This is Philip Wyeth, author of Reparations USA, Reparations Mind, and Chasing the Best Days.
Right now I and my circle of close friends are all turning forty, one by one. A thought occurred to me recently as I reflected back on the eighteen years since I packed up my car and drove across the country, just weeks after graduating college.
All of us who came to Los Angeles to make our mark, we were armed with dreams and ambition. That was our fuel. It was all that we had to offer.
But now, as we enter near middle-age, those of us that are still fighting the good fight out here, we need to reassess and find something new to sustain us. Why?
Because now we are all accomplished, but maybe still haven’t found the recognition that we hoped or expected would come with this “proof of competency,” as it’s sometimes called.
For myself, I’ve started several businesses, one of which we had to shut down, but another I actually sold last year. I’ve written three novels, but none of them have gone anywhere so far.
The same up-and-down story goes for my friends, who have worked in the entertainment industry as producers, editors, camera crew, and sound designers on shows and movies that you’ve all seen. They’ve made some money, get steady or semi-regular gigs, and are building up a nice body of work over the course of their careers.
But I was talking about this main idea of sustenance recently with an old acquaintance who I reconnected with by chance, and he has actually won several Emmys, so his reaction told me I was on the right track. Because even he, with bona fide awards to his name, he still has that original strain of insatiable hunger which first drove him to leave home and chase the California Dream.
So no matter what age of a man you are… twenty, forty, sixty… digging into this question can help us all. How do you bridge the gap between accomplishment and recognition?
First, understand that public acclaim may never come. Especially if you’re not “writing to market,” as many self-published authors do in order to capitalize on trends. But then you have to ask yourself, why am I doing any of these things at all? Out of your own passion, to gain skills and experience, or to get praise?
Another profound anecdote comes from a longtime friend who recently did what I had once done—namely, leave Los Angeles to try to do normal things—only to have those plans blow up in your face.
He was working a job where he engaged with the public on a daily basis, and befriended a customer who personality-wise was essentially his doppelganger. This man had a high-powered job, a mansion, money, and a fiance who kept him on the straight and narrow. But he too, like my friend, had a passion for music—and one day it came up in conversation that if he had the time, all the man wanted to do was be in the studio recording songs.
This was the moment that washed away all of the shocking disappointment that my friend had been through. He later moved back to LA having cut his losses in every sense of the word, and resumed his music career with renewed energy and purpose.
I don’t know how relatable this next flavor is for people, but there’s something about giving up your life in California—your friends, the weather, the electric energy of free-flowing ambition that’s all around you—but to then go somewhere else, and have that compromise you made with the gods just completely fall apart… You feel like a fool, and you bang your head against the wall asking why you can’t seem to get ahead.
But sometimes you need those terrible defeats to give you the backbone to see future projects to the finish line—to earn those high-stakes accomplishments when other people might falter and quit.
So maybe attitude is part of the new fuel to help bridge these gaps in life. Gratitude, patience, and maybe being more selective with what projects you choose to work on. Because we’re not eighteen anymore, and the old hard drive inside our skull has been spinning for a long time…
Also recognize that life isn’t perfect or easy for anyone. You take a step forward, get knocked down, try again, and at the end of it all hopefully someone will come along and appreciate the work you left in your wake. Then you feel the relief of knowing that you don’t need to “change the world,” as everyone has been indoctrinated to believe for the past two generations.
How many old movies or albums waited decades for you to stumble across them? Maybe you too are fated not to have a bestselling novel, but many years from now it will find its audience.
Therefore, we all need to find something else to sustain us, so that in case we do get rewarded after the fact, we don’t respond with tragic bitterness like Jean Rhys, author of Wide Sargasso Sea, who lamented, “It has come too late.”
Finding that sort of grace is easier said than done, of course. The delirium I fall into when finishing a book is a total obsession, where every waking hour is spent thinking, and editing, and drinking too many beers… Because something happens in the final week or so, when it’s all there but still so many small details need tending to. Then I think—I know—that this is gonna be the one that pushes me out of obscurity into fame, riches, you name it.
This manic sprint in itself is actually a kind of bridge or fuel. But then, as any creative person will tell you, next comes that pin drop of silence after you complete the project. No matter how many times it happens, that choking feeling never gets old. So now you’re exhausted, just throwing money out there trying to will the thing into success.
But even that process is okay, and maybe necessary. More little defeats, still you’re always learning—because behind the body of work we’re all building, there’s the auxiliary stuff like graphic design or marketing that we have to learn in this indie era.
Perspective is another key tool to help get you through. A few years ago I read Barbara Tuchman’s history of the Fourteenth Century called A Distant Mirror, and talk about having your expectations smashed! Guys would wrangle together a small army, cross the English Channel with dreams of plunder, only to lose battles or get throttled by awful weather—and then, when they finally got home, found out that all their children died of bubonic plague!
All of a sudden not getting that one job doesn’t sting so much. You’ve still got a lot, a lot going for you, and you’re still in the fight.
So, I know that today’s political climate means we’re all slowly being driven insane, but to push back against that demoralizing trend, let’s commit as individuals to move our own agendas forward in 2019. Creativity, fitness, profit, companionship, whatever it is. Don’t let doubt, the news, past failure, manipulators, or outside distractions derail you.
Just work toward racking up a long list of accomplishments as monthly mile markers to look back upon. Because if all you want is praise right out the gate with no effort involved, just take a selfie and post that on social media somewhere.
Thanks for listening. Now get to it.
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Video was originally uploaded on February 11, 2019.