How To Align Your Own Stars

Recently I was talking to one of my sons about his future. (We talk Big Picture around here.) He’s a bright child and has high aspirations. However, it seemed to me that he was waiting for it to all fall in place one day—a dream rather than a goal. In my most gentle, motherly voice I said, “You have to MAKE it happen.”

I learned that from Twitter.

And Malcolm Gladwell, and my mother, and life in general, I suppose. I referenced Malcolm Gladwell’s book, The Outliers, and my son casually pulled an unread copy from his bookshelf. So he’s not clueless, he’s just busy being a kid. I summarized it like this: “It takes 10,000 hours to be really good at something. Spend the first three hours reading the book.”

“I began writing novels in 2007,” she says with a sheepish smile. “Why am I not published yet?”

Every writerly blog I now read describes my story to a T on their What Not To Do blogs. It’s laughable because I know that there is so much more to know, and I hope to keep learning until the day I die (another 30 or 40 years, please).  Years from now I’ll re-read this post and laugh at my self-proclaimed wisdom on 7/18/11. But I am nothing if not persistent. Just today, for instance, I discovered ROW80, and in trying to add their badge to this blog, I discovered bunches of other cool stuff to add. I feel so professional! I’m sure somewhere out there is a blog about how to create blog, but I haven’t found it yet. But today I am one step closer to being a professional writer.

When I was an art dealer, many of my artists asked me how to become rich and famous. My answer was, “The tools are easy; it’s the details that’ll kill ya.” Here are the stars that must align to become successful in any career:

1. Talent: The more natural your aptitude, the less effort it will take, but fortunately talent can be learned. After an honest and concerted effort, consult multiple experts in your field and ask them for advice and if they think you have talent. Whether or not you listen to what they say depends on your passion for your chosen goal. Don’t give up too soon!  However, there are some  instances where it’s better to change your goals than kill yourself trying to be successful at a pipe dream; i.e. a wannabe basketball star might become a coach; a wannabe painter might try sculpture; a wannabe novelist might write non-fiction. Remember: There’s a fine line between persistence and insanity—at some point, reality should prevail.
2. Time: Winning the lottery is the ubiquitous example of people looking for the shortcut. But even those who win the lottery have usually been playing for years and paying thousands of dollars along the way. Imagine if you spent all that time and money on education, training or buying books to read about making yourself successful instead of putting all your hope in randomness. 10,000 hours = 40 hr/week for 5 years. Or, if your doing this in your spare time, 10,000 hours = 20 hr/week for 10 years. READ. PRACTICE. BE PATIENT.
3. Luck: Ah, lady luck. Oprah doesn’t believe in luck. Well, Oprah, I do. Yes, I believe we can make our own luck through preparation, but I was repeatedly amazed in the art world when the right collector stumbled upon the right piece by the right artist; bought the piece; showed it to other collectors and museum people; and the artist’s career took off.

Success. Simple as that.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have a few more hours to put in.

Is Money Good or Bad?

This past week my husband and I went to Boston to visit my oldest son, Ryan, who is near completion of his Master’s degree in Music Composition at the New England Conservatory. He composes “Contemporary Classical” music.

Unfortunately, the inevitable question arose: What will you do post-graduation? (i.e. How are you going to pay your rent and buy food as a young composer with a disdain for commercial music?) The discussion turned (quickly) to how much money a person needs to survive and the importance of following one’s passion.

There is a pie chart, figuratively speaking, about the balance of Talent, Drive, and Money when it comes to raising a “successful” child, which of course leads directly to them becoming “successful” adults. If children are given too much money, it can squeeze out their drive to hone their talents. Conversely, children of little means often are forced to focus on their talents (e.g. good grades leading to scholarships, or basketball skills leading to being drafted by the NBA).

Then we moved on to whether money squelches the highest quality creative talent or lets it shine. Who is more likely to be the next Mozart or J.K. Rowling? Someone who must succeed in order to feed his/her family? Or someone who has no pressure to feed his/her family?

The deeper I get into the world of writing and publishing, the more respect I have for people who are able to complete books while working full-time and raising a family. I don’t think I could have done that with four young sons and eventually my art gallery. It wasn’t until I closed my gallery and my three oldest boys were in college that I dove head first into writing. I am fortunate to have both a husband and father who have been very successful and provided me with the means to follow my passions (first the art world, now writing). And this leads to our conclusion:

Of the figurative pie chart, which element is the strongest for you? In the case of my son, Ryan, and myself, our passion (and hopefully talent) for creating overpowers money. He and I (and my son Elliott who is also a writer) will always compose/write no matter what our bank accounts say; it’s in our blood and our hearts.

But thankfully, for now, we aren’t starving artists.