It seems to me, the gift in being ‘gifted’ isn’t the ease of doing something well, but in the permission to do it at others’ expense. Talent and drive are a socially acceptable obsession, and our permission for bad behaviour is in direct proportion to our reverence of their work. Simply said, brilliant artists are excused for being terrible human beings.
Take, for instance, Stella Bowen, who got together with Ford Madox Ford and lived with him in Paris during the 1920s. They hung out with the likes of Gertrude Stein and Hemingway. And then a ‘houseguest’ became Bowen’s financial burden as Ford carried on his writer’s life but required his ex-lover-houseguest to be muted. Finally Bowen decided enough was enough and left Ford.
After many years, Stella Bowen wrote a memoir, recalling “I don’t think it matters much whom the artist gets his nourishment, or his shelter, so long as he gets it.” It’s an incredibly intimate and vulnerable insight to share with strangers. And sad – seriously sad – because it’s an admission that despite all her best efforts and perception of importance, she honestly believed with hindsight that she was simply a meal ticket.
Despite using up those around him, Ford, ends up a bitter old man. Quoted as saying while sobbing, “I helped Joseph Conrad, I helped Hemingway. I helped a dozen, a score of writers, and many of them have beaten me. I’m now an old man and I’ll die without making a name like Hemingway.” A bitter, self pitying, jealous old man comparing himself to Conrad: attempted suicide and a wife purely for housekeeping reasons, and Hemingway: multiple failed marriages and suicide. Ford’s attitude denied him a graceful exit.
And why I don’t want the top job comes down to Ford’s phrase “many of them have beaten me.” Life isn’t a competition, there is no ranking and awards on our headstones. But goddamn we like to make it one. And it’s that competitive mindset that gets us into this pickle of brilliance excusing bad behaviour. That stretch for money, prestige and fame. That expectation that shoulders are there for standing on.
Are these the altars we want to be worshipping at? Are these the leaders we want to be following? Are these the masters we want to be copying? Is that the pinnacle that will really fulfil our lives by conquering? What about having something to do, something to look forward to and someone to love you? Could that be enough?
Or by simply being the musings of a middle class white girl who has never contemplated anything in life below Maslow’s 3rd rung, is this whole train of thought moot?
Either way, I don’t want to be the meal ticket of any brilliant star, and I don’t want to be the brilliant star standing on my loved one’s shoulders. I would just like to do something well, contributing with creativity, dedication and with as little taxation on the rest of my life as possible. Honestly show me a CEO who can do that, and I will gladly change my tune. In the meantime, I will leave the ‘gifted’ to it.
Btw, if you’re wondering how I can be employed in HR, and write about HR – here‘s my explanation.