“Our kids may be smart people, they may be creative people, but they don’t have any skills to succeed in life. These must be taught and it is our job as parents, teachers, and mentors to do that.”
The other day I had a “wanna be” fashion designer call me. I say “wanna be” because she isn’t actually successful at anything yet. She isn’t that young anymore, so it is time she gets it together, but like many people who consider themselves cultural creatives, she can’t. She dials me up when she is faced once again with the inability to get a job, pay the rent or go to school.
I know a photographer, a dancer, and a painter who all suffer from this same problem. In fact, if you visit Los Angeles or New York or any major city with lots of young creative people, you will find this problem grows like a rapid cancer, infesting all who hang out in the same coffee shop or go to the same drawing class.
These young artists live with a sense that they have accomplished something great and that the rest of us just aren’t up to speed with their accomplishments. Down their noses they look at those of us who pay the rent, hold a job, and work really hard to lead successful lives.
In their heads they have had a hundred successful performances and a hundred headline making gallery openings. “Really important people are coming to look at my work,” they declare. In reality they live in a loft in the ghetto with other “up and coming” artists, eating the cheapest food, when they actually have the money to eat at all.
And getting another job? They can’t because they often feel that working in the grocery or coffee shop or bartending is beneath them. It is remedial work for the breadth of their creative mind. Oh, please. How many of us had to struggle at jobs we didn’t like in order to get to a more successful place? It is just part of the process.
I have been know to tell those that call me with this problem that they are losers and it is time to embrace being a loser. That doesn’t mean giving up on your dream of being a painter, dancer, writer, or musician. It means admitting you know nothing about how to do that. It means learning some humility in order to learn how to be successful in that particular area.
This can be a hard pill to swallow. Unlike the comfortable cancer in which they have been wrapping themselves, this means laying down the layer of arrogance that keeps them insulated from reality and ultimately the truth. It means saying, “I don’t know, but I want to know.” It means saying, “I can’t sustain my life in the most basic ways. I have to learn and find some skills to be more successful.”
Many young people aren’t taught that there is a process through which we all must go in order to be successful. We aren’t born instantly successful people. We have to go through the process of looking up to someone, whether that be a photographer, teacher, business leader, or quarterback. We look to them filled in aspiration. This impels us to learn; and slowly, over time, we begin to be successful. We often fail to tell our kids about the thousands of hours an extremely successful artist, musician, or athlete puts into their work in order to reach that level of prestige.
It has become so politically correct for us to tell our kids that they are great that we don’t tell them how hard they need to work. We speak so much about the innate goodness and wonder and accomplishment that lie in each us that we have distorted the truth. While that greatness may lie in us, we still have to work hard to bring that potential to fruition. Our kids may be smart people, they may be creative people, but they don’t have any skills to succeed in life. These must be taught and it is our job as parents, teachers, and mentors to do that. If we are simply filing their heads with silly notions of instant stardom, then they will grow to be adults who feel deserving of prestige and success they have never earned and will never have. It is easy to see the kind of hell in which this puts a person, always feeling they deserve something that they don’t have the skills to acquire.
We have to help our kids understand that they are unskilled students who have things to learn. When we put ourselves in the position of being the student, no matter our age, we are instantly humbled. We have given up on pretending to ourselves and to the world that we are something we aren’t. We can finally learn. When did it become so politically incorrect to go through the process of learning something? We all push so hard we seem to forget that success is a process.
Being a successful photographer means putting in hours and hours of grueling, thankless work. Being a young fashion designer means putting in thousands of hours of work for other successful designers until you have earned the respect of those who run the industry.
And ultimately this is all about respect. It is about teaching our youth to respect and learn from the establishment that exists. They will have their opportunity to change and mold that establishment, but first they have to learn the skills of those who have come before them. Then they can use those skills to create and market anything they want.
It is a sobering process in which we are no longer high on our own ego that tells us that we are more than the world knows us to be.
We don’t have to be an artist or musician living in angst, in the ghetto, chronically short on cash and always “misunderstood.” We do have the chance to be successful. Every artist does. It’s a choice to either live with this lie or open up to being a successful, humble person. It’s entirely up to the artist.
For a different POV on this topic, “My Girlfriend Pays The Rent.”