I believe that there is an invisible population that are rarely spoken of. It consists of somewhere around 99.9% of the world’s population. These are people that we meet everyday, but pay no mind. Considering who they are, it’s likely you’re one of them. I am.
These are those who want badly to do something or be something, likely an artist or a writer or a musician, but also those that are spending hours coding their apps, those building inventions in their garages, those training to be their physical best–anyone striving to do something that will result in a better world and maybe, hopefully, recognition.
Most of these people, myself included, won’t ever succeed in any meaningful way. Instead, they’ll keep trying, keep creating, until they either tire and give up, or die without having left their mark.
I think about this a lot. With every rejection I’m reminded that I’m spinning my wheels, waiting until something catches or someone stops to help and I’m freed to travel down the road I’ve so far failed to explore in any meaningful way. I think about all the open mic nights I’ve been to–for comedy, poetry, music–and all those men and women that hustle every night with such little appreciation. Yet we keep going. Some for love. Some because they don’t know that they’ll never succeed. Most a combination of both.
I love writing. Or, more accurately, I love storytelling. I’m compelled to do it irrespective of any past success or future potential. But there are days, and lately it seems like there’s been a lot of them, where it feels pointless. Where I worry that I’m one of those millions of aspiring writers that don’t know they’re bad.
Nearly six years ago I first read Stephen King’s On Writing. In it, he talks about bad, competent, good, and great writers. His perspective irked me, then, but now I think I see what he was getting at. Ability doesn’t so much a plateau as it hits a ceiling. Everyone’s ceilings are different heights. Some can raise their ceilings with hard work, but most of us are what we are. When I’m feeling cynical, as I’ve felt lately, I wonder if I’ve already reached my ceiling and just don’t know it. If I’m destined to just keep spinning those wheels.
I know rejection is part of the game. Every little failure is supposed to teach us something that will eventually land us the one success we need. One success trumps the trillion failures no one knows about. I just don’t want to be disillusioned. I don’t want to put all this effort into doing something I’ll never be good at when I could redirect that effort into things I could get better at. If we all, those of us in that 99.9% of perpetual failures, could get a glimpse of the future and see that we’ll never make it, how would that change our current focus?
When I was hip-pocketed by a manager those few years ago one of the first things he told me was to stop writing whiny blog posts (my words, not his). He’s right, lamenting your failures isn’t a great look. But, at the same time, I think these are things we need to confront. Imposter syndrome, anxiety, and depression are all demons most creatives co-exist with. And, ultimately, confronting the demons and still finding the willpower to push forward, keep trying, continually improve is perhaps more impressive than any success.