All those years when I was diligently laboring away at both my day jobs and my writing practice, I knew there was never any promise that any of this would work out.
I always knew that I might not get what I wished for—that I might never become a published writer. Not everybody makes it to a place of comfortable success in the arts. Most people don’t. And while I’ve always believed in magical thinking, I wasn’t a child, either; I knew that wishing would not make it so. Talent might not make it so, either. Dedication might not make it so. Even amazing professional contacts—which I didn’t have, in any case—might not make it so.
Creative living is stranger than other, more worldly pursuits. The usual rules do not apply. In normal life, if you’re good at something and you work hard at it, you will likely succeed. In creative endeavors, maybe not. Or maybe you will succeed for a spell, and then never succeed again. You might be offered rewards on a silver platter, even as a rug is being simultaneously pulled out from under you. You might be adored for a while, then go out of fashion. Other, dumber people might take your place as critical darlings.
The patron goddess of creative success can sometimes seem like a rich, capricious old lady who lives in a giant mansion on a distant hill and who makes really weird decisions about who gets her fortune. She sometimes rewards charlatans and ignores the gifted. She cuts people out of her will who loyally served her for their entire lives, and then gives a Mercedes to that cute boy who cut her lawn once. She changes her mind about things. We try to divine her motives, but they remain occult. She is never obliged to explain herself to us. In short, the goddess of creative success may show up for you, or she may not. Probably best, then, if you don’t count on her, or attach your definition of personal happiness to her whims.
Maybe better to reconsider your definition of success, period.
For my own part, I decided early on to focus on my devotion to the work above all. That would be how I measured my worth. I knew that conventional success would depend upon three factors—talent, luck, and discipline—and I knew that two of those three things would never be under my control. Genetic randomness had already determined how much talent I’d been allotted, and destiny’s randomness would account for my share of luck. The only piece I had any control over was my discipline. Recognizing that, it seemed like the best plan would be to work my ass off. That was the only card I had to play, so I played it hard.
Mind you, hard work guarantees nothing in realms of creativity. (Nothing guarantees anything in realms of creativity.) But I cannot help but think that devotional discipline is the best approach. Do what you love to do, and do it with both seriousness and lightness. At least then you will know that you have tried and that—whatever the outcome—you have traveled a noble path.
I have a friend, an aspiring musician, whose sister said to her one day, quite reasonably, “What happens if you never get anything out of this? What happens if you pursue your passion forever, but success never comes? How will you feel then, having wasted your entire life for nothing?”
My friend, with equal reason, replied, “If you can’t see what I’m already getting out of this, then I’ll never be able to explain it to you.”
When it’s for love, you will always do it anyhow.