Laboring in obscurity
Lefsetz reminds us that the modern career trajectory is inverted:
Once upon a time, artists would labor in obscurity, gain traction slowly, and with a lot of work and a little bit of luck, maybe their work would be universally applauded. But now it’s the reverse. People who barely have their shit together emerge with tons of publicity, the media proclaims their greatness, the public says they’re undeserving of the attention, and after checking out their work, they’re ignored.
That’s the problem with success that comes too quickly and too unexpectedly. People forego the chance to practice and experiment and hone their style and skill. They bypass the necessary spiritual work to uncover their authentic voice.
And ultimately, they’re unable to sustain themselves beyond their initial effort.
Rodriquez, perhaps the most successful independent filmmaker of his generation, famously said he was grateful to have made his first, second and third movies in complete obscurity. Doing so allowed him to make mistakes quietly, experiment freely and hone his talent in every department.
He invented his own film school, he claims, where he was the only student and where the experiences, mistakes, problems and solutions were his teachers. And so, even if the movies were bad, nobody would ever see them anyway, and he would still be able to make his money back.
The lesson is, obscurity is underrated. If we have any intention of sustaining long term success, we have to be willing to take the longcut. To sweat in the darkness before crying in the spotlight. To put in constant work at the alter of improvement, valuing grit over glamour, patience over speed.
It’s the gradual ascent. Hustling while you wait. Playing the long arc game. Mastering the art of not going away. Practicing your way out of obscurity.
It’s not a popular path. Especially if you buy into the instant gratification culture where everybody wants to be a rock star, but nobody wants to learn the chords.
But if you’re willing to trust the process and give the law a chance to work, it’s worth it.
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How patient are you willing to be?
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