Overnight Success

Ahh, the good life, isn’t it wonderful? All the shiny little things we like to reflect on, share with others, and dare I say it, embellish, but what of the rest of it? Human life is littered with bad moments, bad decisions, bad relationships, bad careers, and is only ever speckled with a bit of good anything, yet we remain fixated on mostly invented nonrealities.

I have an uncle who often shares that he was once listed in the publication, “Who’s Who,” as well as, embellish his role as the GM of a major pharmaceutical company in Germany. Both happened decades ago. Since then, he’s been divorced, a shitty father, an alcoholic and lived off of handouts from my recently deceased grandmother. 

Sadly, he’s an incredibly smart man with an abundance of unmet, or depending on how you look at it, thrown away potential. How did this happen? He’s perpetually lost in a deeply invented nonreality. 

Think of it this way, it’s hard to know where you’re going if you don’t know where you are.

Of course, my uncle’s an extreme example. Still, if you’re being honest with yourself, you should be able to isolate at least some instances in your own life where you’ve behaved similarly. 

For instance, it’s rare air to enter a social setting and discuss the many times you fucked up at work, yet you freely discuss your recent promotion, raise, or that paradigm shifting move you’ve made in your field. 

Promotions, raises and brilliance happen once a year, if you’re lucky, and you’re not. Most people wait years for any of those goodies to occur. As such, unless you’re seeing your friends once every few years, then you’re likely living in some version of an invented nonreality. 

Lies are easy. Truth is hard. 

Here’s a hard truth. Your life is just a series of mostly irrelevant events, cause and effect, so if you’re timeline’s invented, it will not align with the world’s. If you live in your own world, good luck finding success in the real world. 

Time’s a stubborn old immovable thing. It’s best to keep up, however, keeping up tends to be difficult when you’re not there in the first place.   

In so many ways, the now has vanished, yet funnily, we’re very much a generation that’s concerned with immediacy. I want it now. I need it now.

The world’s changing at the same pace it always has but it seems more rapid than ever. This makes sense. If you close your eyes long enough, things will look very different when you open them. 

Other important things are vanishing too, because we aren’t really present to be aware of them until it’s too late, ahem, the Amazon Rainforest. 

Almost every interesting landmark across the globe has been reduced to a photo op. Hundreds of people taking hundreds of photos to capture the moment to share on Instagram. Bizarrely, by the time you’ve taken that second photo, the moment’s passed, and so, whatever you end up sharing has become something entirely different.

Ipso facto, you haven’t captured the moment, the moment has captured you. 

If the Amazon Rainforest was an Instagram(able) location like Notre Dame, it might’ve received a little more financial aid. 

That’s cynical of course, but visibility is key. The Amazon Rainforest is an abstraction that most of us have never seen. “Lungs of the planet?” WTF. Could you be more abstract? Notre Dame, however, is a very real and visible firepit in the heart of one of the most frequently visited cities in the world. 

Surprisingly, this isn’t an article about social media, although, social media enhances the real life-threatening effects of the invented nonrealities in question. 

We spend a lot of time gazing into those little black mirrors in our hands, which are incapable of showing us a true reflection of ourselves, so what we see and when we see it, is already a distorted version of reality. It’s not all bad, but it’s not all real either.

We like this, however, perhaps without even being aware of it, because it plays into an aspect of human nature that we crave, escapism.

Whenever there’s a recession, Hollywood box office sales soar. When real life sucks, like really sucks, people flock to the movies to spend the money they don’t actually have on something that will help them get lost in another world. 

Confusingly, most of us are already lost. Interestingly, if you’ve ever paid attention to the arc of any movie, it goes like this… 

The hero has an objective, in scene after scene she overcomes obstacles that are preventing her from reaching that objective, until finally, in the very last scene, she’s been able to overcome each and every obstacle to reach her final objective. *

* Unless she changes. Sometimes she changes. The world she lives in affects her. What she thought she believed in was wrong. This is growth. These are the most interesting films. 

This is real life, and this, this is what this article is about. Real life.

Just sticking it out until the very end isn’t good enough. If you want to get anywhere meaningful in life, you’re responsible for every single step and misstep along the way.

In the same way that there are no overnight successes, there are no overnight failures. Whatever your life becomes, is a result of your own decisions. 

I spent my twenties going from one failure to the next. I found it hard to understand. I thought everything I was doing was so cool, so close, so important, and in many cases, they were, but suddenly, one after the other, they were gone. I couldn’t figure it out. I passed blame. A lot of it.

Now, in my thirties, I’ve figured it out, I’m to blame. For a long time, I didn’t learn, which is why I kept repeating the same mistakes. 

The most regrettable words I’ve ever muttered are, “I’m sorry but…”. Those are the words of a loser. Accept your failures, learn from them and move onwards. I’m fearful that in today’s world of invented nonrealities we’re making this very difficult on ourselves. When it comes to human life, it’s important to revise not edit.

We all come from different backgrounds and circumstances, but quite frankly, the world doesn’t give a shit where you came from. I have friends from very privileged backgrounds that are failures and friends from very underprivileged backgrounds that are successes.

The difference between them is honesty. 

If you’re not honest with what you are, who you are, why you are, then you simply aren’t you. Non-existence sucks. Sadly, most people when faced with non-existence double down.

I’m on the verge of succeeding for the first time in my life. It isn’t because I stuck with it long enough. It isn’t because I worked harder than others. Although, those things are important. It’s because I’ve learned over the years from previous mistakes. Most importantly, I’ve learned to be honest with myself.

I’m fallible. I’m incapable. I’m limited. I’m imperfect. This shit’s ok. We’re all like this even if we don’t always show it. If you can accept these things in yourself, you can begin moving forward, and therefore, move beyond everyone else.

For many years I’ve listened to the streetcars outside my house. Several times a day they’ll lay on the horn. I used to find this frustrating and inconsiderate.

One day, however, I was standing at the corner, and watched the driver of a streetcar. A vehicle had cut him off. He was stuck on the tracks with nowhere to go and laid on his horn. 

I watched that, and thought, this is a metaphor for what’s going on everywhere else.

How frustrating it must be for people to be stuck on the same tracks and following the same route every day. More frustrating, seeing others who have the freedom to go wherever they want. If I were that streetcar driver, I’d want to escape and live in some invented nonreality too. 

These days, whenever I hear the horns, I’m thankful I’m one of the lucky few to have the freedom to go wherever I want.

If you want that same kind of freedom in your own life, you have to be honest about where you are, in order to, know where you’re going.

It’s all sad but it’s not bad,


Author avatar
Stephen Shaw
I've worked with artists like Janet Jackson and Sammy Adams, I've helped with causes like HXOUSE and Fashion Cares, and I've consulted for brands like Adidas and Budweiser. These days I make things like Dopesite, Artful Record® and It’s All Sad™ 🌎🌍🌏

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