On hard work and outcomes

I’m in my bathrobe in my messy bedroom taking a moment on this hectic holiday to do a bit of reading.  I’m currently reading Scratch, an anthology of essays by and interviews with writers about money.  I’m pleased to say that I’m mostly enjoying it and it’s not nearly as depressing as I feared it would be.

But I wanted to highlight one bit of life advice from the interview with Yiyun Li:

Hard work does not always pay off, which seems inevitable in life, so one has to avoid measuring outcome against effort. 

This is so important to keep in mind.  Writing a novel, or any kind of book, requires a tremendous amount of work.  I’ve already invested hundreds of hours–possibly thousands, I’d rather not calculate it–and I’ve got at least hundreds more to do.  The odds are that if I ever make any money at all off of it, it will come out to below minimum wage.

This is why the work itself must be its own reward.  There’s the pleasure of discovering the story, and of getting to know the characters.  But there’s also what I’ve learned in the process.  I’ve discovered new empathy for people entirely unlike me, and discovered more about what makes a successful story (I suspect that that’s a lesson writers never stop learning).

My feeling is that this is probably true of any endeavor.  Whether you’re starting a business or trying to become a professional artist or discover a vaccine or create an invention.  There’s a high likelihood of failure, so you’d better be sure that it’s something that you enjoy doing.

If you want a guarantee that you’ll be rich, go into finance.  Otherwise, the work itself will have to suffice.

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