How the Desire to be an Idol Will Keep You Off Track

I think there is something inside all of us that wants to be found. Like an American Idol winner, we want to be plucked off the street and handed a lucrative contract to do what we love, instantly surrounded by adoring fans.

Discouragement looms when we are faced with the reality of many long years of learning and the high level of dedication required in order to perfect our craft. Why put in decades of hard work, when there is still no guarantee of fame or success?

Yet we fail to recognize that those who reach such heady heights rarely gain extra happiness or joy from the new position – many fall into depression, many marriages or other relationships fall apart, many spend or waste all of the money. If they are able to maintain any modicum of happiness it comes in this – continuing to work, continuing the process that got them there.

Continuing to do the very thing that so many times we want to skip over.

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It helps me to see that many of my favorite authors worked most of their lives as journalists or teachers. They had to work other jobs, too. It helps when, for a moment, I do not focus on the prodigies, the uber-talented or the just plain lucky.

Laurence Stern, for example, was 46 when his masterpiece, The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman, saw the light of day (now seen as one of the greatest comic novels ever written in English). At this point he left the parish and wrote for the rest of his days.

I take a simple view of life. It is keep your eyes open and get on with it” (Stern)

One particular author was 50 when he completed what he considered his greatest work, East of Eden. The journal he kept while writing the book is filled with entries of self-deprecation, self-doubt and discouragement. His name was John Steinbeck.

So, we go into the last week and I may say I am very much frightened. I guess it would be hard to be otherwise – all of these months and years aimed in one direction and suddenly it is over and it seems that the thunder has produced a mouse  (Steinbeck)

This poet only published seven poems during her lifetime, to a small circulation. She died at 55, a recluse, and her sister was instructed to go through her things and burn any paperwork. Fortunately she saved the 1700 poems that she found, so we know of Emily Dickinson.

Not knowing when the dawn will come, I open every door (Dickinson)

Another author worked primarily as a painter and a proof-reader for much of his life. It wasn’t until the age of 44 that his first novel, Tropic of Cancer, reached publication. The author? Arthur Miller, who famously wrote “Death of a Salesman” and “The Crucible.”

Don’t be seduced into thinking that that which does not make a profit is without value (Miller)

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Who cares how old you are? Who cares how far away the goal appears? Stop looking ahead. Enjoy the process. Enjoy the work, because if you happen to be one of the “lucky ones,” realizing fame and fortune, the work will be the only thing left to you.

17 Replies to “How the Desire to be an Idol Will Keep You Off Track”

  1. Shawn, there are many occupations that are only for the young. We are fortunate that writers often improve with age and that experience counts for something.

  2. i didn’t even identify myself as a writer until i was 30. i’d been writing as part of my job for more than a decade, but it just didn’t hit my radar that was part of my identity.

  3. :) Good stuff for those who are wallowing in oblivion. :) Upwards and onwards (why does spell check not recognize onwards?). A sign above my desk — “”A professional writer is an amateur who didn’t quit.” Richard Bach

  4. I personally believe in keeping a low profile. You know, keepin it real. If you’re published or have too many readers your just a sellout. ;)

    1. That’s my kind of platform-building strategy. Increase the demand for yourself by limiting the supply of yourself. Basic economics.

  5. I had been struggling with a manuscript on forgiveness for about a full year. I finally saw the stuggle part stemmed from letting my ego run the book. It was having the cart run the horse. Now I see the writing as part of my journey with forgiveness and not the end all.

    I have things turned around and everything is starting to click. I really love your website

    John Crotty

  6. Yes :) I think the creatives I most admire are those that write for themselves, not to build their platform, or make the next bestseller, but because they can’t contain themselves and write out of overflow.

    Is fame really the point? Truth and beauty will always garner a following, but it’s also not the point.

    1. This whole idea of creating a platform is such an interesting topic. Sometimes it feels rather backwards to me. I don’t know – I agree with your take.

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