Success < Happiness?
By Alisha Giampola (Actor)
I think I was sipping on a fruity alcoholic beverage and sunning myself by a pool somewhere in Bali when I leaned over to Daniel and said: "Do you think we would be super famous right now if we just had really unsupportive families?"
We were on our honeymoon, and my honeymoon reading completely consisted of comedian-autobiographies. This is a genre that seems limiting, but in fact has more than enough reading material for two 25-hour long flights and some intermittent pool-relaxation time. I had already finished Tina Fey's excellent Bossypants, as well as Are You There Vodka, It's Me Chelsea by Chelsea Handler (I know, I know, I'm basically the last person on earth to finish these books). I had moved on to Steve Martin's memoirs of his early career: Born Standing Up, and had realized that while neither Fey nor Handler experienced enormously detrimental parental influences (although one might argue that point in Chelsea's case), Steve Martin basically fueled his early success by attempting to get some kind, any kind, even the smallest bit, of positive attention from his emotionally absent father.
Since my parents are, and have always been, essentially the total opposite of "emotionally absent", I was curious if my relatively easygoing career pace had something to do with this. Don't get me wrong, I am a motivated person, but I don't have the kind of motivation that is single-minded, desperate to succeed NOW, at any cost, to the detriment of health, finances and personal relationships, that often seems to accompany very very successful young people. Steve Martin didn't have time for anything but his career for years- neither did the Beatles, neither does Lady Gaga, and even if it wasn't originally their idea, neither did the Olsen twins.
Don't for a minute think that I am suggesting that parental absence and/or neglect guarantees a propulsion to stardom. The opposite condition that occurs, of course, is documented extensively on the addictive (ha) television show Intervention. When watching an episode, Daniel and I always like to joke that the minute the dad shows up in the story (or doesn't, often the dad is absent even from the intervention process), you find out why the person became so horribly addicted to drugs and/or alcohol. It seems that daddy issues can equally create a future methamphetamene addict, or a future eight-time Grammy winner.
So back to my original musing. Have I and others of my generation been let down by our loving, supportive, front-row-sitting parents? Studies have shown that kids born in the 80's were widely encouraged to follow their passions, whatever they may be, and have often resulted in career dissatisfaction as the kids grow up and are surprised to find that work, even in the field of their choice, isn't always the most fun thing to do every minute of the day. Unless you somehow find an actual paying job in "Sitting Around Eating Chocolate", which, let's be real, probably would get exhausting at some point just like everything else.
Can our generation get it together and find a balance between finding meaningful work but also actually working meaningfully? Does the fact that I had all these thoughts while relaxing on a honeymoon funded by incredibly supportive friends and family after enjoying a beautiful wedding also primarily funded by our very loving and supportive parents an indication that I have a little bit of guilt about this issue? Maybe. Personally I am enjoying being young enough to do work that interests me, in a field I love, whatever form that may take. I realize, however, that almost all work in the theatre, both in front of and behind the scenes, is incredibly transient. I think it requires a lot of guts and tenacity to continue to pursue anything you're passionate about, whether you've been encouraged to do so or not. And that brings us to WHY my question was even about becoming "super successful" in the first place. To me, being super successful sounds, well, fun.
I think what is so startling about these studies is the suggestion that the findings all indicate some level of entitlement. Our generation creates terrible workers, because we don't feel like doing the boring elements of our jobs- and that includes creative jobs. Because before you have a book, you have to sit down and write; before a Tony-award-winning performance, there's the rote memorization of the lines; before a masterpiece is hung in a gallery, someone has to mix the paints. Maybe our generation was encouraged to believe that by following our dreams, we would find work that was constantly fun- but what we don't always realize is that fun must be sought out, and sometimes created from thin air.
One of the reasons people follow their passions, especially a passion for the arts, is because they believe they will be happiest doing so. But so often the path of a performer, an artist, a writer, is difficult and slow and long and full of awkward detours into bartending and babysitting and working at gyms, none of which feel like they have any bearing on the happiness we were hoping would appear when we began pursuing our artistic dreams. For anyone who has ever felt this way, I recommend this fascinating TED talk by Harvard psychologist Dan Gilbert in which he explains the endurance of working to create happiness for yourself: "Synthetic happiness is every bit as real and enduring as the kind of happiness you stumble upon when you get exactly what you were aiming for." I daresay that the mythical monkey who will someday write Hamlet on a typewriter won't find any joy in it. The job of the artist is to never become a monkey with a typewriter. We must find joy in every moment of the creative process and remember that for the most fulfilled people, just the day-to-day grind of achieving greatness can be much more thrilling than having greatness simply thrust upon them.