Success is the easiest thing, also unaccountably boring, while failure is the hardest one, seeing as it is filled with struggle and doubt and a sense of what is dire. With earnestness, actually. Since moving to New York, I have met many successful people and yawned. They are ‘stressed out’ or not, ‘totally overwhelmed,’ ‘slammed at work,’ and soon yawning comes over me. Have they ever taken a risk? No, they have played it safe: married well, worked too long in finance, these days preoccupied with getting more house or more child for less… They are like children who have grown up without the good fortune of becoming adults.
This morning I mused some on those I admire, which is to say on their predilection for risk, and wondered whether taking a risk would have to be a necessary condition for a life to count as possibly mattering. This seems right, though I would like to put it more beautifully someday. Still. What is it about playing it safe that fails to move? (Is playing it safe the same as not living earnestly?) That fails to evoke my compassion or quicken my imagination? That fobs off the project of character education?
Too much success is anathema to thought. That is to say, to philosophical thinking about one’s life. I have been toying or flirting or sticking with the expression–“having skin in the game”–rolling it around on my tongue without much luck, not having gotten much further than to think that most who play it safe do not know what it means to have skin in the game and, not having skin in the game, are not awakened to living. Hence are passive nihilists. If I were Rochefoucauld or Wilde, I might quip that being successful is the gravest, most grievous sin, for it fails to incite our tears or praise. But making fun–a child’s game–won’t do anyone any good. Thankfully, I am not either man anymore.