Posts Tagged ‘quitting’

From the Editor’s Perch…

October 2, 2013

Editor’s Introduction:  Why are we all so ambitious, nowadays?  What is ambition, anyway?  It seems rather like the Chicken’s Need to Cross the Road.  Who knows why?   The best advice I’ve ever been offered about failure was what I was told about handling disappointment when trying out my act Amateur Night at a comedy club:  “It’s not you they don’t like.  It’s your performance.”  Somehow or other we’ve gotten it all twisted around and have been led to believe that we are our performance.  Perhaps it’s partly the godless times we live in.  God knows your importance, and demonstrates it every day by your presence.  So take a deep breath.  Everything’s fine.



A Clown is a Failure with Style

A Clown is a Failure with Style


And How to Be Mediocre Successfully

Thoughts About Failing and Locating the ‘Middle Way’: Part I


            Where I work it’s possible to work a forty hour week and make $125,00/year, if you are good at your job.  But you could also become demonically possessed, work an 80 to 100 hour week, and make over $250,000/year.  Unfortunately, there’s not a choice.  The company makes more money and grows when the employee makes $250,000/year.  The person who makes $125,000/year is under-utilizing their human capital and dampens the company’s prospects.  This is not so different from many other work situations.

More frequently these days it is possible to work crazy hours at a crazy job and make far more money than you need.  Or you can be fired, and find a much less remunerative, insecure, part-time job which pays less than you need and without retirement or health benefits.  Or, you can go to work in the services sector and work crazy hours, and still not make quite enough to get by.  Or you can live on the street or go to jail.  Have I left anything out?

We are an achievement oriented culture.  According to social theorist Judith Halberstam in our culture failure is subversive.  In her book, “The Queer Art of Failure”,  she notes though: “Under certain circumstances, failing, losing, forgetting, unmaking, undoing, unbecoming, not knowing may in fact offer more creative, more cooperative, more surprising ways of being in the world”.   These are some of the reasons failure has fascinated me.  Failure is relaxing.  Failure allows us time to think, to speculate, to ruminate, to sleep…  Failure will slow it all down and keep those damnable over-achievers at bay.  Failure allows nearly any sort of activity short of costing money to flourish – like chatting with your neighbor or chatting up a girl.  Unfortunately failure is also an impoverished, disreputable haven, an Elysian field without food nor drink nor shelter nor audience – a place only poets, hermits and religious seers might court.  But as Quentin Crisp, the famous British homosexual once noted, “If at first you don’t succeed, failure may be your style.”

Failure has a style, yet is egalitarian.  You can labor away at being a failure without ever being hired or having to create a resume or write a job application or appear for an interview.  The hours are right.  And failure completely circumnavigates the personnel department.  Failures needn’t attend meetings.  And for those trapped in those long, tedious, tired workdays in the cubicle farms which cover more and more of the corporate world, failure can look pretty tempting.  Why, it’s not much more than just looking out the window, where you can often catch a glimpse of it, walking by freely having a smoke, or chatting up a girl.  Failure even has its achievements to tout.  When I quite medical school I defended my ‘achievement’ by noting that whereas only 20% of applicants at the time were admitted – only 2% of those admitted, got out.   And moreover, I pointed out that by quitting medicine, I had probably saved more lives than a lot of doctors had by continuing!  My life post-medical career had primacy, some style, and a lot of free time.

Unfortunately, it also paid poorly.  A pure failure is about as rare an animal as the dodo bird.  Most of us are forced to claw our way into some sort of mediocrity in order to survive.  Which, as it has in olden times, aptly describes the post-modern ‘middle way’.

So, though I still harbor a fascination for failure, the thread of this essay is about how to achieve mediocrity, which as I define it is, a more practical, palatable blend of achievement, success and failure, all stirred into a chaotic soup of slacker regimentation aptly anticipating the post-modern ‘middle way’.

Photo of model by Carl Nelson

From the Editor’s Perch…

September 8, 2013

How to Succeed: Part Two

When to Quit?

Portrait of the Artist as an Old Man

Portrait of the Artist as an Old Man


Too many artistic life choices and too many ahh-ha! moments have left their mark on this poor asthete.


            Self promotion will only take us so far.  Sooner or later the Universe has to step in and promote us, if we are to succeed.  For example, I’m writing a serialized fiction story which I uploaded onto Authonomy, a serialized fiction webpage.  I created my best cover.  I wrote my best blurb.  For a month it just sat there.  It wasn’t until another author noted, and recommended it, that I began acquiring readers.

I remember Merle Haggard announcing at one point that he was hoping to win the Entertainer of the Year Award at the Country Music Awards Festival for the coming year.  Now I love Merle, but a notable entertainer he is not.  His style is bluegrass stoicism.  He’s as flashy as a wooden Indian.  I remember him saying, when he announced his ambition, that if he didn’t toot his horn, nobody was going to toot it for him.  That’s pretty much how it turned out.

But Merle learned.  And we can learn. 

Most advice on how to become successful discusses what we should do.  The problem is most of us are what we are, and so, we necessarily do what we do.  Character is destiny.  Human beings are not as plastic as those sitting across from us think we ought to be, or should be, or could be.  I know, your mother always told you that you could be anything you want to be.  Well, if you still believe that, stop reading – or, more to the point, why are you reading this?  Head back to Facebook and enjoy all those pictures of kittens.  There is usually a fairly narrow range of activities which the normal person is good at performing, and an even narrower range of activities at which they are very good at performing – if, in fact, there are any.  (A certain number of us aren’t very good at much of anything.  …Here’s a tissue.)

More useful advice would tell us what to quit.  Because anyone with a little resolve can do that.

Know Yourself

            Let me expand.  Before you become successful, you have to have been unsuccessful – or ‘not yet successful’…   And to stop being that, you first have to quit.  An old Jewish household furnishings estimator in one of Arthur Miller’s plays remarked, “The first step on the road to wisdom is to stop.  Whatever you are doing, stop it.”  I can’t think of better advice.  When you remove something from your life, it creates a vacuum.  And because ‘nature abhors a vacuum’ – this in turn employs the tremendous pressure of the Universe in a sort of jujitsu maneuver to re-fill this vacant space.   The effort required is all on the front end, in emptying yourself of what is burdensome, in creating that vacuum.  After that, the Universe acts as a big buffet, pushing stuff upon you, until you select.  Here again wisdom is required not to re-fill yourself with a past mistake.   It’s the same maxim as is choosing a mate:  Off with the old before on with the new.

So, how do we trim out the deadwood?  A  problem to becoming successful is deciding what to quit?  Should you quit this, or should you quit that?  Or, is it just a bit of this and that which you should quit?  Understanding this, will also help you to prevent acquiring another mistake – it could even prevent you from wasting your life!  Something which hangs over all artists like the Sword of Damocles.

So, how do we trim out the deadwood?

One way is to ask ourselves what we enjoy doing?  We are usually fairly good at something we enjoy doing.  So this first step is pretty easy and quite enjoyable.  Stop doing things you don’t want to do!  

The second way to prune your self is to look into a social mirror.  That is, try to see ourselves as others do.  Though asking them how they see us is called ‘prompting the witness’, and gives skewed results.  It’s best to just listen and observe.  If someone says you have a great ability to tell a story, then keep telling stories, and perhaps try to contextualize other ways you have of communicating in a storytelling manner.

Once a person discovers what they are good at, they simply need to do that with energy, and success is at its likeliest to follow.

So here you go.  Here’s my advice.  Just quit doing that!  Find where the deadwood is in your personality and trim it out!  Let the light in.  Let your green parts flourish!

Photo by Carl Nelson

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