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July 1st, 2024

Your Identity As A Hard Worker

  1. Your Identity As A Hard Worker Jody J. Sperling 15:00

Hard work is the lie that robs you of everything worth having, and yet, every person who has something worth having has it because of hard work. This is called a paradox. I can’t offer the key to solve the paradox, but I assure you, you don’t have to look hard to find it.

What you will have to do is accept responsibility. You must accept responsibility for yourself, yet claim no credit for your outcomes. If you are responsible for yourself, aren’t you to blame for your behaviors, both the good and the bad? The answer should be yes, but it isn’t. This too is a paradox.

Did you choose where or to whom you were born? A silly question. And yet, when you were half sperm and half egg, you had to work exceptionally hard to outcompete all the others to find yourself.

See, it’s tempting to think of ourselves as the obviously active players. We easily identify with the hardworking sperm and neglect to focus on the patient, self-actualized egg even though we are half sperm and half egg.

But science tells us the egg is a selective partner in our process. It releases chemical signals through the ovarian fluid that bias for certain sperm partners casting the whole drama of “youness” in a very different light.

The hardest working sperm might no more get the egg than the earliest bird gets the worm, because the bird who waits on the rain is partnered with greater forces.

Your failures might not be because you are too young, the wrong race, the incorrect political affiliation, the enemy religion, or because you have the wrong amount of money. It might be because so far you lack what’s needed to succeed. You may not have met your egg. You may be living through a drought.

But just as you might be starting to think the answer is serendipity, luck, uncontrollable, a paradoxical lash flays your back, because a sperm who never swims, can find no egg, and the bird who never hunts can never enjoy the rain.

Moreover, the more dedicated the hunt, the more committed the pursuit, the greater the likelihood of treasure–of success, which is why most people will find what they need to succeed through hard work.

Still, saying hard work is the key is suggesting that the outcome is predictable and measurable, and success is neither predictable nor measurable.

Here again is the truth: Your life will change for the better to the degree that you embrace the joy of doing and deny the high of achieving.

Why does joy depend on doing rather than having? I could give you the answer but then you’d have nothing to do, and I would never—by choice—rob you of your joy. Just the opposite. I long that we all live in our joy.

It reminds me of the 2016 Chicago Cubs. When they won the World Series that year, I felt pure elation for twenty minutes, perhaps less. The emotional high then flittered away and by the next morning I returned to baseline.

Contrast that with the 2016 MLB season, I frequently felt elated watching the #Cubs win and win. They dominated the competition at nearly every level, and the only real slump of the season happened around the All Star Break. Each win felt good, but the growing dominance, the team pulling away, the bats, the gloves, the smiles, it infected me.

Then the 2017 season rolled in. We brought in some new talent, lost some old talent, and sat poised to repeat. The 2017 #Cubs started the season so spectacularly. I remember telling Ashley they were the comeback kings. Nothing kept them down, until they failed to pull off that last-inning rally.

Once the magic rally run ended, the team disintegrated, losing both its chemistry and its joy. Suddenly, the narrative was all on World Series 2017. Could the team repeat? Could they even make it? What player would have to step up to be the difference-maker. Winning became the bar. What was done was judged, and impossible pressure was put on the doing, because anything less than victory was unimaginable.

By the end of the Cubs 2017 regular season, I had a heavy heart. The team won their division, but it felt like a wounded warrior limping off the battlefield, and the playoffs proved that feeling true.

Each season since 2017, the Cubs have felt, to my emotions, like failures. I feel like a terrible fan, and I wish I could recapture the feeling I had for the team from childhood on through 2015. I miss saying, and meaning, “There’s always next year” when you could look forward to them doing better.

My journey as a Cubs fan mirrors the journey we all have in life. It’s always best when we’re focused on what we are doing and oblivious to where we mean to get.

And let’s not race past an important part of the journey. There’s an old saying, “It takes a village” that has been mostly forgotten in today’s culture. For the most part, we don’t live village-style lives any longer. Instead, we live in suburbs, cities and walled-off multiplexes, cut off from eachother. Backyard patios and privacy fences have replaced front porches, and because of that, we forget that our neighbors have a cup of sugar when we don’t. Our neighbors have wisdom for our children. Our neighbors can hug and high five when we win, and comfort us when we lose, and we in turn can be fans of our neighbors’ lives.

Though it’s popular in today’s culture to dis on people who dress in team gear and speak as if they’re part of a team, fandom is more powerful than we like to imagine. I never suited up for the Major League squad, but I call the team “we”, and you can’t convince me I’m not part of them.

From the simple economics of gear—my Cubs hat provides funding for the team owner to pay his players—to the collective voice that steers a team’s personnel decisions, fans play a massive part in a team’s success.

Fans are part of the team. Readers are part of the book, viewers are part of the movie. We did this. See, your favorite book is also someone else’s favorite book. And if you think about it, you brag about your favorite book whenever you have the opportunity. If you didn’t brag about the book, it wouldn’t find as many readers. Brag about it enough, and it might find a new level of success. That book wins because you’re part of its team.

My father took me to Cubs games, making of me a lifelong fan. I gave to my son THE STAND, making of him a lifelong Stephen King fan. The Cubs only exist because of people like my dad and I, and Stephen King only wrote THE STAND because of people like my son and I.

Fans matter. Fans matter so much, no good thing can ever achieve success without a fanbase.

And consider the alternative.

We all know that person who has jaw-dropping talent. Their paintings are so detailed the canvas seems alive. Their stories are so Moving they could make Andrew Tate cry in front of a crowd of high-value chicks. And yet, those exceptional talents can’t find an audience for their work even when the price to enjoy it is free-ninety-nine.

You read that, and you’re tempted to say these artists got a bad break, and these artists want you to feel that way. They’ll say things like, “The cream rises to the top,” or they’ll claim the masses are growing dimmer every passing day. They’ll say great art doesn’t pander, and that is their choice.

Everyone can choose to be wrong.

Reality is more nuanced. Noise is misleading. “Doing work” is the present tense conjugation of “statistics.” “Positivity” and “mindset” are the future-tense of “Doing work”.

An artist with massive talent who works hard to produce exceptional art may be found by an ideal fan, beginning a chain reaction that results in the artist’s discovery by the masses.

In another universe, that same artist may never meet the ideal fan and die obscure and poor.

A different artist may have moderate talent and massive work ethic may choose to do all his painting on a busy street corner where he is seen by the masses. At some point he may accrue enough minor recognition from the flow of humanity passing his canvases that the news runs a story on him and he gains some little notoriety. After a time, that notoriety could grow into a great fame.

Or the same artist in an alternate universe may never have his work covered by the news and labor away in obscurity.

A third artist may have laughable limitations in skill, but superhuman powers of human persuasion and charm. This artist will spend little time on his work and much time rubbing elbows with others. He’ll benefit from many people assuming their eyes must lack refinement, and he will be presented to all the rich and powerful, going on to enjoy lavish paychecks and gargantuan successes.

Or this third artist in some other reality may have the bad luck to face off against a highly-respected and equally persuasive critic who reveals the shitty paintings for what they are, forever ending the chances of that artist’s rise to fame.

Fans matter. They’re part of the team. And players (artists, authors, actors) they matter too: the egg and the sperm.

But if now you’re tempted to say the outcome is the goal, let’s crush that foolishness with the most important truth. Artists one, two, and three, in universes A, B, and C all have the same chances at joy, and you can’t ignore the significance of that reality.

An easy way to test this is to consider the following: Would you rather have ten million dollars and global fame but feel miserable about your life and exist in poor health, or would you rather have a million dollars and a small, loving fanbase that you enjoyed daily, surrounded by friends and family, laughter, and good health? If in both scenarios, you were happy, which would you prefer to have? If in either scenario you were miserable, what would you rather have?

So realize, money and fame are great but joy is the treasure.

And where is joy found? It’s found in doing. When you recognize where joy is found, it only makes sense to seek it above all else. To the world, this will probably look like you working really, really hard. But to yourself, this will probably look like you having crazy amounts of fun.

Beware! You’re perilously close to the worst misunderstanding of all, because your fun over a long enough timeframe is extremely likely to deliver you dream outcomes. Fame, fortune, adoration, and if you forget that the present tense of “statistics” is “doing work” you might be tempted to think these two terms are different words all together.

That would be a devastating misunderstanding. Because you then will be tempted to conjugate the future tense of “hard work” with “positive outcomes” when in fact the present tense of “positive outcomes” is “who-the-hell-knows”.

By all means, work hard. Work very hard at something you love doing and you’ll always be happy. Along the way, resist caring about the outcomes, though a word of caution.

If you only work hard on the things that come naturally to you, you’ll be vulnerable to bitterness. Finding fans, building your team is confusing, sometimes humiliating, and always unpredictable, and if you focus on growing the fanbase, you’re in clear outcome-seeking territory, but likewise, if you ignore your team, your fans or the lack thereof, you’re in clear wish-for-the-best territory. Neither place can sustain joy because they’re both based on outcomes.

Thankfully, there’s a home for joy inside this paradox. Let the place where you are be the map for where you mean to go, and recognize that the place where you are is easiest to see through the eyes of those who see you now. If you lack fans, what are you doing to change that? If you’re experiencing negative feedback, what are you doing to change that? Do you need to change that? Is it an opportunity to change course or to change audience or something else entirely?

You may find that negative comments reinforce the rightness of your journey, in which case you’re showing up for the wrong people. Or you may find that negative comments reveal the gap in your mastery and serve to focus you on skill acquisition.

On the other hand, you may be tempted to bask in the warmth of fan adulation, but upon examination see that your fans share a love for a message in your work that represents something you hate. Perhaps, then, you’re best served by shifting your message to clarify, or of speaking directly to the misled fans, even though it’ll likely harm your outcomes.

In either case, you can only find joy by using the map, not by analyzing the best way to positive outcomes. Always ask, am I where I want to be today? If not, how do I shift course. Never ask, is this behavior getting me where I want to go? Because the answer to that question will always betray you, stealing your peace and your joy.

Becoming A Household Name is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support my work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.

Get full access to Becoming A Household Name at jodyjsperling.substack.com/subscribe

Jody J Sperling Novelist and Podcast Host
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