A couple of years ago, Conan O'Brien went through a VERY public failure. He was the heir apparent to the throne of comedy... host of The Tonight Show. Then he learned a lesson that many dreamy-eyed job seekers have learned lately:
"Aging Baby Boomers won't leave their job... trust me on this"
There is a new documentary called "Conan O'Brien Can't Stop" that follows our quirky TV friend during the days between his Tonight Show ousting and him being legally allowed back on 'The Tele". It was a tough period to wrap his mind around because he had to deal with the fact that where he was headed (and even felt somewhat destined to go) was suddenly taken away by someone else.
"I did not get what I wanted, and I left a system that had nurtured and helped define me for the better part of 17 years. I went from being in the center of the grid to not only off the grid, but underneath the coffee table that the grid sits on, lost in the shag carpeting that is underneath the coffee table supporting the grid."
This spring, Conan gave a FABULOUSLY funny and very insightful commencement address to the graduating class at Dartmouth University. The whole clip is worth watching but his genuine advice based on this season of life starts at about the 16 minute mark or so.
"It's our failure to become our perceived ideal that ultimately defines us and makes us unique. It's not easy but if you accept your misfortune and handle it right, your perceived failure can become a catalyst for profound reinvention."
Is failing a tough pill to swallow? It certainly can be. But I think where failure can slaughter a man is in the term "perceived ideal". There is no achievable "ideal". It's a mirage. There are no "good old days"... just days. You can only be you, left to deal with a constantly changing set of variables that can't be predicted!
I can relate to Conan O'Brien in the fact that I ALSO wanted to be David Letterman. For my 8th Grade graduation I bought a double-breasted suit jacket when others were rented tuxes so that I could do that thing Dave does during the monologue with his jacket. Wore white socks too :) I ALSO didn't become Dave Letterman and some days it still bugs me.
"Nietzsche famously said 'Whatever doesn't kill you makes you stronger.' But what he failed to stress is that it almost kills you."
Who I did become was Dave Carrol. And I'm a Dave Carrol now that I likely wouldn't (and couldn't) have seen coming because you can NEVER see the whole picture and in life, regardless of what peppy 'you can do it' or 'Tom Vu get rich quick' people on TV will tell you. You fail in life more than you succeed... it sucks for all of us ... and IT'S OK because;
"...whether you fear it or not, disappointment will come. The beauty is that through disappointment you can gain clarity, and with clarity comes conviction and true originality."
This is the refining process. It's a way that God uses to MAKE us peel back our own layers of self that are often incidentally obtained with false pretense. And when it happens, it reveals a golden base of truth and uniqueness that is totally DESIGNED by a God and hardwired for your CHOSEN here and now.
This is part of the search for immovable truth that our lives MUST be based on. What you are DOING practically today is quite disposable really. Matthew Barnett wrote today:
"The pinnacle of the Christian life is when you are more passionate about your character then even your wildest dreams."
As Conan O'Brien learned, what you're doing TODAY doesn't define you. But when you "Work hard, be kind and amazing things will happen."