Hofstadter’s Law is one of those half-ridiculous, half-completely-serious observations that is annoyingly true. It posits that:
It always takes longer than you expect, even when you take into account Hofstadter's Law.
Mostly, this applies to project planning and management. But for me, it applies more specifically to the generic idea of “success” that we all make so much fuss over.
One of my favourite passages from Charles Bukowski’s On Writing is about the link between time and success.
“I think one of the best things that ever happened to me was that I was so long unsuccessful as a writer and had to work for a living until I was 50. It kept me away from other writers and their parlor games and their backbiting and their bitching, and now that I've had some luck I still intend to absent myself from them.
Think of that.
Nowadays, people talk about overnight success taking ten years. But really, we can be an overnight success in five. Or at least that’s what we expect.
Take me for example. I’m on the way to supporting myself via writing and editing. It’s taken a few years. But Bukowski? It took him till he was fifty.
That’s twenty or thirty years of working and writing before attaining any form of significant success.
Can you imagine many people being willing to stick at something, to be “unsuccessful” at something, for so long nowadays? I can’t.
I try to imagine myself enduring and sticking it out. But would I? Even if I make a deal with myself and tell myself that I might just have to keep working a minimum wage job till I’m fifty before I get any modicum of “success”, could I stick to it? I hope so. But I really don’t know.
And that’s the kicker about anything creative or anything that you claim to do out of love. If you need “success” to reinforce your desire to keep doing it, then what is it really all about? Is it about your art, your craft, your field, or is about the success it will allow you to claim? If you can’t or won’t keep going without the positive reinforcement of recognition and material reward, what does that say about your commitment?
To me, it says that you love the outcome of success more than you love the process involved in attaining it. And that could be a problem.