Growth. It happens when the kid in the caveman costume stops hitting his big sis and starts crying because she slapped him back too hard. That’s a sister’s job, really. And a good thing, too. The only thing more pathetic than a crying little boy is an insufferable, prizewinning, highly successful asshole who never got smacked to tears with his own stupid foam club.
“I just want to do something great–something that I’ll be remembered for after I’m dead.” How many of us have had that thought on our minds lately, what with the the new year officially underway? I’m sure I’m not the only who’s been thinking about what all I would like to accomplish in 2014. Unfortunately, with the possibility of slaying a dragon and/or conquering the universe being rather remote, I’m left to plan more mundane endeavors.
I’m guessing you’re like me–we have a tendency to spread ourselves too thin, going after too many different goals rather than sticking to a single realistic one. It’s easy to do, right? “I want to learn all those Iron Maiden songs on Rocksmith.” “I want to write the Great American Novel.” “I want to make an awesome indie game with Unity.” “I want to double–hell, no, triple–my YouTube audience.” “I want to write at least three academic articles.” “I want to make an awesome new podcast…” The list goes on. The point is, I think to decide which goal you’d most like to achieve, and save the rest for later. But what criteria can you use to help you decide?
Coming back to the opening question, what goal would place us closer to that goal of establishing a legacy? What about other people who have already achieved that goal? I’m thinking of folks like Stephen King, Bruce Dickinson, Jonathon Blow, Ian Bogost, and TotalBiscuit. If any of these folks were to drop dead right now, I have little doubt we’d remember them 20, 30, maybe even 50 years from now (some more so than others, I imagine).
I think it’s really important for all of us to really think hard about what we’re good at, and how we can milk whatever that talent or skill is for all it’s worth. Doing so, however requires us to separate our delusions from our true grandeur. As Clint Eastwood put it, “A man has to know his limitations.” If you set out to be great by imitating another great person, you’ll just fail. For one, part of being great in the first place is doing something new, not just copying. Second, we might very well be great at something and just because we are great at that thing think it’s unimpressive or unimportant.
Think about how many great actors have dreamed of being great rock stars, only to fail. There are plenty of examples to the contrary, of course. No matter how many best-sellers Stephen King throws to the press, he doesn’t seem to consider himself a Great Writer, only a profitable one. Another ready example of this tendency is with game designers–sure, they’ve done Planescape: Torment, but, meh, they’d rather write a novel or direct a film. A girl with gorgeous curly red hair spends a fortune to straighten and dye it blonde. Maybe you’re great at cooking, but consider that a menial skill not worth cultivating or celebrating. Maybe you are a rockstar, but are tired of “only playing the hits” and irritated that nobody likes your new stuff. Sigh.
In my life, I’ve only been regularly praised and recognized for two skills: computers and writing. By “computers,” I don’t mean programming or game designing; only knowing how to figure out a program and helping other folks do stuff with them. My writing skill is pretty much limited to academic and technical stuff–professors and, well, folks like you seem to enjoy it, but my many desperate attempts at fiction haven’t gotten me anywhere.
As much as I like doing Matt Chat, I can’t escape the fact that it relies on those skills or talents in the “deluded” category rather than factual. I can’t count how many times I’ve seen someone commenting on one: “You deserve so many more views!” Ugh. That’s exactly like your mom or dad telling you, “You deserve a girlfriend!” You just wait, my bucko, sooner or later some gal will come along who is able to see past–I mean, er, recognize you for the treasure you are! Please.
Doing all of those Matt Chat episodes has definitely taught me a lot about my own limitations. It’s been hard, especially, seeing so many other YouTubers leave me in the dust. “Oh, you’re only now getting to a million views? Dude, I have ten times that number, and I only started doing this six months ago!” I can always console myself with that line from Spinal Tap: “It’s simply that my audience is more selective.” Ha!
I think we all really only have a single limitation in life: our inability to appreciate the unlimited potential of our one true talent, whatever that may be. Hint: it’s most likely the one that everybody else (except, probably you) recognizes as your True Calling. If only we could just satisfy ourselves by fully cultivating that, instead of trying to escape it by chasing after a so many delusions.
Hopefully, sooner or later, our ego will reconnect hard with that foam club.