Paul Heinz

Original Fiction, Music and Essays

Filtering by Tag: competition

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 Magazinewas 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!

Saying No to College Competition

Confucius may have said it first, but I remember the following quote best from The Brady Bunch Movie in which Mike Brady tells his children, “And as a wise man once said, 'wherever you go....there you are.'” (see 0:33)

Parents of high schoolers may have a hard time embracing this little tidbit when it comes to preparing their kids for college, when so many forces tell us that where you attend college is the most important decision you and your child well ever make.  It's hard not to get stuck in idea of achieving at all costs.  Case in point: while volunteering last week at Feed My Starving Children, I sat next to two women of high school sophomores and heard them discuss their kids’ impending college searches, and phrases like “ACT practice test,” “hire a tutor” and “a good college resume-builder” peppered their conversation.  I got the feeling that while packing food for the starving was all well and good, adding an entry for next year’s college applications was even better. 

They’re not alone.  The race to college is a national phenomenon that for many begins in the toddler years and lets up only with an acceptance letter from Harvard. 

Last March, Brigid Schulte of The Washington Post authored an excellent article about “the parenting arms race.”  In it, she highlights the story of Wilma Bowers, whose daughter was sneered at by fellow classmates after applying to James Madison University – a fine school by all accounts, but in the community of McLean, Virginia, anything short of Ivy League or Stanford is considered “settling.” (if you have time, read the comments section of this article as well – enlightening stuff).

This idea isn’t confined to hyper-competitive parents and their children.  A very down-to-earth friend of mine told me her son waffled a bit about attending a university in Colorado because part of him felt like he hadn’t pushed himself to get into a more highly-ranked school, and one of my own daughters has made similar comments.

But it’s important to consider the wisdom of Confucius and Mike Brady.  After all, you take yourself with you wherever you go, and if you’re a person who’s going to succeed (however that’s defined), you will succeed regardless of the school you attend.  Sure, going to college is important for many people, but where you go to school?  Not so much, even if you do happen to consider earnings the best measure of success.  According to a study by Stacy Dale, it’s the level of school a student is accepted to, and not where the student ends up going, that best determines future financial success.  And today’s CEOs of major U.S. corporations come from a more diverse group of schools than in the past, when graduation from an Ivy League school was more of a prerequisite.

A recent phrase that's been used recently is "authentic success," but it's really just common sense: do something you love, treat others as you want to treated, and give back.  This is nothing new.  

When my kids were two years old, I wrote the song "Head Start."

You go and visit your neighbors with kids
And brag about what yours just did
And hope her milestones measure up
Life's one big competition

Even then, I could sense that it would be very easy to fall in the hyper-competitive trap.  Fifteen years later, I hope I've dodged that bullet more often than not.

Copyright, 2017, Paul Heinz, All Right Reserved