Buddhism that Desire Creates Suffering.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 5:20 PM on August 6, 2019 [1 favorite]

The best thing about being dead is that you need no longer say “I wish I were dead”.
The worst thing about being dead is that you can no longer say “I wish I were dead”.
 — Phyllis April King.
posted by scruss at 5:22 PM on August 6, 2019

From Sounds Better in the Song, Drive By Truckers:

Dreams are given to you when you're young enough to dream them, before they can do you any harm.
They don't start to hurt until you try to hold on to them after seeing what they really are.
posted by wps98 at 5:27 PM on August 6, 2019 [4 favorites]

I rather liked this one from a recent MetaTalk thread.
posted by eirias at 5:35 PM on August 6, 2019

These are great! Thanks to everyone who contributed so far, and to anyone who adds more!
posted by Pater Aletheias at 6:04 PM on August 6, 2019

Cat Stevens’ Father & Son

Didn’t understand the line “You may still be here tomorrow but your dreams may not,” until I understood it. Now that I do, the song soothes the pain of lost dreams. I have many!

You were asking for quotes, but in case this is a fit: sometimes I like to give these things a proper goodbye and a proper send off. Send it out with lots of joy and enthusiasm hoping it will find someone else who might have a go. That type of thing.
posted by OlivesAndTurkishCoffee at 7:27 PM on August 6, 2019

Out behind the Safeway
Just before the flood
Huffed some cans of spray paint
And begin to vomit blood
One more night in this town's
Gonna break me, I just know
Hang on to your dreams 'til someone makes you let them go

Stumbled on down Indian Hill
Tail between my legs
Sick taste in my mouth
Folgers Crystals and hard boiled eggs
If I can't run away tonight
I don't know what I'll do
Hang on to your dreams 'til someone beats them out of you

Do what you have to do
Go where you have to go
When the time comes to loosen up your grip, you'll know

Called my friend in New York
Three thousand miles away
Halfway through her metamorphosis
Nothing I could say
Hoard my small resentments
Like rare and priceless gems
Hang on to your dreams until there's nothing left of them

--The Mountain Goats, From TG&Y

I first heard this at a concert the night before I moved away from that town to take the only job I'd been able to find after a year and a half of looking, which was nothing like what I'd wanted or what I'd seen all my classmates get, but my lease was up and things cost money. Hearing this felt like a kick in the chest, I almost started to cry right there in the bar. But you know, things turned out okay.
posted by jameaterblues at 7:28 PM on August 6, 2019 [2 favorites]

Things sometimes fell apart unexpectedly. It was not necessarily a reflection of how much they were valued.
- Louise Penny

There will be reasons why you never did, but none of them is good enough. None of them is the clincher. You cannot say: I planned to take up oil painting but I couldn’t because I turned out to be allergic to a chemical in the paint. It is just that life goes on from day to day and that one moment never arrives.
- Anne Youngson

No good reason but this one: every human being has certain things they can do and certain things they cannot.
- Karen Thompson Walker

Turn me to my yellow leaves,
I am better satisfied;
There is something in me grieves –
That was never born, and died.
-William Stanley Braithwaite

What the senses feel is loss, and no less loss
for being neither final nor complete.
The senses and the mind agree it seldom is.
- William Bronk

Whether we give assent to this or rage
Is a question of temperament and does not matter.
Some will has been done past our understanding,
Past our guilt surely, equal to our fears.
- William Meredith

The truth is that there comes a time
When we can mourn no more over music
That is so much motionless sound.
- Wallace Stevens

When we lose that sense of the possible we lose it fast.
- Joan Didion
posted by picopebbles at 7:51 PM on August 6, 2019 [2 favorites]

Life is just a bowl of pits
posted by Thorzdad at 7:52 PM on August 6, 2019

You've got to know when to hold 'em
Know when to fold 'em
Know when to walk away
And know when to run
You never count your money
When you're sittin' at the table
There'll be time enough for countin'
When the dealin's done
Every gambler knows
That the secret to survivin'
Is knowin' what to throw away
And knowin' what to keep
'Cause every hand's a winner
And every hand's a loser
And the best that you can hope for is to die
in your sleep

From “The Gambler”, sung by Kenny Rogers
posted by defreckled at 8:04 PM on August 6, 2019 [4 favorites]

"I’ll never know and neither will you of the life you don’t choose. We’ll only know that whatever that sister life was, it was important and beautiful and not ours. It was the ghost ship that didn’t carry us. There’s nothing to do but salute it from the shore." -- Cheryl Strayed
posted by massofintuition at 12:47 AM on August 7, 2019 [13 favorites]

Watering the Horse
Robert Bly

How strange to think of giving up all ambition!
Suddenly I see with such clear eyes
The white flake of snow
That has just fallen in the horse’s mane!
posted by athirstforsalt at 3:13 AM on August 7, 2019 [1 favorite]

All this, and so much more, she had accepted, for, after all, living does mean accepting the loss of one joy after another, not even joys in her case, mere possibilities of improvement.
-- Vladimir Nabokov
posted by oflinkey at 7:08 AM on August 7, 2019 [1 favorite]

Towards the "knowing when to give up" end of the scale:

"Quitting while you're ahead is not the same as quitting."

(advice from a corrupt Chinese military general to a murderous drug lord in the film American Gangster, but still)
posted by The Card Cheat at 9:33 AM on August 7, 2019

So let us hold
A funeral for old ideas,
I’ll give them their proper merit,
What gentle words I can
And let them go -
Servants I let turn into masters,
Bitter friends
I was loyal to till the end.

— Jane Roberts
posted by dancing leaves at 1:36 PM on August 9, 2019

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