Disclaimer: I have not been hit in the face by a 2×4. I did know someone who had one fall on their head and suffered a severe concussion. So there’s that.
I’ve been posting less because I’m in the weeds of doing some work that is taking a hell of a lot longer than I think it should. This is, maybe, because it’s difficult work to do and takes more energy than less emotionally taxing work does. It’s also something that speaks to the very real thing we all face: failure. It’s made me realize I’ve been on and off struggling with my career for at least the last five years. That’s not…a pretty thing to think about. When it was bad, it was bad.
There’s been a lot written about people being jealous of their friend’s lives via social media. Humblebrag is a real word used by real people in 2k14. (This guy whining/parody whining about his friend drives home the need to promote vs. being annoying.) There are people I know who are young and extremely successful. Like, they own their own companies, are meeting the president and freaking JK Rowling, and travel the world. Their lives look shiny, and it’s weird when people tell me my life looks that way, too. It sure doesn’t feel like it, and while things aren’t rock-bottom bad, they aren’t I-chilled-with-Bruce-Willis good, either. It’s a spectrum, and you never know when failure will start to give way to the good times or when those nice moments will break apart like the Titanic and suddenly you’re drowning in the North Atlantic.
On its surface, success looks the same for everyone, but it can be a wildly different journey for every person who ‘makes it’. The biggest disservice we do to ourselves is to say that there’s only one path to being successful. We’re human; patterns is what we do, but the world is weird. People that take risks sometimes fail and sometimes they strike it big. Quiet people, loud people, smiley people, the Grinch…they can all be successful. There’s no ‘personality type’ that guarantees success. Some people seem to do well without effort, but the truth might be that we just don’t see the work they do or understand their methodology. The 10,000 hour rule is thrown around a lot, but there’s an interesting variation to that rule that says that different people achieve that ‘plateau of mastery’ with less hours, and some people can never reach it or only after much more effort and putting in that time/energy effectively changes their outlook on life anyway.
The nuggety center hidden in the story of success, I think, is the role failure plays for each person. Those friends who are doing quiet well for themselves? I know some of them have pushed through some obstacles. There are other friends who are in the midst of their own struggles, but it doesn’t mean they won’t come out of them. Struggle teaches us patience and focus. When you’re pissed, what’s really important to you? When every other word coming out of your mouth is ‘fuck’, what do you do? Where do you turn? With writing, we talk about the rejection letters. An agent rejected you, a publisher rejected you, here’s the first 1 star review…maybe your great book falls under one of those categories that’s worn out right now. It really can feel like you’re looking down a tunnel where the light at the end is a big, old train ready to run you over.
The only thing that has kept me going somedays is me and my mania. Healthy, I know. And there are totally days I don’t get going (my attitude is basically a cup of coffee and a giant middle finger. Pleasant, I know). There might be some of you reading this who’ve been homeless, who’ve been struggling with addiction, or have lived through natural disasters. The world is a horror, and everyone feels like a failure in a variety of big and small ways. But the world is also weird place, and while I don’t believe in fate, I do think the brain is a resilient organ; you can trick yourself into optimism or slide into envy. People notice which direction you choose, by the way, and sometimes that makes all the difference.
I used to think intelligence was the most important characteristic someone could have (arrogant, I know). Now, I think the #1 virtue award might go to patience. If you’re patient with most people, sometimes they’ll show you things you didn’t know they had in them; in turn, you might surprise yourself in return. Things can really hurt, and time can at least allow enough other things to come into your life to crowd out the misery. Daily struggles become routines; maybe taxing, but manageable.
I’d like to echo the words of Miss Dahlia: you’re not alone. From one random internet stranger to another, it’s not just you. Many of us have been down the rejection road, done the failure tango…you get the idea. It doesn’t mean you’ve got to stay there or cuss out the heavens, shaking your fist.