You’ll Never Get There
“Art is the kind of marathon where you cross the finish line and instead of getting a medal placed around your neck, the volunteers roughly grab you by the shoulders and walk you over to the starting line of another marathon.”
The Jimi Hendrix Experience had just set their path in London, determined to be the next big thing. It was all coming along together, and it was a moment that was too good to be true, for Hendrix, especially — Back in America he would only have a “wish sandwich” to eat — Two pieces of bread, and a wish that there was something in between them.
He was a man who constantly had music playing in his mind. He was that kid in school who always carried a broom around with him and pretended that it was a guitar, to the point that the school social worker actually wrote his father a letter, requesting him to buy him a real guitar — For fear that leaving him without one would result in psychological damage.
Excited, Jimi Hendrix picked up the telephone and called his father back at home. He was in London now, he told his father. Unmoved, his father asked him, “Who did you mug? Whose money did you steal to pay for your tickets?”
Hendrix stood in silence for a moment and hung up the telephone. “I always regretted making that call,” he later confessed to a friend.
In his rapid ascent to fame and legacy, Hendrix had everything a simple man could wish for. He had not just the money, but was looked up to as the greatest instrumentalist in rock music, even long after his uneventful death.
But he just wasn’t happy. One thing that he believed was that once he’d made a name for himself, life would change — Everyone would love him for who he was, everyone would treat him kindly. It was this belief that he carried in him as he became growingly disillusioned with the world, eventually joining the 27 Club — A “club” of famous artists who died young, at the age of 27.
A dear friend of his lamented, “He so needed to be treated as a human being and not a star.”
I guess in some ways, all of us have had a grand vision of how things would be, how life would change after we’ve achieved something that we had hungrily longed for. We think of it as our ultimate finish line. But sooner or later our moments of excitement fade into silent discontent, where as much as we try to conceal this feeling, it’s just there — The feeling of, “Is this all there is?” — Because things don’t change much, do they?
And that’s totally okay. Because that’s not how life is supposed to work — Progress is what actually makes us happy — Knowing that in whatever areas in our life, we’re improving.
How often do you hear of an artist who creates a new great work after he’s crafted what he calls his magnum opus? In most cases, very rarely. And also, think of how quickly a person actually ages and deteriorates after retirement — Because she stops growing, because she stops putting herself in challenging situations.
The great writer John Steinbeck, for example, had massive doubts about accepting his Nobel Prize in Literature because to him, that meant as a mausoleum to all of his writings — He was afraid that he’d come to feel that his work was done — The world was celebrating his legacy, it was time for him to fold the tent.
Am I saying that you shouldn’t celebrate your success? Heck no.
By all means, do so. But you can’t stay there for long.
Steve Jobs’s advice for creators was that, if you do something and it turns out pretty good, then you should go do something else that’s wonderful, and not dwell on it for too long. Just keep figuring out what’s next, and what’s next after that, and what’s next after that.
He also brilliantly said, “Real artists ship” — It means that artists don’t work only when they feel like it. They work not only because it’s part of their being, but because they keep things professional — They meet deadlines, they try their best not to compromise on what the job requires them to do.
Think of Saturday Night Live — The thing is to go live every Saturday night, without fail. Sometimes the show suffers, of course, but that’s a gazillion times better than waiting for perfect opportunities that may never come.
Keep doing the work, and occasionally a great one comes out.
Do no work, and nothing comes out.
Behind That Curtain of Bravado
“Do not believe that he who seeks to comfort you lives untroubled among the simple and quite words that sometimes do you good. His life has much difficulty and sadness and remains far behind yours. Were it otherwise he would never have been able to find those words.”
Rainer Maria Rilke
I always find myself overthinking as I try to sleep at night, doing what I can to ignore the deluge of words and images that are playing in my mind. “You’ll feel better in the morning. Now, please. Sleep,” I’d tell myself.
But it doesn’t turn out that way. I’d just wake up feeling deep in my gut how nice it would be if I could be asleep and not wake up for a month or two. It’s a battle of will that I have to fight so often, just to go on with today.
These are some of the things in my life that are too ugly to be shared on social media, or to be told to anyone, for that matter, if I’m honest.
“You’re not a horrible person. You’re just facing a difficult situation, and that’s it. What you’re going through right now doesn’t make you any less of the beautiful person I know you are. I promise you.”
That was an advice that I gave. While it probably made me sound like a strong-willed man, it wasn’t an easy thing to say — Because deep inside I know it’s true, not only for the one receiving that advice, but for almost everyone, even myself. Those aren’t just words meant to comfort someone in her time of hardship, but they’re words that I’d use to tell myself too — Because they don’t come from a sunny place. They come from a worn-out, beaten path where I was near giving up on myself, on who I want to be.
Isn’t that what life is supposed to be like? It has its ups and downs. Everyone has their own tailored tragedies that they have to learn to fly above, to overcome. I’m not facing anything unusual for a living person.
It’s necessary sometimes to remember that it’s life and life only. Everything will be okay. Whatever you’re facing, it’s a just a moment in your life. It isn’t who you are. It doesn’t define you.
Whatever mistakes you’ve done, you can learn from them. Better yet, whatever you can’t change, you can turn them into your unfair advantage. More often that not, a long way from now, the thing that’s tugging on your sleeve at the moment might just turn out to be something that you’ll be immensely grateful for in the future — Because it made you a lot stronger, it taught you many invaluable things that you wouldn’t have learned if you just read or listened about it.
The German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche once said, “My formula for greatness in a human being is amor fati (love of fate) : that one wants nothing to be different, not forward, not backward, not in all eternity. Not merely bear what is necessary, still less conceal it…But love it.”
I find this incredibly fascinating — Here it is, a formula for greatness. And being a Muslim, it’s part of my beliefs. It’s a tenet of our faith — To believe in fate — That everything happens under the perfect wisdom of God. What reason do I have to not believe that everything will be fine, that I’m in good hands?
But then again, it’s too simple to say these things, yet a lot harder to act on.
Though one thing I know for sure, is that it’s worth it. You just have to believe me.