Salve! Hearing of your recent misfortune (the job you lost, the class you failed, the savings you burned in a hedge fund, etc.), I decided to be kind and compose this letter. Rather than commiserate with you in the usual maudlin fashion (which certainly has its place), I am going to be frank—for we are very good friends, and I honor our friendship.
I am very happy that Fortune has denied your bid to check out on life. Over the last few years, I have watched you slowly disintegrate, breaking yourself into pieces (public and private, polished and rough, good and bad) and hawking those pieces in the marketplace. Up until this moment, you always found a buyer for something, and so you kept excavating—kept digging that hole in your heart a little deeper, searching desperately among your entrails for shiny things to polish and feed to the market. You felt very nervous about this process, clearly, and there were times when you thought about cashing out—taking a break, doing something else, finding a way to exist that didn’t involve betting your livelihood on people’s finicky taste for whatever shit you could scrounge to offer them. You said you would take that break if Opportunity knocked. Well, she is knocking now—very loudly.
Listen to what she says. “Look, buddy, I’m going to do you a favor. I’m going to cut through all the bullshit everyone else in this marketplace will give you—about how you’re a wonderful person with some impressive skills and you just have to try harder next time, blah blah—and tell you the truth. Being a prostitute is no good if you have to beg for clientele. Trust me on this one: the clients you want are the ones who come begging to you, not the other way round. Never give your soul to any of the vultures here. Don’t go into a job interview you must ace. Don’t take a class you cannot fail. Don’t bet any money you cannot lose on a hedge fund. That divine fire that people rave about? Those ‘impressive skills’ you spend so much time honing? At some point these gifts turn against you, becoming the weapons the market uses to destroy you rather than the tools you use to better yourself. Have you reached that point yet?”
“People are weak, and the Market makes some of you weaker. It pretends to love you, to want you, to need you, to value you, and so on. The wise among you know that it is lying, that what it really wants is something impersonal (some quality or value that exists independent of individual personae such as you). The Market is secretly very happy when there are too many people vying for its limited favors (that will always be limited, by nature): the issue of a room full of eager prostitutes is that the Market always gets well laid, but it cannot sleep with everyone. It cannot love everyone. It cannot make everyone its special one-and-only. What it can do is lie. The wise are not hurt by its lies, because they have learned not to make their livelihood at the Market. They are available to take the Market’s favors, but they do not require them (as you do). They are not dependent on the Market (as you are, right now). The Market is only really good for people who do not need to be there. Become one of those people. Until then, stay away from the Market: it will always break you more than it makes you.”
Where am I to go? is naturally your next question. You need a larger perspective than the one you have right now—the close-minded perspective of the narrow Market you have been courting in vain. Your Market was too little for you, too small and specialized. You have to find a larger Market (one that allows you access to more clients, more needs, more opportunities to put yourself together without pulling yourself apart). You have to re-assess your persona. What do you really need to survive? Food? Clothing? Shelter? A community to which you can contribute something meaningful? There are many ways to have these things. Many poor people have them. Many losers. Be the loser you already are: just enjoy it more, and waste less time wishing you could find some other way to lose (e.g. the kind of loss that your petty little Market calls success).
Is it true that there is no such thing as life without loss? I think there really isn’t, for we are all mortal. That means everything we do leads eventually to death (at least as a way-station: even those who embrace immortality do so by making death a gateway gods must pass). You must learn to love loss, to love yourself as a loser. You must see that losing contains valuable information, particularly when it is mitigated loss (rather than the total loss you have encountered recently). Success is a dream, a lie, a fairy-tale that unscrupulous Markets sell to prostitutes that they want to have on the cheap. It weakens those who pursue it, because they fail to learn from their own loss, and it weakens those who gain it, because they fail to learn from others’ loss (and see a false security instead of the volatility that Nature makes).
Since you must lose, make yours a beautiful loss. Don’t lose someone else’s game. Don’t let the Market define your loss. Lose your own way, doing something you believe in. Instead of cutting yourself apart in desperate hope that someone else will love your guts, cut yourself apart because you already love them. The best loser is the one who loses his own game, on terms that he has made purposely for himself. Be that loser. Vale.
This letter appeared originally on my personal blog. It was directed towards myself, as I contemplated (1) my lack of stable employment post graduation and (2) the likelihood that I will never achieve the kind of professional standing or ‘job security’ that defines many of the mentors and teachers I have had (in academia and outside it). I needed a frame of reference from which to value the experience I have rather than the experience(s) that others want for me. –JGM