Thursday, September 27, 2012

On hard work, and achievement, and aspirations, and failing

Lately I've heard a lot of people saying to their children - or their friends - or themselves - "If you work hard and believe in yourself, you can do or be anything you want."

That's a terrific, upbeat, life-affirming sentiment. I love its positivity, its energy, its emphasis on "can" rather than "can't".

So it pains me to admit that I don't fully believe in it.

Let me put it this way: if I were phrasing the statement, I would say something like, "Any kind of real achievement in life will involve hard work to attain."

It's a reversing of the premise, you see - I absolutely believe that hard work and commitment is a necessary ingredient for "success" in any area(be it writing, sport, parenting, science, art, accounting, gardening, or anything else), but I don't believe that, in and of itself, it's sufficient to ensure attainment.

People can work extremely hard, with great commitment, in a field without ever achieving the goals they set for themselves or the heights of that endeavour. Talent, luck, timing, personal factors, health, and the vagaries of life all have a part to play in how far one gets or is able to get. Genius might be 1% inspiration, 99% perspiration, but without that 1%, the work might be valuable, useful, worthy of satisfaction, but never quite reach the heights that are dreamed of.

Whenever I try to voice this, though, I'm usually told that I'm being negative and stifling ambition. I really don't mean to be, and to me, recognising that success (however you define it) is multi-factoral doesn't feel like an admission of defeat. I am a hard and committed worker in every project I take on; my drive and passion to do the best I am capable of isn't dimmed by my understanding that in some areas, MY best may not always be THE best. It feels like being kinder to myself, and others, to own that achievement is a tiered thing, and to be OK with that.

What I'd like my girls to know - and what I try to show them, in the approach I take to both my creative writing and my work - is that if you work hard, throw yourself into the things you do with your whole heart, and strive to keep always learning and improving, even the failures won't be so painful. Why? Because they won't be compounded with that debilitating shame that accosts you when you know you could have done better, you know you held back, and so you wonder what might have come if you'd put your back into it.

One of the speakers at the Emerging Writers Festival back in May (I think it was Christy Dena) said that the goal always should be to "Fail Often, Fail Better". I think that it my iterative approach to expertise and work. I fail, often; but each time I hope to fail a little better. And I work hard enough, and keep my mind open enough, to mostly do that.

None of this means I'll ever get to be a bestselling fiction author, or a top-flight business writer, or a renowned poet or blogger, or a model parent. But it does mean I'll be the best writer, parent and person that *I* am capable of being, and that's my definition of a life well lived.

1 comment:

  1. I think that makes a lot of sense. I think a balanced perspective needs to be given to children as well.