Note: I’m definitely not talking about the kinds of accidents that cause cars to crash and lots of innocent people to die. I’m talking about non-fatal, fortunate accidents. Thanks.
I personally suffer from the sense that I am an accident, that I got where I am in life, school, career, relationships, wherever, by accident. There’s always something about
- how close I was to the edge, to failure, that if I was so close I probably just should have continued on the path to failure; I’m such a borderline success that I don’t deserve to be called a success at all, not like the real
- how my own beliefs don’t seem to align with other people’s perceptions. What I make, or who I am, the things I don’t think are good at all, other people seem to think are good enough to stick with me through my antics, through my lamentations, through my writings – and I have rarely been in a sane enough state to respect their opinions (of me), just because they don’t align with mine. (There is a peculiar kind of evil in this. I am actively addressing it.) And so I think I get “fans” by accident, readers by accident, friends by accident, that I am loved by accident.
There are ways these things can be toxic, and there are ways these things can be useful and embraced.
Impostor Syndrome is a phenomenon supposedly experienced by high-achieving individuals who simply cannot wrap their own heads around their accomplishments, and live in constant fear of being exposed as the frauds they believe they are. And while I would not describe myself as a high-achieving individual (and if I am, then it’s the Impostor Syndrome itself talking here), I suppose there’s a level on which I relate with this. I’m not sure feeling like a fraud is the same as feeling like an accident or subpar. If it is, then I relate. (As I was writing this, I realized that although I am known as a poet, I don’t self-identify as one. Surely, this is evidence of a sense of fraudulence? Okay. I accept, then.)
But there really is a way to use all this properly.
I work two jobs on campus during the school year. When I applied for one of them, I didn’t hear back for ages; the hiring process was dependent on whether or not a student was free during the exact time slots there were vacancies. And there were no vacancies coinciding with my free time – until suddenly, a few weeks into the semester, there was one; a student had switched classes and had to give up his/her shift. I was called in, unqualified and inexperienced as I was, because I was the only one free during this time slot. I got the job, I like it, and I’m not even bad at it, if I do say so myself.
There is a similar story with the second job. There weren’t supposed to be vacancies so specifically suited to me that semester, but there were a couple of students on the web management team that were going on study abroad programs. Before I even picked up an application, one of the staff members involved in the hiring process asked me, “Do you, by any chance, know how to work WordPress?” Fam. I live on WordPress. I don’t know if I got the job because they liked me or just because they needed me – but that’s less consequential than the fact that they like me now. Enough to hire me over the summer and encourage me to apply for the next semester (Same with the job spoken of in the previous paragraph, actually.) And in my mind, I keep thinking how unlikely it might have been that I’d get the job if I hadn’t been blogging and being an online content creator for years. It seemed overly coincidental. It seemed accidental.
“People get hired because, somehow, they get hired.” -Neil Gaiman.
That’s from Neil Gaiman’s “Make Good Art” speech, which I will be quoting a few more times here, because I think it’s a fantastic speech that says a lot of true things. He’s right. We, being rational creatures, like to make up “because”s because they make us feel better. We like it when things make sense. So we make sense up for them. But as I like to say about life, there’s really no sensible formula.
I have so many stories of “accidental” achievement, including one I told a while ago on Twitter about how my poetry practically saved a part of my science requirement the past semester.
Now, this is where I see the brightest sides of everything I’ve just said, why I have decided to be an embracer of accidents:
I think one of the most dangerous things one can have is a fixation on meritocracy. It can disrupt absolutely everything about life from career to relationships and especially spirituality. We are prone to working ourselves to death, telling ourselves that we have to deserve things before we can get them, and so when we find out we have them already, we are thrown so off-guard, and are consequently inclined to reject blessings when they seem to have fallen straight into our laps. Things like coming to terms with having gotten a job. Or things like how Jesus loves you, has saved and is sanctifying you by grace, and that there’s really nothing you can or have to do to “deserve” it – and this, of course, is the definition of and reason for grace…which our human selves would like to reject. But I have decided, now, to continuously accept it. I refuse to plague myself with the burden of always having to understand “why.” Perhaps, sometimes, there is no sensible “why” to be understood. In fact, I can find several more reasons to avoid “why”s than to look for them.
“The things I’ve done that worked best were the things I was least certain about, the stories where I was sure they would either work, or more likely be the kind of embarrassing failures people would gather together and talk about until the end of time. They always had that in common: looking back at them, people explain why they were inevitable successes. While I was doing them, I had no idea. I still don’t.” – Neil Gaiman
Gaiman said that he did not understand why his most successful endeavors have been as successful as they’ve been, and that other people have been able to look back on these Gaiman success phenomena and come up with explanations for why they worked. Yet Gaimain still insists he doesn’t know why they worked. Clearly, he has rejected all the other people’s “why”s and “because”s that were made up postmortem.
All these “why”s and “because”s have the power to drive us crazy if we let them. It is so easy to convince ourselves that they are true – and they are dangerous because, especially in this-thing-will-never-happen-again cases, there isn’t a way to prove that our “why”s and “because”s were, in fact, wrong. Fortunately enough, there are times when we use our past “why”s and “because”s to project into the future, and they end up failing us. You’d think this would teach us a lesson – and sometimes it does – but most times, we just make up more to explain why the ones we had before didn’t work. Issa tragic distin. We will legit grasp for anything to avoid confronting the “maybe it was a fortunate accident” or “maybe it’s grace” answers. (I know I’m making sense. If you didn’t barb, read the paragraph again, very slowly. Several times.)
I do not believe in formulae. For instance, I don’t believe in the formal education leads to good qualifications leads to good career leads to happy life attempt of a scam. I do not believe that if one follows the prescribed rules, one will finally achieve what the rules promised could be achieved by having followed them. I don’t believe any explanations for why Silento’s “Watch Me Whip” or Desiigner’s “Panda” became hits. I don’t have explanations for X by one artist went viral and Y by the same artist did not. And I don’t want any. If they exist, I highly doubt I would like to be made aware of them – with the exception of the explanation being the truthful one out of the mouth of whoever is responsible for the result. (E.g. I will believe an individual person who has read a book who tells me why they loved it so much; I will not believe a publisher whose staff thought a book was going to be a flop suddenly have several ways to explain why it was, in fact, a bestseller. However, one thing I will probably never believe is the content of rejection letters/emails. SMH. Bloody liars.)
“The rules of what is possible and impossible in the arts were made by people who had not tested the bounds of the possible by going beyond them. And you can. If you don’t know it’s impossible, it’s easier to do.” -Neil Gaiman.
And these words apply to so much more than just art.
The point of this whole thing is how exhausted I am of constantly beating myself up for feeling like an accident. Life is absolutely full of accidents – and grace – and honestly, who am I to be the exception? It is not bad to feel like an accident; it is, in fact, ordinary. And sometimes, when you think you don’t deserve something, it’s because you really don’t – and that is also absolutely okay. Grace. Being undeserving of something doesn’t change whether or not you can use the thing you “don’t deserve” for good. And all of the world’s explanations really don’t change a thing either.
So yeah. Embracer of accidents. Selah.