Often, I find myself imagining what it would be like to be more successful. I wish more people read my blogs or that I had begun creating content earlier. I regret wasting so much time worrying that I’ll never “catch up” — to what, I’m not sure.
We content creators don’t like to admit we think about such things, but many of us do. Being apart of the creative side of the anime community, I tend to run into people who share similar longings:
- “Yeah, I’d love to branch out into YouTube, but who would watch my videos?”
- “I’m not sure if I can say anything new. Everything is pretty much covered now…”
- “It doesn’t matter how good I am or how hard I try. Nobody knows who I am.”
Occasionally, I even regret how I began Seasonal Prattle and wonder what it would have been like if it magically took off from the start. What would it be like to be an early bloomer? Maybe not everything I imagine.
As it turns out, there are hidden opportunities to the invisibility and irrelevance we all fear. And when you embrace those opportunities, you end up creating better work. We might think of these as “The Advantages of Anonymity.” Here are a few examples:
- When you’re anonymous, you can try new things. Fame brings pressure to perform, which can lead to playing it safe and not taking the kind of risks that make for interesting work. But when nobody knows who you are, you can experiment without expectation.
- When you’re anonymous, you can fail quietly. This means you can attempt projects that may not work and learn from them without public shaming. You can iterate more easily and less conspicuously.
- When you’re anonymous, you can get better faster. Because you’re not worried about what people will think or trying to live up to your last success, you can use all that energy to practice. It’s often easier to grow your craft in the shadows than in the spotlight.
Granted, we all want our work to succeed, but we forget there’s a shadow side to sudden success: it usually doesn’t last. Fast fame is the quickest to fade. And so perhaps, what we should want more than sudden success is the opportunity to create enduring work.
The opportunity of invisibility
Scott Fitzgerald’s last royalty check before he died was for $13. At the time, The Great Gatsby was practically out of print and couldn’t be found anywhere. What copies had been bought were apparently by Fitzgerald himself. A once-promising creator who was writing movie scripts just to survive now considered himself a failure, and that consideration killed him.
These days, we love to glamorize failure. But we forgot how painful and demotivating failure can be, how more often than not it demoralizes a person from ever attempting anything again.
There is, however, another side to failure: we can choose how we see our circumstances. Fitzgerald didn’t have to consider himself a failure. He wasn’t. He’d already published This Side of Paradise to literary and popular acclaim. He didn’t have to drink himself into oblivion or fade into obscurity. He could have kept going, kept working.
And if he had done that, he may have lived to see the success of his greatest work yet.
One potential cause for the downfall of this great author may have been the pressure he placed on himself after having achieved incredible success so early.
Maybe he would not have lived so extravagantly so that he wasn’t later forced to take on gigs he did not want just to pay the bills. He may not have drunk himself to death or given up writing novels in exchange for screenplays. Maybe he would have been able to endure the criticism long enough to see people to recognize the genius of Gatsby, which would have come had he lived another 20 years.
It’s easy, of course, to judge the past with the perspective of the present. But I don’t judge Fitzgerald. I empathize with his struggle to produce something great.
There’s plenty of content creators in our community that struggle with the exact same concept. They want to continuously push out great work, but the fight to do so is a lot harder with each passing piece.
And what I recognize in this issue is the gift in being largely invisible to most people. It encourages me when I sometimes wish I were a bigger deal than I am. This invisibility means I can move more deftly. And so can you.
Three lessons of anonymity
So what do we take away from this? Well a few things:
First, nobody’s heard of you and that’s okay. Embrace the gift of invisibility and use it to your advantage. Try bold things. Practice without the pressure of having to perform.
Second, don’t disparage being the underdog. There’s an advantage to being the person nobody expects anything from: many people will want to help you. Embrace this place and let them.
Third, enjoy your failures quietly. If you try scary things and they don’t work, nobody notices. Success brings with it a lot of expectation, and that generally doesn’t make for great creative work. So enjoy the opportunity you have that bigger content creators in the community miss out on, which is to fall on your face without anybody talking about it.
The truth is there are special privileges reserved for the unlikely and overlooked, and we tend to forget them. This is natural, of course, because we all want the success we see other people having. But let’s not forget that there are disadvantages to that, too.
So instead of pining for more success or fame, why not use this time? Don’t avoid the spotlight entirely, but don’t race towards it, either. Build your craft slowly, and let the fanfare come when it does. Be intentional, but not anxious. All great work gets its due eventually.