THE SUPREME VIRTUE
Someone once asked the Spartan king Leonidas to identify the supreme warrior virtue from which all others flowed. He replied: “Contempt for death.”
For us as artists, read “failure.” Contempt for failure is our cardinal virtue. By confining our attention territorially to our own thoughts and actions—in other words, to the work and its demands—we cut the earth from beneath the blue-painted, shield-banging, spear-brandishing foe.
How great is that?
The image to the right is framed on my wall. I look at it before I start writing and whenever Failure steps onto the battlefield to interrupt me.
“No one is going to read that. Who do you think you are, putting those words on the page?”
It is incredibly powerful to give Failure the middle finger and keep working, instead of stopping to worry about what the audience will think, justify a character’s choice, or defend my authority on a subject.
When it comes down to it, none of that matters. What matters is telling the story.
And Failure has no cardio. If I refuse to engage, it gets tired and bored and slinks off to re-watch highlights of my high school football games.
While I have contempt for Failure, I am terrified of Not Trying. Whenever it shows up it gets my full attention and I’ll sprint past Failure without a glance to drive it off the map.
And if, in trying and trying and trying, Failure is still around, so what?
Not Trying is death.
Failure is just another chance to try.