Tuesday, March 05, 2013


The human obsession with success is a sickness that will have us become the flesh-devouring zombies that movies predict someday. Not one thing is allowed to be out of place, not one thing is allowed to go wrong; we will not compromise on anything short of first rate. And we sell it like that too - every one of us needs to be wielding the best phone in the market and holding the best position available. The Florida Gators have to win the national championship every year but so do the Ohio State Buckeyes. We dope our children up on want-success juice and expect every hop they make to be a productive one that will have them pole-vaulting in the Olympics someday; and win gold.

While we draw up the inspirational tales of the folk that have managed to win it all, what we are not accounting for is that these stories are told in retrospect. With our mania for success, the only stories that sell are the ones that are told by the winners and we assume a happily ever after there on. Until they fail, in which case the story becomes irrelevant. While it is fine to pick on which stories you like, it is important to pay attention to the stories where the work done may have been harder but resulted in grand failure. Not to depress oneself but to learn to accept failure with grace.

Indeed, the inability to handle failure is one of the biggest mental maladies of the human race. We do not teach our children to know how to deal with their egos when they are rejected. We do not promote the idea that it is alright to try hard and fail too. That success is not guaranteed just because you wanted it bad and worked hard for it. There are a billion extraneous factors that could influence the outcome of any event and therefore the victors of a race may have been determined well in advance, with nothing to do with the tangibles involved. 

I want to hear talks from people who are happy with their moderate income desk jobs. I want to know how they get past daily hurdles. I want to hear from graduate students that are somewhat content with their thesis time despite not having any papers to show for it. Most of all, I want to hear from people that look at failure as a stepping stone and not an agenda of the universe against them. The people that accept moderate outcomes and still work hard because they want to. I would buy that any day over a boring success story.

Along the same lines I find that there are two types of artists - the talent and the technician. I will define artists as people that do something. Like your Subway sandwich artist.

The talent is a pick of the lot. He has the natural factors that can make him work the art like a fish takes to water. He has the flamboyance that makes the highlight reel. He has the mutation that grants him super-strength. He has all the girls and he has their moms too. We hate him and we love him. In other words, the talent is always celebrated.

The technician does not have the talent but has the liking. He made a choice to put in the hard work it takes to try and function as an artist. He is every one of us if we are not the talent. 

The problem? The talent is our success story; the one the got it right on the first try. The technician is our side-plot - you'd expect to be paid by the hour to hear this one. Why is it a problem? By need the talent is one of the few, the elite, the 1% and the rest of us are potential technicians. These definitions are made by social constructs and pressures to identify the fittest. The problem is that we are not in a race for survival all the time, sometimes it is just about making it through the day. 

I want to hear stories about technicians that were not born fancy or went on to become fancy but are content with having the show running. I want to hear stories of people that not stopped singing because they were turned down badly by super singer. Every parent is a technician because there is no national award for best parent (there may be Razzie awards for worst though - many of them trying to "create" a talent). 


I have an uncle who was a professor of Geology in a government college in India. He had a modest income that was able to support his wife and daughter. He worked until he turned 60, after which he retired. Over the years, he saved money to build a small but comfortable home and support himself and his wife through his retirement years. He has a economy class car that serves his needs. He was also able to support his daughter so she managed to get a PhD. of her own. He even saved some for those trips and things that were always on the list but never happened until later.

If the time is right, this may be the most amazing story one could hear. Kudos to all the people that make them. We think you are awesome!

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