Not so great

I saw this article on Lifehacker the other day about getting smarter by realizing that you’re not that great.

It reminded me that when I took on a new role at work, I had to fill out some kind of form regarding driving – or a car – or – god, who even knows anymore? It seems like forever ago. Anyhoo, my boss wrote me an email indicating that my driving record miraculously had been approved, so I responded, mock-offended, with the declaration that I am an awesome driver. Of course he was obliged to cite the same statistic that David Sivers does here. So I really I set myself up for that one.

This factoid, though, and the Dunning-Kruger Effect, remind me that there’s a delicate mental balance between the kind of semi-deluded optimism that someone doing artistic work needs to maintain in the face of the world’s overwhelming indifference and, well, realism. Am I a better-than-average fiction writer? I don’t know. I like to think so, some days, but there’s nothing like reading really great work or my own egregious drafts or racking up rejection letters to convince me otherwise.

Plus, the quality of the work, while very important, is not the only factor at play. There’s persistence, of course, and the inevitable incremental improvement it brings. There’s also luck, I think – does the story hit the right editor’s desk at the right time? The first year I worked at a small regional opera company, I was responsible for the nomination letter that won a major corporation an honor at a national conference. It sounds high falutin’, but in truth, the national organization was looking for an excuse to honor that corporation (which had just launched a major philanthropic project unrelated to my nomination). Happenstance. But I got some props for it.

And above average, below average, lucky, unlucky – I will take props where I can get them (see above re: the world’s overwhelming indifference).


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