Success Is More Painful Than Failure

An unexpected thing happened this week — I got a job. I went on a temp assignment on Monday for a non-profit that works with deaf and hard-of-hearing children and was asked to come on full-time the following day.

The feeling that someone, who didn’t know me, wanted me after all of the struggles of the past three years was a tremendous relief. I don’t know what my boss saw in me but I was relieved some good quality shined through. It was clear on the first day that we had a connection. She had lost her mother recently, and when she asked why I was jobless I said I’d moved home to take care of my mom while she was sick with cancer.

The day my boss hired me, she asked about the type of cancer and my mom’s age, and I told her the story. She was so sympathetic, I had a hard time not crying. Finally a workplace that was sensitive and nurturing, capable of seeing my pain and not finding it a turn off or unattractive.

Suddenly, all the things I didn’t enjoy about working in media and in Hollywood became obvious — the unspoken competitiveness between writers, the constant insecurity that you’re not young enough to be employable, the expectation that you will always be or act happy, the arbitrary way with which your work can be cast aside by a studio exec or an editor after months of toiling. Not knowing why they said no to publishing or producing your writing. It all creates this paranoia and lack of trust that permeates every action.

In a way, having straightforward office work felt like a relief. If a task was done, it was done. If a letter asking for a donation was typed, and someone responded with a yes, you had produced an obvious result. It was a break from the nebulous world of screenwriting and journalism where the subjectivity about the quality of your work can be eviscerating. Where marketability overrides whether something you created is actually good or interesting.

Yes, I’m having a bitch of a time getting up at 7:30 a.m. everyday after three years of sleeping in, but I’m hoping my body will adjust and my health will flourish in this place where I am reminded each day why I am at work. At 3:30 p.m. a number of deaf and hard-of-hearing children pour through the doors to meet with their teachers for individual lessons. I am helping people rather than staying at home fixating on whether I am succeeding as an artist. I no longer feel like I’m wasting each day in inertia.

My mother, who worked with parents of kids as a child psychologist and as a counselor for autistic children after college, would have been so proud that I took this job. All week I felt an overwhelming grief that I couldn’t tell her. That I couldn’t hear she was proud of me — though I know she would have been. In that way, success is more painful than failure. Failures, you don’t want to share. You’re grateful that they missed that. But success? That’s a real loss. One that will continue throughout my life and punctuate every positive upswing with a hint of sadness. Making each accomplishment bittersweet.

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3 Responses to Success Is More Painful Than Failure

  1. monica923 says:

    Ahhh…I am happy for you!

  2. You write so well! It’s rare to find such clarity on the net, so thanks for that…

    I’m also a journo (still) and when I wrote about this exact issue — which you limn beautifully — for the NYT, I got a ton of email from all over the world. I was working PT retail for $11/hr, no commission, and none of my friends with Big Writing Jobs would fathom how or why it could be a satisfying choice. But it was, for all the same reasons you describe here. Being of service is deeply satisfying, as is fleeing the HUGE egos of the writing/entertainment world, as is truly leaving the job behind when you close the door at the end of the day. I wrote a book about my retail work which was optioned by CBS as a sitcom but never went to pilot, so I also know firsthand this rollercoaster ride of potential $$$, success and fame. Meh.

    Here’s a link to the book (if of interest):
    http://malledthebook.com/

  3. really beautifully put!! 🙂

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