I am riffing this post off of one of my favorite blog posts on Steven Pressfield’s excellent blog entitled, Louis C.K.: Give It A Minute. It is a subject I think about often and I would like to open the idea with a personal love story, if you can stand it.
In Junior High, I was a poet. I had a deep love for lyrics and rhymes and wished to see my poems in print more than anything in the world. Unfortunately, my poetry was often flagged as too mature (mostly dark and violent) for the school monthly newsletter, which featured a page of student rhymes. I remember submitting my poetry several times, only to have the hippie English teacher, Mr. Moore (name not changed to protect the innocent), call me up for a private meeting with the counselor to discuss my writings and why I put such themes in them. I explained that “I was in love and my poems told that story.”
“Love is violent and bloody?” they would ask, trying to clarify.
“No . . .” I answered, unable to express that I didn’t perceive love as violent and bloody, but painful, especially when Josh Anderson (name also not changed to protect the innocent), didn’t feel the same for me. The only way I could express my feelings was to pour it into this medium and hope Josh would read it and understand how violent my feelings were.
“Could you maybe take out the violence and write a poem about love in a different way?” Mr. Moore asked.
I labored over this poem diligently, taking myself far too seriously. I finally came up with a poem called, “Dreams Come Too Late.”
The poem is on an old hard drive somewhere and I won’t sport with your patience by posting it. But the basic gist of the poem was that everything you want, you will receive, but far too late to enjoy it to the fullest or do anything about it. Mr. Moore approved the poem and it ended up in not only the school paper, it was also later published in a small local anthology.
To my knowledge, Josh never saw the poem, but he was integral to my prophecy coming true. Years later in High School, I was seated next to him in a class. By then I was into highly intelligent and verbal nerds and Josh was a quiet jock, whom I thought was a little dim. He got into a lot of fights and couldn’t really elucidate on the subtle themes in Time Bandits or talk about 13/15 timing in Firth of Fifth. Because I was no longer fearful of him, and in fact was inoculated against his powers, I was able to easily talk to him. Later, when he professed his love via yearbook and left his number, I recalled the poem. Oh, how my Junior High self would have enjoyed this moment!
But it was too late.
In careful observation of success stories, I have found there to be two types:
STORY ONE: THE LOTTERY WINNER
The lottery winner was born in Hollywood, got a key spot on the Disney Channel hit show of the year and promptly rose to fame through the Disney assembly line. The lottery winner was born into wealth and therefore didn’t have to hustle for financial backing. The lottery winner came up with an idea at the right time in history and their idea took on a life of its own. The lottery winner was born with a great voice, a great look, beauty, the right family, innate talent or some other quirk of genetic genius. The lottery winner had hard-driving parents that pushed them into Olympic diving at age three and now they are taking home the gold at age thirteen.
Lottery winners generally come to win because they ride on the dreams of others. Their parents, a producer, an audience. They happen to slake the right appetite at the right time. They are the fool triumphant, that stumbles into resources aplenty. They get to enjoy their success to the fullest. They get to integrate the identity of their success into their sense of self and therefore believe they are special, anointed and chosen.
No one can decide to be the lottery winner. The decision is in the hands of fate. It’s totally random. But there are downsides.
Since lottery winners have been pushed and prodded with lots of support to lay the foundation of their cash flow and fame, they can often flounder when that support disappears (taking all the spoils with them). The lottery winner often doesn’t fully appreciate what they’ve stumbled upon and can become entitled, a diva, burning bridges along the way. The lottery winner often hasn’t ceaselessly rooted out flaws in their character, created repeatable processes or perfected their game. The lottery winner often doesn’t have anywhere to go but down. Because the Lottery winner believes they are their success, the crash and loss of identity can be quite grisly. Read: every star/musician that has gone down in a drug/rehab/death blaze of glory.
Had Josh tapped me on the shoulder in eighth grade and professed his undying Michael Bolton-style romantic love to me, I would have felt keenly that I had won the lottery.
STORY TWO: THE TIRELESS WORKER
The second story of success follows Louis C.K.’s journey. This person fights tooth and nail over decades, sometimes an entire lifetime to reach the heights they aspire to. They give up huge swaths of pleasurable activities in order to excel. They turn down legions of opportunities for a normal life in corporate America, or with a bland spouse to seek their feverish dreams. They tirelessly root out their own bullshit. They build repeatable, sustainable practices. They hunt for zen solutions.
When these kinds of people come to success, they generally don’t know it. They are so used to fighting that they keep fighting. Clawing has become a habit. The downside is that their dreams have come a little too late to really give them the carrot they are after (love, acceptance, interesting sexual partners). Having lived without the spoils for so many decades, they have had to root out the desire for them completely. They have had to create coping mechanisms to stave off their loneliness, sense of rejection, daily despair and anxiety for the future. These coping mechanisms prevent them from believing the success when it comes. If they believe in the good, they have to believe in the bad too, so they believe only in the struggle.
Perhaps Josh finally love-bombed my yearbook because I had destroyed any pleasure his presence gave me. Also, could have been those 1,000 inane conversations we had about football and test scores over a two-year period. The point is, I had reached the top of the mountain but was totally unaware.
Both stories of success are tragedies. Both stories are built on false truths.
Dreams come too late.
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