Hey look, I’m not starting this with a definition! What that word means to us will change depending on our reality, age, culture, ambition, maybe even gender and hundreds of other factors. To some it might be the simple act of starting something, let alone finishing anything, or it needs to be something bigger, a certain level of fame, acknowledgment or respect. We set goals and have dreams and if we don’t reach those arbitrary marks, have we not achieved anything? We can look at it cynically, or practically. It can so easily turn negative if the world doesn’t bow down to the talent and greatness we so firmly believe we possess. Or, we can understand that any exterior acceptance of our work is 99% out of our control. No matter our alleged greatness, we just might have shitty timing (pandemic anyone?)
Why does it even matter? The simple answer, and that’s pretty much all I’m working with here, is that it’s some kind of reflection of self-worth. If we haven’t ‘achieved’ some level of ‘success’ then we are somehow less-than. If someone else has ‘achieved’ more than us, maybe even, goddess forbid, someone we feel is not as good as us, then that is a direct attack on our person. If we watch others making one thing after another we might feel left out – regardless of the quality of that work. The problem with most of this is that just as we can move the goal posts to justify our ‘failures’, they can also move on their own, always just out of reach, never allowing us to breathe.
When we are un-seen, we can become resentful, we can lash out at systems for not seeing us, criticize and insult others who we feel might have slighted us or ‘achieved’ more than us with their mediocre drivel. If institutions are blind to us, we need to raise our voices and do what we can to force them to see us, that is a practical and necessary reaction. In that case, it is a fault in the system to not see what/who/where we are, not for who we are internally, as a unique individual but who we are externally as a category. The cynical side of this is that it’s about us, personally. We are being attacked or ignored for some unknown, possibly vindictive, reason. Unfortunately, there is documented truth of the first example, and possibly truth in the second. Maybe we are not liked by some, maybe we’ve burnt a bridge (or many), maybe we don’t place ourselves into situations where we can be seen. The first is on them, the second is on us.
I’ve talked about this in my classes, letting students know that we have to do what we do pathologically, because they might never ‘make it’ and if that’s the goal, prepare for disappointment. That they should make anything and everything they want, but, make that work for themselves and not for some angle to ‘get ahead’. Now, this isn’t to say that we won’t take a job or create something we’re not 100% passionate about, we still have to live, but it’s in over-selling the results to ourselves when things get dark. When what we hope to happen doesn’t, we can look at it practically and understand that it was out of our hands, or we can get cynical and blame the universe for not seeing our brilliance.
As I continue to create and continue to struggle to get that work seen, I’ve had to continually reassess what achievement means to me. And now, in this bizarre world we find ourselves in, where we’re seeing brilliant ideas on-line daily, groups sending out submissions and creating new, imaginative platforms (timing can also have an up-side), I’ve had to keep asking the question. I’ve also had to admit, grudgingly, that if I stopped writing, never made another play, no-one would really care. So, what am I trying to achieve? I don’t know. It is connected to self-worth as I am what I do. There are some who caution against this, and with reason, but what I do is very much a reflection of who I am. When the work happens, I happen, when the work is alive, I am alive. If I’m not dreaming… I don’t even want to think about that. But what I’ve begun to do is shift what ‘achievement’ means. It’s not money, it’s not fame, it’s not recognition (somewhat), it’s not some arbitrary level of success. Oddly it is about self-worth, the value I’ve set and not what an industry or society has set. It’s about improving, the work and myself. It’s about continuing to express myself, to communicate, not for some imagined response, but to remind myself that I’m here and I have a voice.