We keep growing. Nothing is finished. I'm a Christian, so I believe that we transcend this life in some unexplainable way, giving us more runway to improve. I could be wrong, of course, The Hindus believe in karma -- that you bring whatever you are into the next life you live. Not a bad idea that.
The HOW is as important as the WHERE you end up. You don't "make it," whatever that might mean to you or anyone else, so you should at least enjoy the journey. The work matters. The people you meet matter. You matter, as does your family. But the journey matters most, because it is life itself. Any process of "making it" must also mean acting in a way that respects and honors everything else that matters. There's an African proverb I love: "If you want to go fast, go alone; if you want to go far, go together." I'm an enemy of fast and a fan of far.
A friend in New York (thank you, Gabe) just introduced me to a great new TV show called "I'm Dying Up Here." It's about a group of stand-up comedians who work at a Los Angeles comedy club called Goldie's in the early 1970s. They're all struggling artists looking to break into the big time. In the first episode, one of the comics appears on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson, and gets invited to the couch to chat with Johnny. For comics, this was once the equivalent of winning the lottery -- you'd made the big time. The same night after the show, after the comedian goes back to his hotel room to watch the taped show and have a drink, he goes outside for a walk. During this walk, he gets hit by a bus and is killed.
That first episode hooked me. All the dead comic had was the journey. When the show flashed back in time for the following episodes, we see his journey. The friendships with other comics. The rivalries, the backbiting, the help, the mentoring, the sharing of joy and pain and the building of resilience. "I'm Dying Up Here' is really a story of the creative journey, exploring the price people are willing to pay to make the "big time," whatever the hell that is. Meanwhile, the comics live in hope and suffering and hard work that's sometimes rewarded and sometimes not.
Talent will find a way if it's joined with persistence and grit. If you don't like to suffer, you can't do anything worth doing. As a creator, I put myself into my work -- I need all that I am to produce anything worth reading. All creative people do this. Nobody wants to see somebody be a copy of someone else. Tell me what makes you who you are -- that is your art, your contribution, your impact. And do it with feeling. Play it safe and you get nowhere. That doesn't mean your pain is worth sharing or redemptive or whatever value you give it. What matters is what you do with your experiences, how you transform it into something that might be art.
I don't know where I'm going, but I have an increasingly clear idea of who I am, and the kind of people I want to work with. I'm trying to reflect that in my voice, in my work. We all must do the same -- it's the only chance we have of "making it."