Thursday, June 30, 2011

Constant Comparisons

Ever have one of those days where you compare your career success to everyone else your age or younger? Yup, I just lost yet another day in my life doing that. I do this both with peers as well as historical figures. I never did this when I was younger, but when I hit 25 I began to remind myself that by this age Leonard Bernstein had already conducted the NY Phil and Sondheim had written lyrics for West Side Story. And while it doesn’t help to beat oneself up, despite the rare Grandma Moses who blossomed only as a septuagenarian, the sad pattern is that early success breeds the conditions for long-term career success. And while it’s easy to squander those possibilities after said success (I’m talking to you Ms. Lohan), if you track the lives of scientists like Einstein or writers like Fitzgerald, you’ll see their early years are generally their most productive and original. That creates the foundation for a long career of significant work. On the other hand, by age 38, Fitzgerald was so dispirited at with the tepid response to his third novel Tender is The Night he moved out to Hollywood in an attempt to capitalize on his earlier fame. There he met with constant rejection. And if you read his last collected shorts known as The Pat Hobby stories, you’ll see a sad portrait of a failed and desperate writer willing to do anything to literally get back on the studio lot. That’s how Fitzgerald saw himself at age 40 just a few years before he killed himself via sclerosis of the liver. Funny thing is the writing still so fresh and modern it feels like it could be a new adapted into a new HBO series with protagonist played by an unsuccessful Larry David - always creating situations for himself that are so cringe worthy you have to laugh. The really sad thing is however, that 1) Fitzgerald thought these were just hack stories, and 2) he wrote them incredibly quickly - desperate for money. Some collected anthologies of the stories even include his letters to The New Yorker and Esquire pleading the editor for an advance and promising as many stories as they wanted. He just needed the cash. So in the end, as it’s nearly irresistible to compare yourself to others, perhaps we’d all be better served to focus on the greats who came out of the gate strong only to falter later. Then I can meditate on how grateful I am that I don’t have that kind of pressure to live up to and I haven’t destroyed my life the way early success destroyed theirs.
Who do you compare yourself to and how can you make that an uplifting activity?

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