Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Unexceptional

I am not now, nor have I ever been, "exceptional". There are things I'm good at, I think, and some things I even do quite well...but no one has ever described me as "exceptional" in any meaningful way. I am liked by my friends, respected by colleagues, and I have built a career and reputation that I believe is (hopefully) largely positive, practical, and professional. It's not, however, some kind of wunderkind, published at 20, franchise at 25, meltdown at 30, type of career. It's been pretty steady, really, with ups and downs.

None of this is meant asa negative, exactly, and definitely not in a "Oh, woe unto me, I am not a unique and amazing snowflake!" way. It's more that, this is a truth universally acknowledged, and although my mom frequently likes to call me "brilliant", the grain of salt that goes with that is epic.

I have never excelled at things without working at them, and even then, I don't know that "excel" is a word I'd use anyway. I've done okay at them, or fine. But unless I put in effort, I don't magically do something exceedingly well. I wasn't an overachiever at school. I liked certain subjects (or loved them) and tended to do well in those because I cared and although I was often bored in some classes, I wasn't super advanced, never skipped any grades, and certainly was never even considered for any "gifted & talented" programs. I have no idea what my IQ is, but aside from being relatively sure it's above average, I'm also relatively sure it's well below whatever counts as "genius" or whatever. This has never particularly bothered me. I know people who are certified geniuses, Mensa members, and grade skippers. I've known people who graduated high school early and went to Ivy League colleges. They're all lovely, smart, awesome folks. In the end, though, I'm not sure those things have made their lives any easier or better, nor does any of it define them as people, especially now that they're grown ups who don't have to worry about grade point averages.

I'm sure it's not just my generation, but because the Dot Com Bubble rose and fell when I was in my late teens and 20's, I do think some people my age (myself included) internalized a rather unfair and exceedingly lofty idea of what we should have achieved by, at the latest, 30. You see a few people make a ton of money, or someone get published at 22, and you think: I'm still kind of figuring things out and I'm 25. What's wrong with me? Am I failing? Should I be doing more? Should I give up? What does it all mean?

Fast forward to now, and I am 33, almost 34. I've been working in my field for well over 10 years. And I've worked -hard-. And now, after all that time, I finally feel like I'm doing things I want to be doing, in the ways I want to be doing them, and feeling a certain degree of confidence in those accomplishments. But. Not every day is a success. Not every day is full of awesome offers. Lots of them are frustrating, lots of them are tiring, and lots of them are discouraging. On those days I wonder if I'm the only person who has these thoughts, these fears, these utter flailings of doubtful self-worth. I doubt it. I know a lot of other creative people and have yet to meet one who didn't sometimes think they were utter rubbish at whatever.

On those days I think I'm grateful not to be "exceptional" because that's an added pressure I don't need. I've always had to push myself, to try, to work, to get better. The kind of things that come "easily" to me are not really quantifiable. For instance: I have a knack for understanding stories. Of knowing where they're heading, what they're accomplishing, and what they should do. This is why I can edit other people's work, I can see what they're trying to do and I can help them do it, without putting myself in it or getting in the way. No one would consider that some kind of "gifted" talent or whatever, but it's certainly come in handy for me. It's also allowed me, as a storyteller, to find the voice in my own work and really get at what I'm trying to do with a given story. So that I'm a solid, if not exceptional, storyteller.

So, what's the point of all this? I guess it's to say that writing, art, editing, dancing, whatever it is that you do...it's important that you work at it and it's okay if you're not the Best Ever, or a mad genius. It's more important that you get something out of your work and that it conveys what you want it to, than to worry about whether or not you're some kind of prodigy. Most of us aren't. And we can still do what we love, and do it well.


4 comments:

  1. 'The kind of things that come "easily" to me are not really quantifiable.'

    I can totally relate to this. For one, I can see trends or what will be 'popular' or 'successful' when it comes to things in pop culture well before they are...but there are thousands of so-called experts and critics who can/will claim the same thing. It doesn't really help me in my day to day, outside of knowing what books the owners need to bring into the comic shop I work at, and more often than not its frustrating to find out that I was 'right' about something again without the means or outlet to say 'I-told-you-so' in a way that actually does more than make me look like a know-it-all. I know I'd make a kick ass TV or Film executive...but seriously, what are the odds?

    As for the whole what we should have achieved by 30 thought...I'm right there with you on that. By all appearances, you've achieved 1000 times what I have, and we're practically the same age (I'll be 34 at the end of the month)...so don't sell yourself short, even if that's not really what you're doing. You seem to be proud of where you are, if a little leery of celebrating your success, but as someone who can claim a healthy list of people I've marked for success who've achieved that success, you clearly fit the profile. You have a way with words that is both eloquent and natural, yet uncluttered with the kind of verbal diarrhea that seems to hamper many online writers. You're not high on yourself to the point of narcissism, but you're also clearly sure of yourself in a 'that-chick's-got-balls' kind of way. And I use the term chick with the utmost respect.

    All the best as you continue to navigate your course through the ups and downs of career and life, and thanks for sharing in blog form. I, for one, needed this little unintentional pep talk!

    Regards,

    Neil

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  2. I appreciate the hell out of this post. I wanted to add an addendum to this--oftentimes, while there are genuine geniuses, most cases where I've thought somebody was exceptional in the ways you're talking about here (e.g. this stuff comes easily to them) were cases of me misjudging how hard something was for somebody. So, when I read in your sideline, "New York Times Bestselling writer ..." I subconsciously assume that writing has always (and does always) come naturally and easily for you, just as an example. I know that this is very often just not the case, but it's the thing I think first, if I'm not paying attention.

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  3. I agree with Oscar Wilde on this (from Dorian Gray - Between Harry and Basil (artist):

    "Your rank and wealth, Harry; my brains, such as they are--my art, whatever it may be worth; Dorian Gray's good looks--we shall all suffer for what the gods have given us, suffer terribly."

    Nothing comes easy regardless of what tools we are given to use.

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  4. I really liked this post sometimes it's easy to think you are the only that feels that way it's nice to know I'm not.

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