The Fuckery of Success

by Ian Tingen

The longer I live in California, the more enamored I am with the idea that it (especially LA and SF) is the best bastion of the American Dream. Anything is possible here, literally. No matter the endeavor, hard work and persistent iteration in service of vision can pay off. The smartest parents and mentors here don’t tell their wards “be this” or “don’t be that”. They tell them: “find the people doing what you want to do”. This is not to say that problematic barriers exist for many – but they are lower here than anywhere else.

Even so, this diversity of opportunity has a drawback. Success stories are often ostentatious here, and this allows many to assume the myth of the Lone Creator (America’s biggest social fetish) is how success is created. It’s not.

Nobody succeeds on their own. It’s a fact: no one person contains the full breadth of resources and labor to will Something New and successful into existence (1). Perhaps even more pernicious than the ‘success = Lone Creator’ dogma is the common follow-up that ‘lack of success = loser’. This is also not true.

Time and again, people are told ‘failure is not an option’. I concur. Failure is not an option – it’s unavoidable. Every success is built on a scaffold of failure. Whether it’s rookie mistakes, unintended consequences, defeat despite perfect planning, or whatever – everybody loses.

Jean-Truth Picard

Everyone fails until they succeed. This is where you come in. Even if you’re the most committed pragmatist on Earth, you can help the daring persevere.

Endurant effort is a risky and vicious cycle. To get out, one must either succeed or (understandably) succumb to security’s allure elsewhere. Not everyone has the variety of resources (2) necessary to keep trying. To work so that a New Thing can exist takes a particular brand of off-kilter hope-laced endurant bravado that the human addiction to pragmatism strangles in most. The black pitch of failure that stains the stories of Los Angeles also supports the sword of Damocles hanging above every new endeavor. It’s why people always hustle here. Every moment is a Schroedinger’s pregnancy of success-or-not.

If the above lines sound like an anxiety-inducing existential fever dream of terror, that’s okay. The business of New Things is not for everyone – and there’s no shame in that. The important question for most, however, is not ‘Should I dare to make New Things?’ The important question is ‘Have I benefitted from someone else’s daring?’

Have you ever been moved by a film that someone poured their life into? Have you ever had your ass saved by a piece of software that a group cobbled together because they wanted others to have options they didn’t? Have you ever benefitted from another’s artistic vision, creative ingenuity, or engineering prowess (3)?

If so, it’s time to give back to the system that gave to you. It’s time to invest what you can in who you can. I guarantee there is someone in your life right now who needs something you can provide – find them. If you can’t identify anyone, then go to Kickstarter, indiegogo, or another crowdfunding site and browse the dreams there. Find a team worth an email introduction to someone in your network, a $20 donation, or a spa day. Show the bravest among us that there’s a reason to keep going. A bit of security goes a long way (4). Even if your investment doesn’t immediately pay off, you’re supporting a mindset that does.



(1) Some among us denigrate the importance of community in building  people, art, products or businesses. I really dislike the derision with which some of my more Galtian friends sarcastically hiss “It takes a village? As if!” or “You didn’t build that? YES I DID!” I could get pedantic about publicly-funded schools, roads, and infrastructure that intersect EVERY creator / entrepreneur / whatever-the-fuck title. That’s just the opening salvo in a panoply of arguments that put a hitch in the giddyup of the Lone Creator myth. I’ve been feeling ranty, lately though – so let’s just say that no matter the innovation, people and social structures necessarily aid and abet the birth of New Things.

Sub-note: Don’t look at the sea of failed ventures out there and write people off. They’re just learning how to do their thing better.

(2) Success is built on a wide set of resources / power bases. Not everyone has equal access to all of them, and people building New Things should be careful to reinforce their gaps. Likewise, if you’re looking to support someone’s endeavor, be aware that you can offer more than just money and moral support.

My (biased) list of resources:

social / network: it’s not what you know, it’s who
mental: the smartest people don’t depend on what they know, they find what they don’t
financial: if you’ve got the right people and the right vision, you need resources
emotional: you have to take care of yourself, period
physical: your body carries you mind, and thus, your dreams – take care of it

(3) Yes, you have.

(4) Someday, we might get our act together and enact a minimum guaranteed salary for our populace – something that will mitigate the risk of building New Things for many. Until that day, we have to push to actively support New Things ourselves – and that means supporting those who dare when and where we cannot.


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