When Aspirations Fall Short
I’ve never met author Hannah Goodman, but I’m fortunate for having made a long-distance connection with her back in 2011 that led to the publication of two of my short stories. Earlier this year, Ms. Goodman announced that the young adult periodical she founded, Sucker Literary Magazine, was on hiatus, which was a bummer, but more of a concern was the reason for the hiatus, which Hannah has bravely blogged about at www.writerwomyn.com. For the past year or so she’s shared her journey with depression, anxiety and overcoming feelings of low self-worth in the midst of trying to find a publishing deal for her YA fiction.
In her most recent entry, she describes how the nurturing environment she experienced while obtaining her MFA took a sharp turn upon graduation, when she began to encounter "a serious problem with envy and comparing." Social media played a significant role in her struggles as she immersed herself in Facebook and Twitter to help bolster her career, and over time, as she sunk into a hole of constantly comparing herself to others' achievements, her self-esteem took a big hit.
Hannah had gone “all-in.” She’d made huge sacrifices to obtaining her dream, but a few years after graduation she was in a therapist’s office, concluding that she was “a complete and utter failure and sham of a writer.” Her perceived failures as a writer were projected on her roles in life, most notably those of wife and mother. Fortunately, she is in much better place today.
Hannah certainly isn't the only one to be adversely affected by social media. Several studies have shown a link between Facebook use and depressive symptoms, and as rough as social media can be for any of us, I think it can be especially cruel to the aspiring artist who’s sacrificed so much to follow a dream.
Of course, following one’s dream doesn’t mean that you’ll earn a living at it, but society sometimes pushes us into thinking that we will. I wrote about this last year after watching the marvelous film Twenty Feet from Stardom, in which the amazing Mary Clayton laments her failed attempts to achieve her own stardom. In this blog I asked the question, “Are we entitled to earn a living doing what we love?” I argued no. It reminds me of a story a friend of mine told me about his son who decided to pursue jazz guitar performance a number of years ago. During his first jazz ensemble rehearsal the instructor said, “All of you who are here to make a living playing music need to leave right now. Those of you who can’t fathom living without playing jazz can stay.”
This is tough advice, but it’s good advice. I don’t know if Ms. Goodman received a similar message while pursuing her MFA, and I don’t know if she would have stayed if she had, but she is now taking a break from pursuing a book deal (but not a break from writing) and is studying to become a licensed therapist.
We do what we love because we love to do it. If we can make a living at it, even better, but we should never stop doing what we love. Hannah certainly hasn’t. She’s continues to write, and goodness, if there’s ever any doubt about whether she’s capable, read her marvelous entry, “We Need to Talk.” It's amazing.
Um...now I’m making an envious comparison. I better get off-line and start writing!