Now, when I write stuff like yesterday’s post, people always say, “Oh, Rahul, you’re so pessimistic. You can’t succeed if you don’t try!”
But I don’t think I am pessimistic at all. It’s just a fact. The vast, vast majority of people who want to become creative professionals are going to fail. And it’s not because of the marketplace or anything like that. It’s just the nature of the beast. The number of creatives that the world needs does not scale up linearly with population. If the population doubles, people don’t watch twice as many shows; they just have twice as many people watching the same shows (obviously, this isn’t exactly true—it’s more like 1.4 times as many people watching 1.4 times as many shows). However, the number of people who want to be actors does double. Thus, you have 2x the people competing for 1.4x the spots. Thus, as time goes on, it becomes harder and harder to become a media personality (a thousand years ago, every village had its own rock star: the town skald or Homeric orator or whatever. Whereas nowadays your story-telling neighbor is just seen as a crushing bore).
So yeah, it’s a fact. Most people who want to succeed in a creative endeavor will fail. There are a hundred ways to succeed, but there are a thousand ways to fail. You can do everything right and still just not be good enough. A few days ago, an acquaintance forwarded me this article about all the non-traditional things you can do to succeed in your art. And I loved the article, but I hated the way it implied that if you’re creative and quirky and dedicated then you will succeed, because that’s just false. Articles like this never bother to find people who followed all their rules but still failed; those people are invisible, but they are legion.
And this is where people are like, “Oh, Rahul. You’re so pessimistic. Why are you so depressing about all this stuff? Why can't you just let people follow their dreams...?”
But I’m not pessimistic. I consider myself to be an optimistic, because I believe very strongly that in the future, I will continue to find ways to: a) be happy; and b) get sufficient food, shelter, and leisure time.
These are not difficult thing to achieve, but they are at the core of what life is about. Furthermore, the fact that they’re not difficult is exactly why I think I’ll achieve them. Most Americans are fairly happy and most Americans have sufficient food, shelter and leisure time. Since I’m more fortunate and capable than most Americans, I think I ought to be able to do at least as well as the average.
That, to me, is a very joyous and optimistic worldview.
On the other hand, I find it to be profoundly pessimistic and depressing when someone (and our society, in general) acts in a way that suggests they will not be happy or satisfied with their life if they are not able to achieve something that they only have a 1 in 100 shot of achieving. That’s a recipe for disaster!
So, in order to get back to the mainpoint of this blog post, I will say that I don’t think it’s stupid to enter a humanities grad program. However, I do think that people should be cognizant of the likely scenario: in ten years, you’re probably going to be applying for the same kinds of jobs that you could get right now.
But really, what’s the problem with that? Having a higher-status job isn’t the cure to all of life’s ills. If you enjoy your studies, then that feels like it’s worthwhile in and of itself.
(For what it’s worth, I’ve heard a ton of Ph.D horror stories. It seems like they are, more often than not, quite miserable. I think comparatively more people like their MFAs. From my perspective, the MFA is great. The workload is light and the people are good. It’s been like a year-long vacation).