Bret W. Lester

The Blessing, Curse of Obscurity

The drive to create is inexhaustible. I don’t need to be an expert to tell you this because the evidence is everywhere. I see it in myself. I see it in my loved ones and I see it in others. I would go as far as to say that it’s a force of nature; pervasive in every tendril of the tree of life.

It is inexhaustible because no matter how many times our creative endeavors flounder; no matter how many times they’re met with dead ears and blank stares, perhaps after wallowing in despair and self pity for a spell, we inevitably try again with new ideas and new variations. The vast majority of creators will find themselves toiling in obscurity for much of their lives before a particular variation of “what they do” finally starts getting positive feedback from the world at large. And many will die first.

The similarities of the above to evolution are hard to ignore. Life evolves in much the same way where an innumerable array of experiments (mutations) are tested over time. The vast majority end in failure while a very small portion of them go on to become new species. This is analogous to the phenomenon I just described where, for example, a very small number of creations go on to become profitable business or a very small number of YouTubers go on to reach more than 1000 subscribers or Twitter accounts followers.

Einstein said “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results”. It rings true but doing the same thing over and over again with minute variations is the definition of evolution. And consider that it can be a matter of timing. For example the same idea that failed miserably before the age of the internet then failed again in the early days of the internet could be a resounding success today.

But I digress. The topic is obscurity and how it is both a blessing and a curse. I’ve already explained how it is a curse for most creators, toiling away for an audience of crickets and tumbleweeds. It’s inevitable. Obscurity is overwhelmingly bad for the individual. But how is it a blessing other than guaranteeing immunity from the trappings of fame?

Well, it is a blessing for the collective (what I’ve called the world at large), or society. Obscurity ensures there are a multitude of experiments underway at any given time. Generally speaking, the good ones get traction and therefore move society forward and the bad ones die in obscurity (perhaps to re-emerge later under more favorable circumstances). Innumerable deaths and a few successes.

Unfortunately the individual-in-general will find little solace in the conclusions I’ve drawn here but at least I can say with confidence that it’s in our best interest to be persistent. The more one produces, the greater the chance one of his ideas will find sustenance in the world. Basically persistence increases your odds of success.

You see, when one of our creations break through. When they start getting traction, that’s a signal to double down; to focus on that idea in particular. Less of your time is spent experimenting. No more toiling away in obscurity. Something is working and it feels great. There a few things as life affirming as when the world says yes to something that’s uniquely yours.

And from there, a whole new set of challenges emerge. A topic for another time.


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