Last week, I felt a brief shiver of glee as I listened to an established standup comic and television host W. Kamau Bell discuss his crippling addiction to pornography.
To be clear, I wasn’t relishing in his pain. Really, I was just happy that Bell was willing to lay his vulnerabilities bare so that someone dealing with the same issues could be inspired by his ability to reach incredible heights of success in spite of his addictions.
See, I get off on failure.
And no, it’s not on some Schadenfreude shit. One of the greatest motivators in my life is a good failure story from someone who has gone on to achieve greatness. These are the stories that remind me that, no, I am not the only person in the entire world to be disappointed or feel like I’ve royally fucked up. A failure story helps me realize that a setback can make for a compelling tale later in life.
A year after I graduated from college, I experienced the first of many major fail moments.
I was in the throes of a lengthy recruiting process for a dream job. I’d devoted months of my life to rounds of interviews and had spent mornings, afternoons, and nights preparing, convinced I had it in the bag. Then bottom fell out. Eventually a recruiter explained over the phone that round gajillion of in-person interviews was over, not because I’d finally won but because the company decided to put a hold on recruiting for the year. I listened from my bedroom floor as my dream job disappeared.
As much as that experience sucked, I’m so thankful my introduction to the unfairness of the adult world wasn’t as vile as Chef Marcus Samuelsson’s.
At age 21, he traveled over 24 hours to France for a job he was hired for, only to be fired because his Swedish name belied his Ethiopian heritage. He had to fly back home from France and deal with the shame of facing the friends and family. He said that moment was the biggest disappointment of his life.
When I listened to Samuelsson tell this tale on Aisha Tyler’s Girl on Guypodcast there was no trace of bitterness in his tone. He didn’t allow himself to be held back by devastating loss. And eventually, at age 24, Samuelsson became the youngest executive chef at New York-based Scandinavian restaurant Aquavit. In 2008 he cooked for the president.
Another fail story recently reduced me to tears.
I took my little cousin to see “Katy Perry: Part of Me” and about halfway through the film Perry’s little brother David Hudson shared a story that was all too familiar, “I think the lowest point in her life was when she called me–her sixteen year old brother–and asked me for money.”
At that time in her life, Perry was living in LA and had supposedly “made it.” But in spite of her talents, she was shuffled from record company to record company, languishing under the misdirection of label executives who wanted Katy to be everything from the next Avril Lavigne to the next Ashlee Simpson.
Like Perry, there was a period of my life when my future seemed really murky. I was jobless, in a “lost” period. The dearth of funds in my bank account forced me to bury my pride and ask my brother to borrow money. It was my “lowest point” too. I had to will myself to not become a blubbering fool during the gorgeous shots in the film of Katy Perry rising to the stage–showered in glittering lights and grasping her microphone like an Olympic torch.
Katy had gone from asking a teenager for money to the deafening screams of thousands of manic fans.
As I sat in my seat at the theater, I started visualizing a life in which I will someday be surrounded by the tangible and intangible trappings of my success – minus pop stardom, of course. It reminded me that road to success is bumpy as hell. And that I’ve faced the very same road blocks as a rockstar.
Since graduation, I’ve tried on all sizes of jobs that don’t quite fit (lots of positions with titles that end in assistant, in industries like online editorial, marketing, PR, nonprofit administration). Walking this meandering path gets extremely tiring, especially in the moments when it feels like a labyrinth.
I just want to know what I am supposed to be when I grow up already! But I know that make take some time.
Take Jon Hamm for example. At one of my many jobs, there were days I was convinced that the monotony of Excel spreadsheets would be the death of me, but visions of Don Draper as a soft-core porn shoot set dresser danced in my head. Where you start in life doesn’t determine where you end up.
I can’t wait to check off my list of goals to be achieved by the end of 2014. And I am anticipating the unadulterated joy I will feel when I step into a role that is tailor made for me. And in this trying period that is my quarter-life crisis, the stories of people who have excelled in spite of difficult circumstances keep me going.
What are the tales of misfortune that motivate you?