Many years ago, my wife and I were on vacation on Vancouver Island, looking for a place to stay. We found an attractive but deserted motel on a little-traveled road in the middle of a forest. The owners were a charming young couple who needed little prompting to tell us their story. They had been schoolteachers in the province of Alberta; they had decided to change their life and used their life savings to buy this motel, which had been built a dozen years earlier. They told us without irony or self-consciousness that they had been able to buy it cheap, ‘because six or seven previous owners had failed to make a go of it.’ They also told us about plans to seek a loan to make the establishment more attractive by building a restaurant next to it. They felt no need to explain why they expected to succeed where six or seven others had failed. A common thread of boldness and optimism links businesspeople, from motel owners to superstar CEOs. (258–9)
That’s from Daniel Kahneman’s highly recommended book Thinking, Fast and Slow. How many times have you read some artists say that they succeeded because they believed totally in themselves and worked demonically to make their careers happen? If you’re like me you’ve heard this narrative many times. But you haven’t mostly heard the narrative about artists who believed totally in themselves and worked demonically only to fail, because they don’t get interviewed and their views don’t hit the media.
The quote is from chapter 24 of Thinking, Fast and Slow, which ought to be required reading for anyone thinking about getting a grad degree in the humanities. People giving advice on this topic tend to have succeeded; those who haven’t succeeded are mute (though less mute than they once were).