Thursday, December 21, 2006

New York Notes #1: The Cortez Principle

Sure he was a sadistic, opportunistic, money grubbing, glory hungry, genocide inciting murderer, but Cortez still had a winning attitude to succcess. I know what you are thinking. Do you mean the attitude where in order to get wealth one must slaughter all who stand in one's way even if they are millions of Indians standing on top of gold or millions of Africans setting up huts beside diamonds? No, not that one. I much prefer the lesson where Cortez guarantees success by eliminating failure as an option. Because failure is neither a situation nor an outcome but a choice. Or rather an attitude. Failure is its own forgone conclusion. Circumstances are what they are and sometimes they obey no one, but too often we have failed ten times before we even started.

As soon as Cortez landed in the Americas he burnt all his ships. Whatever would happen to the conqistadores, returning to Spain was no longer on the table. My best friend, Che and his wife eliminated divorce as an option in their marriage. As a result they have survived things that have destroyed couples around them. As soon as they realised that option E, the escape clause, the eject button, the net below was gone, not only did they have to go back into the murk they just left, but they also had to find what worked, discard what didn't and beat a problem into a new shape, because there could be no failure. There is always a way, but you'll never know if one of your ways is the way out. Okay if I keep this up I will look in the mirror and see Deepak Chopra.

Here is my point. After writing the big, well read blog 'On Mediocrity', I found myself, or rather three friends found me to be one of the very mediocre people I was writing about. So 2006, the year I should have spent getting deeper into the art and business of being a writer, I spent selling beer. Placed in a situation where I could either take stock or take risks, I ended up hedging my own bets, willfully sticking myself in a job that I did not despise, but did not love either. It was a life that was behind me but I held on to it because it was safer. My justification was that look, I had debts to pay. I wasn't being a coward, I was honoring my obligations. I said that so often that I convinced myself that I meant it. So I've been living with a net. Figures that people who love nets hate risk, I just had not figured on one of these people being me. But playing it safe still means that you lose. In my case I watched my writing career grind to a slow crawl even as I was making money as an advertiser in a small country, in a career of no real consequence.

Playing it safe is just a three worded term for a more brutal, two worded one: Tunnel Vision. My friend Bill asked me how much I charged for my last advertising campaign, because that was what I was telling the world that I am worth. Whatever I earned that year, that was what I was telling people that I could be had for. After dividing that Jamaican sum into American dollars it turns out that I was worth 66 times less than I thought. This wouldn't have hit so hard were it a new lesson, but I had been there before. I knew this rut. It me six years to get out of it the last time.

I'm not into making resolutions but I will say this. I'm 36. Way too old to be cool and way too young to be dead. And way too far gone to be playing it safe now. A turning point is a point of choice where you can either take stock or take risks. And sometimes decisions that initially look like risks turn out to be things that we simply have to do. Because even inaction has a reaction and I don't want to be one of those "If only" people. So I have become one of those millions in New York striving for a dream that I can't define, on a mission that makes no real sense. It's not that I'm giving up Jamaica or that I'm going to live in the States, but as I left the airport I could smell my ships burning.