“Creative recognition is largely a matter of luck.” — Darius Kazemi
Darius Kazemi makes weird internet stuff. In the video of his XOXO Festival talk he makes the not so weird argument that making stuff is like buying lottery tickets. Getting recognition for the stuff you make is like winning the lottery. It’s largely a matter of luck.
We’re sold on the idea (lately through the many TED-like talks Kazemi skewers in the video) that success comes if you work hard enough, sweat enough, put enough time and energy into it, and do everything right.
And it’s just not true. This article on the myth of a meritocracy bears that out.
We want to believe it’s true because then we’re in control. Hard work makes you believe you can master uncertainty. The downside of believing this is that when no success or recognition comes we don’t blame the “hard work ethic”, we internalize the failure and blame ourselves. And all it does is paralyze you and fill you with self-doubt. Creating anything when you’re filled with doubt is tough.
Everyone who creates or shares anything, especially online, knows that hard work has little to do with the popularity of content. We’ve all seen stuff that’s like photos of cats or some other simplistic, meaningless crap receive tons of shares and likes, stuff that required no hard work, let alone thought or talent. Stuff like:
What does that mean? What does any of that nauseating but popular stuff mean? This photo took me literally 5 minutes to make and I suspect similar photos took the same amount of time.
My most popular posts are the ones I spent the least amount of time on, in conception and execution. The ones I spent the most time researching, the ones I wrote multiple drafts of, the ones I edited endlessly, the ones I wish would be read and shared widely, the ones I love the most have been my least viewed articles.
What happens after you hit publish or share your work is a crap shoot. Or as Darius put it, “beyond a certain threshold of work you put into your projects, success is out of your hands.”
Darius doesn’t suggest not working hard. Working hard, being committed and dedicated, and persevering are all part of buying the lottery ticket. In his article “Thoughts on Small Projects“, he suggests buying A LOT of lottery tickets and letting go of the expectations and belief that you can control what happens after you release those projects into the world because “YOU CANNOT CONTROL WHAT PEOPLE LIKE ABOUT WHAT YOU MAKE. You make stuff, and you’re going to like certain things, but you can’t predict what other people will like. So even if you make something and you think it sucks, put it out there. Maybe people will hate it, maybe they’ll ignore it, or maybe they’ll like it. But just put it out there.”
Knowing that I can’t control something is more freeing than thinking everything is in my control. There’s less pressure and it’s just more fun.
I may not win the lottery, but I’m going to keep playing.