[Originally, I was going to title this article “F*** The Conventional ‘Success’ Narrative”. Although this would have been a much more accurate title, I wimped out and gave it a blander and more “conventional” title. Hopefully this will be the only wimping out that I will do in this article. Yes, this article will be more introspective than most of my articles are, but there’s a point to all of this.]
[Edit: Ooops! I didn’t schedule this article properly. It was supposed to be published in early March. But, since people seem to be reading it already, I’ll keep it here rather than rescheduling it.]
By all conventional definitions, I’m not a success. In fact, by all conventional definitions, I’m probably the textbook example of a “failure” (if I’m being polite about myself).
Yes, I hope to be a really successful writer and/or artist one day, but I have a few problems with the conventional ideas of what “success” is.
If you’re a creative person, then you probably know all of the stories surrounding creativity. The success stories of successful people. The stories of how to “make it as an artist/writer/actor etc…”. The story of how to go from being an obscure nobody to being a celebrity who hangs out at all the right parties, knows all the right people and appears in the papers at least once a week.
Whilst there’s probably more variety in creative success stories than there are in other success stories, there are probably a lot of thoroughly conventional creative success stories. A lot of stories that are fairly similar and that all end with the modern-day holy grail of becoming a celebrity.
This seems to be true for virtually everything in life. There always seems to be one “conventional” story of how to do things. One story about what a “good life” should look like, one story about what success “should” look like and what the only path to it is. If you follow these templates, then you might succeed and you might even become *gasp* a celebrity.
But, the wonderful thing about humanity is that everyone is different. There is no one path to success that works for everyone. And there is no one definition of success that works for everyone either (eg: as something of an introvert, being a “celebrity” who appears in the media every week would be my idea of hell. However, being mildly famous would probably be quite nice though).
So, unless you genuinely want to be a celebrity, following this template may make you look like a success but it probably won’t feel that great.
If there’s one thing I’ve learnt in my twenty-five years on this earth, it is that following conventional stories about what kind of person you “should” be, what beliefs you “should” have, what you “should” aspire to etc… when those definitions are completely wrong for you is a recipe for disaster.
It’s a recipe for hiding your own personality and becoming a hollow excuse for a human being, it’s a recipe for feeling constantly afraid, it’s a recipe for being in the closet, it’s a recipe for feeling religious self-loathing you shouldn’t feel, it’s a recipe for living someone else’s life rather than your own, it’s a recipe for acting rather than living etc…
The fact is that there are no “one size fits all” stories or templates for anything. One size certainly doesn’t fit seven billion people.
There is nothing creepier than the subtle fascism of “one size fits all”.
So, if you’re feeling like a failure because your paintings don’t hang in all the right galleries, your name isn’t in the press or you aren’t on the bestseller lists – then ask yourself whether you genuinely feel like a failure or whether you only feel like a failure because your life story doesn’t match the “one size fits all” success stories in the media.
Despite what people might say, the only success story that should matter to you is the one that actually means something to you on a personal level. The one that makes you feel like you are a success. Yes, it might not be newsworthy and it might not even make you famous.
But, at the end of the day, it will mean a lot more to you and feel a lot more satisfying than trying to fit into someone else’s definition of what a “successful” writer, artist, actor etc… should be.
So, if your definition of success is to write a novel, then you are a success if you do this.
If your definition of success is to actually draw something, then you are a success if you do this.
If your definition of success is to hear someone say something nice about something you’ve made, then you are a success if this happens.
If your definition of success is to build up the courage to create something emotionally honest, then you are a success if you do this.
If your definition of success is to sell one painting, then you are a success when this happens.
If your definition of success is to get a hundred views on Youtube, then you’re a success when this happens.
Don’t let anyone else tell you differently.
Don’t let anyone else trick you into thinking you’re a failure because you don’t fit into their “one size fits all” definition of success.
Remember, you might only spend a few hours, days or weeks in the company of people who think that you are either a “success” or a “failure”. But you will spend your entire life your own company. So, make sure that your definitions of success actually mean something to the one person you spend the most time with.
Sorry that this article got a bit introspective, but I hope that it was inspirational 🙂