Failure, Inc.

I continue my crusade against this culture of “failure is good” rhetoric spouted off by TED talks and business and creativity literature. Let me be clear, I am not being negative about this for the sake of shitting on everyone’s parade. I just don’t like this cult of personality created by people who seem to have all the answers to unlock success. In reality, the reality of making a living from a creative endeavor is roughly the same as winning the lottery. I’m not going to stop trying however. All I ask is that we just get a more realistic vision of what it is like to pursue creativity for the small gains, even knowing that ultimately we will all fail. The Coen brothers seem to get this, as Inside Llewyn Davis is a beautiful and painful depiction of failure. I can’t even as much think of the film without getting very upset.

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I hadn’t given up completely. I tried a few more books and inspirational text, including the War of Art by, which seemed to be esteemed by the writing community. I finished it a week ago and I can’t even recall one fucking thing from the book. There were short passages and inspirational messages that seemed to just say, “stop being a whiny asshole and start writing.” Okay, great. Did I need to read a whole book to tell me that? Obviously I’m not going to get a writing gig by having an editor hear my thoughts and trust them. Believe me, I’ve send out pitch after pitch with much rejection. Not enough rejection to give up completely, but enough to realize that I may never have my “making it” moment.

There has been some great writers writing on the subject lately, and it has comforted me to know that I am not the only one thinking this way, not the only one seeing through the banality and sale-speak of tech talks and other “creative geniuses” marketed to help us live our dreams.

First, Benjamin Bratton (not to be confused with the male love interest from Miss Congeniality) criticizes TED talks, the bite-sized inspirational talks where geniuses share their secrets.

Instead of dumbing-down the future, we need to raise the level of general understanding to the level of complexity of the systems in which we are embedded and which are embedded in us. This is not about “personal stories of inspiration”, it’s about the difficult and uncertain work of demystification and reconceptualisation: the hard stuff that really changes how we think. More Copernicus, less Tony Robbins.

At a societal level, the bottom line is if we invest in things that make us feel good but which don’t work, and don’t invest in things that don’t make us feel good but which may solve problems, then our fate is that it will just get harder to feel good about not solving problems.

People don’t like putting in the work. They want to hear the shortcuts, that one nugget of inspiration that will solve all their problems, and make them overcome failue.

I also have been trying to shove this Slate piece on the idea of “Do What You Love,” a mantra, which for me, falls into this bullshit work and creativity self-help bullshit. Not only does the idea that we all should have the opportunity to do what we love come off as incredibly classist, it’s just too simplified.

Besides, no one truly loves every part of their job. Work is work. Even if I did get my so-called dream job of writing, I’d have to deal with less than desirable assignments, unpleasant colleagues, etc.

I’m starting to believe that one can never truly love a job, because jobs destroy the things we love. All I can hope for is a job that is tolerable in such a way that it leaves me energy to actually do what I love.