I recently had a conversation with someone about a famous writer – we’ll say this is about 50 Shades of Grey. This writer is well known, has made tons of money, and turns stuff into movies. The person who knew this writer was not really well known, made decent money but not nearly what this writer did, and sure wasn’t getting any Hollywood contracts any time soon. I shrugged my shoulders and commented, “So? She’s a bad writer.” Interestingly the person replied, “But she gets six figure book deals.” I replied, “Yeah, but she sucks.”
This erupted into a very interesting perspective that I never quite realized that some people don’t share. Most of the people in my life are what I lovingly refer to as “do-gooders.” People who have dedicated their lives to something that is meaningful to them. My friend Clay who cares about farming and land conservation, my friend Melissa who has dedicated her live to bridging the income inequality gap, my friends Matt and Jarrett who want to do whatever it takes to change the world. We all share a common value of impacting the world around us for the better.
It turns out not everyone is like this even within your own political party. For people who measure success with acclaim or monetary benefits, the goal is really more about mass marketing and the McDonald’s-azation of our cultural understanding of purpose, meaning, and status. Do more, get more. Faster. More. Supersize it, bitches!
When I think about the writer, I make fun with my English Major my nose is turned toward the sky searching for a familiar Vonnegut book to thrust it into, or talking with friends about the upcoming Salinger short stories and novels being released. But the reality is that when a writer values the quality and impact of the written word – we see it as art. It might not be a painting or a sculpture, but literature captures moments in time and articulates them in ways readers have never quite been captivated by before. These words aren’t merely pressed between two covers or scrolled on a screen while we sit on a plane, but if they are meaningful ….. truly meaningful, they live on forever as a representation of who we are as a people, as a culture, and as a world.
This poor woman’s books, will never, not ever, be meaningful. And that’s fine. We all consume the written word for a different purpose. Some people see it as an escape or an outlet or information. Not all feel compelled to read to be moved profoundly or to experience a novel to reach a higher plain of understanding or self actualization. Sometimes we just need to mentally masturbate to brain pornography. Some people just read trashy romance novels …. or Sarah Palin.
But I don’t consider this successful, just as I wouldn’t consider a star on a reality TV show a “success.” If you’re not contributing anything meaningful then what are you doing? What is the point of your existence?
In my world view: If you’re capable of using your skills and talents to make a lasting impact on the world (or someone’s world) that continues long after you’re gone, then you will have been a success. If you think it’s about fame or glory or recognition or cash – you’re missing the point and purpose of life.