OK I know this sounds crazy but I am beginning to wonder if failure is somehow a family trait. Why am I wondering, you ask. Because everyone in my family fails to achieve the goals and dreams they chase. At least so far.
I once knew a lady who became a world-famous author. We used to knock around the same small town in rural NSW. For obvious reasons I won’t say her name. We didn’t like each other much. She recognised my superior talent as a writer almost from the moment we joined the same Book Club. It was easy enough to spot the difference. Her work was tawdry and predictable. Mine was “out there”. It still is. In 2007 I won the Women’s Weekly/Penguin Short Story Contest and was asked by Penguin to present a manuscript for publication. I gave them an 80k word piece about an angel who latches on to a child genius. I called it Catch the Moon, Mary because my character seemed to have the weight of the world on her frail autistic shoulders. My entire Book Club was rooting for me, even the jealous girl who knew she couldn’t hold a candle to me as a writer. Two months later our worlds flipped. Penguin knocked back Catch the Moon, Mary saying it was brilliant but too unusual. Her predictable manuscript set in 20s London was picked up by a major publisher and translated into 35 languages. The lady is now a multi-millionaire living between Europe and Australia while I am struggling to make ends meet.
Her father was a successful businessman. Mine was an alcoholic who lost everything.
Her mother is a art dealer. Mine is a struggling artist.
Is there something in that?
Her family are wealthy hucksters. Mine has a long history of genius and loss. There are so many gifted people in my family who burn out early or turn to the bottle for comfort.
We all know the Kennedys are a tragic family. Tragedy seems to stalk and ambush them. We all know the Rockefellers are a lucky family. Are some families marked out for failure?
I have seen members of my family work hard and long and get nowhere. I have watched them struggle for years but courageously remain determined to make a difference. It is true that the members of my family who never give up, myself included, are working at the high end of the spectrum as far as product is concerned. The lady with the charmed life is peddling palatable dross.
So how to catch this elusive butterfly called success.
Is it simply perseverance or must one sell one’s soul?
The people I admire most: Van Gogh, Oscar Wilde, Virginia Woolf, John Keats, Truman Capote, Leonardo De Vinci, Michelangelo, the Brontës, Austen, never sold their souls and their legacies are gamechangers. For them, success came late or posthumously. Except in Capote’s case where success came far too early to be of much use.
So back to my original question. Is failure genetic? Maybe the attitude towards success is nurture rather than nature. Maybe your parents’ relationship to success is the yardstick by which you measure your own. My parents had dramatic and difficult relationships with success and failed to carve pathways I could follow. The lady I referred to earlier had no doubt at all that success was her right. Her inflated opinion of her work was seasoned in the family home where she was taught that willpower alone is worthy of reward. She certainly has willpower.
Catch the Moon, Mary was eventually signed by a small publisher in Scotland in 2015 but my beautiful book is still struggling to gain recognition. I guess my genetic code is set on making a difference and offering the world the best work I can. I cannot respect or admire people like Dan Brown or E. L. James who feed a starving world literary ectoplasm but bloody hell, they’ve made millions and in all honesty, I wouldn’t mind making a few bucks before I die.