I have a cousin who’s just now setting off into the creative life. I get the feeling that he’s the kind of person who isn’t going to be put off by anyone or anything. He’s just got to do it, and that makes me think he’s on the right track.
I can’t really tell him about succeeding at it the way someone like Robert DeNiro has. My successes have been somewhat more limited. But if he’s looking for a Robert DeNiro type existence, then there’s something I’d really like to tell him.
If you’ve arrived, then your journey’s over.
Anne Lamott in her TedTalk discussed how horrible it can be when a writer attains huge success. It can wreck their lives. And that’s ironic, because you’d think that kind of success would solve all your problems.
She says she knows writers who have achieved massive success who lead miserable existences. She says that major publication won’t save your soul, but writing can. Surely all success isn’t bad, but let’s take a look at it.
If you’ve “arrived,” it means you’ve gotten where you wanted to go. That place may have things you want, and people you want to talk to. In that way, arriving is a great thing.
But the journey is what got you there, the hunger, the excitement, the dream, and ending the journey puts the hunger, the excitement and the dream at risk of ending too. Not to mention that the place you arrive at might not be what you thought it was. It might actually be a trap, seductive or otherwise, that keeps you from going any further.
And what if you don’t arrive? Obviously the world isn’t big enough for everyone to be Robert DeNiro, Elvis Costello, Stephen King, so, if we’re not going to arrive at those places, why are we traveling at all? Well, I’m not sure if, in their own estimation, they ever did arrive.
If they did, they went somewhere else afterwards. Which means that they saw that huge success as just another stone on a road they really liked. And if that’s true, then (except for quality of craft) there’s no difference between my journey and DeNiro’s, or Costello’s, or King’s.
Whatever success I’ve achieved doesn’t really do justice to the huge amount of work I’ve had to do to achieve it. But I don’t care. I really enjoyed doing that work.
My cousin’s the kind of guy that will keep plugging away no matter how many obstacles get in the way of his success. What I want to tell him is that if he enjoys trying to succeed, then he’s already got the kind of life he wants. And no matter how seductive the awards and the accolades and the legacy must seem, all they’re good for is providing fuel for further journeys.