The New York Times is depressing me lately.
I mean, I don’t really read it. I don’t pay. But I follow it on Twitter and the headlines seem to have curved to the gravity of the internet.
I wish it hadn’t. I wish time-honored and respected institutions somehow remained above the fray, stuck in a sort of parental authority. The New York Times should be way better than I am. We shouldn’t even be on the same internet. It should be embarrassed to be in the sentence with a snot-nosed, typo-ridden punk like me. I don’t even know if it should be “me” or “I” in that sentence! Come on!
But, when the internet levels the playing field, competition reigns. Even when it shouldn’t. Entertainment and clickbait play dark politics with human emotions, and we’re strung along.
No contemporary website is immune; I’m aware this is the hand that feeds and all that, but it bothers me. I don’t regret it. I’m a mercenary, and I’m here to leverage what little I talent I have as far as it can go. I want to press it down and squeeze out the juice of success; and, if that’s clicks, so be it.
But it shouldn’t.
I thought I didn’t want idols.
I sneered at greats. Paying homage was for nerds and fans. I wrote, sure, but I didn’t read. A writer’s group? A dedicated program? Drafts? Edits? You must have me confused for those other guys.
I embraced a nut-grabbing spite that, frankly, wasn’t me. I am, despite my best attempts, not the Bad Boy of Young Adult publishing. I am just a guy who should be better than I am. That’s not a unique position, but for someone who’d hoped he was a unique talent, it stings a little to be churned to the average after all.
But I found an unexpected leg up.
The more I respected the institutions I thought I hated, the better my writing got. I’d always sort of looked away from the process of writing, for as long as I could afford to. I wrote, sure, as in I typed as I thought. But that, simply, was that. I banged out commas and jokes, leaving typos like litter. And it was good! Good enough.
But there comes a time when good enough isn’t enough. There comes a time when it’s not even good.
So, reluctantly, I learned respect. I grumbled, read books, and learned. I say that all now in the past tense, but I’ve only just started. Who knows- maybe it’s a phase, or a flicker of a dream. But still, I can find dividends in trying harder.
It takes longer to write in stone, but it lasts longer too.
So, to my fellow egoists, the ambitious and anxious among me; follow my lead and bend your knee to the truth. Not in defeat, but in alliance; you will get what you give.
Hard work and focus are not outdated superstitions; they are tools to be used, paths to be followed not out of some ritual need but for true and living gains. Cliches are cliches, sure, but they exist for a reason. When one comes alive and grabs you as true, it’s like a statue coming to life — that old thing was alive? — but a spark of life exists in all the old wisdom. Work harder. Focus. Read. Edit. And if you haven’t so far, take the time to catch up now. If you’re truly as ambitious as you say you are, you’ll sacrifice your ego and face your fears to become better.
It isn’t easy, but it isn’t as hard as you think. Mostly, it’s scary. That’s the barrier that stops us, if we’re honest. But those truths remain true, and the sooner we face them, the better we’ll be. And the longer we sneer at greatness as though it’s an accident, as though it couldn’t been us, we lose out on the lessons that greatness wishes us to learn.
It’s self-centered to avoid idols. Worship greatness, outside you as well as within. Because only with that external focus will you find the tools to sharpen what’s already inside you.