I mentioned this initially when I introduced the concept of Cursebreak to you folks, and I’m going to describe what it is.
In short: The American Dream Curse is the constant, nagging feeling that you’re wasting your time.
In long: The American Dream Curse is a motivational factor. Yes, it’s a little voice in the back of your head telling you over and over again that you are wasting your time when you’re not at the keyboard, or easel, or whichever vessel you take to get closer to your dreams. In moderate amounts, this is a good thing. You need a driving factor telling you to get things done, and it’s even better when that driving force is yourself. If you only wrote or drew when you wanted to, you wouldn’t get hardly anything done. However, there is a fine line between this curse being a good thing and a bad thing.
Why it’s a good thing: As you get older, the only thing that seems to matter is how much of an impact you have on the world. You want to leave your imprint, to let people know that you were here, and that you made great use of your time on Earth. The American Dream is founded on the belief that if any American tries hard enough, they can succeed. No dream is too far-fetched. There are no limitations. The only limitation is yourself (debatable if you’re not a white man). It’s great to believe in yourself, and if you didn’t believe in yourself, you wouldn’t have that little voice at the back of your head telling you to get it together and put that pen to paper.
Why it’s also a bad thing: It’s a slippery slope. Yes, that voice is your best friend at first. Like I said, it’s even better if the driving force is yourself. You don’t really notice just how hard you’re being on yourself until it becomes unmanageable. It starts out simple enough, “Oh man, I didn’t get the thing done today. I’ll try again another time.” But you ultimately become unforgiving of yourself when you do this. That voice in the back of your head compares you to others. “Look at Bill Gates. He never stops working. Look at J.K. Rowling. You want to be like her, don’t you? Do you think she was this lazy?” First of all, success is relative. Think about the hardest-working person in our nation, and that person is likely the President of the United States. Whether or not you like him or dislike him, you have to admit that Obama does have a big workload, and there are a lot of things people expect him to do and promises to uphold. If he screws up even once, no matter how trivial it is, people all over the nation are going to criticize him up and down for it. There’s a reason not a lot of people want to run for president, and it’s because it’s such a huge responsibility, but it’s also a sign of success. You climbed as high as you could on the ladder, and you’re on top of the world – er, America. If you were that successful, your life would be complete. Now, let me tell you the story of one of our early presidents: John Quincy Adams. He lived in his father’s shadow, and he was exposed to violence at a very young age. John Quincy Adams was the worst critic of himself imaginable. He wrote in his diary after being the private secretary to the American minister to Russia, the secretary at the Treaty of Paris, the president, and a congressman: His life had been a succession of disappointments. “I can scarcely recollect a single instance of success to anything that I ever undertook.” (information provided by Cracked). And this was a man who accomplished more in his life than most people will. This reason is exactly why we need to make our cases of the American Dream Curse more manageable, or else we’ll end up thinking like this (probably to a less extreme extent).
How you can begin to fix it: The problem with writing and other such things is that no matter how much you accomplish, it never feels like it’s enough. There’s always going to be someone who did more than you, better than you, and it begins to feel more like a high score board on an arcade game than your own personal success story. (I’m never going to beat 88heliod, might as well just give up!) Bottom line: Stop comparing yourself to others. It’s really easy to do, and it does start off as an innocent motivational factor. “I want to be like Robert Jordan.” Others will compare you, and they’ll use it against you, saying that you’ll never be as good as X author, kind of like when Stephanie Meyer was being criticized and told that her writing would never ever be as good at Stephen King’s. Whether or not you view either author favorably, they both write for different genres from one another, so that’s another problematic aspect of comparing yourself to others. Someone may be great at writing mystery, and you may not be, but that’s not a good way to define yourself.
Find other ways to motivate yourself. If you compare yourself to others, then that starts a very toxic trend within you. Remember, success is relative, and you have to accept that there will always be someone who puts out more work than you and does a better job at it. Even the most successful people probably think there’s someone better out there than them. But that does not make you a bad writer. And guess what? It’s not a competition. It’s not a race to see who’s the better writer. You didn’t take up writing because you wanted to outsell J.K. Rowling; you took it up because it’s something you genuinely enjoy. If your ambition is to be an even better writer than (insert your favorite author here), then you’re writing for the wrong reasons, and you’ll only end up disappointing yourself. This is your success story, and your story shouldn’t depend on being able to out-write another author. Look at it this way: If I don’t outsell a famous author, no big whoop. I’ll at least have accomplished something and made great use of my time. Be careful to also not compare yourself to others in the way that you believe you’ve accomplished more than they ever will. As an author, it’s easy to let the ego get to your head. “Yaaaas! I finished writing this book I spent ten years on! What are you doing with your life!?” Yeah, don’t do that. Don’t belittle someone. Success is relative, and success is great, but you should be humble about it. Yes, it’s a great accomplishment, and you should celebrate that, but you can totally do that without putting others down.
And that concludes this session of Cursebreak! Future entries will likely be much shorter than this, but since this was the most important aspect of it, I chose to say a lot.
TL;DR: Don’t compare yourself to others because that is a toxic thing to do to yourself.