The Illusion of “Making It”

There’s a belief in large segments of American culture that if you haven’t made it (in terms of fame and money), your work doesn’t deserve any attention. If there isn’t “buzz” around it, then it’s irrelevant to the world. Most of us know better rationally but are still affected by the lie that our fame equals our worth (or at least the worth of our work). I am thinking of musicians in particular.

When I lived in San Francisco, I often went to hear songwriters and their bands. Some were brilliant; I love their music to this day. Yet a decade later, many had stopped playing music professionally, or had turned toward different projects. There were many different reasons for this, but some of it had to do with their ambivalence about “making it.” Some had wished, early on, for bigger audiences, but at the same time preferred to perform for their familiar crowds. They wanted deals with big record labels, but hated the price: grueling tours, snide reviews, bad publicity ideas, conflicts with fellow musicians. Others just found their interests changing as they got older. Others got tired of the constant financial stress: working low-paying day jobs, never making ends meet. Still others found a way to keep on going. But many were tantalized by the idea that they could make it—and embarrassed when they did not (or even when they did).

In some cases, fame and recognition is well deserved. In others, artists get ignored through no fault of their own. Public attention can be somewhat random; it lands here or there as a result of trends, investments, and whims. If you judge yourself by your fame (or lack of fame), you will soon lose all good judgment. Most of us know this, yet we are still deceived by the glamor, the idea that “if I am worthy, my works will go gold and platinum, even though I don’t really want that, I don’t think.”

There is some justice in the arts. Plenty of people are on the lookout for good work and recognize it when they see it. But this recognition does not always mean numbers, though it can. To survive in the arts—whether as creator, performer, or audience—one must not only see past the trends, but insist and live beyond them too.

Image: The Tightrope Walker by Lucia Masciullo.

Leave a comment


  1. Joyce Mandell

     /  April 21, 2021

    Your work is not your worth! In the case of art, I’m wondering if making art can bring someone into the “flow”, a non-ego state of just creating. When we worry about what others think or the fame or the money or whatever else, those concerns can get in the way of pure flow in the moment. I love seeing kids create, the joy of just making art or music or poetry, just for the thrill of getting lost in the process. Thanks for this, Diana

    • Thank you, Joyce! I agree that pure flow is a good thing when it happens. It can’t happen all the time, for various reasons: (1) it doesn’t always come when called, and that’s nothing to worry about; (2) to figure out how to make your work better, you have to step back from it, which involves giving up flow momentarily; (3) it’s reasonable to want an audience, to seek out publication, performance, etc., and even to make a living off of your art, and this involves a lot of activities that don’t lend themselves to flow. But with all of that in mind, it’s great to be immersed in the creation, performance, or reception of something, and to avoid the distractions that aren’t really needed.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

  • “To know that you can do better next time, unrecognizably better, and that there is no next time, and that it is a blessing there is not, there is a thought to be going on with.”

    —Samuel Beckett, Malone Dies

  • Always Different



    Diana Senechal is the author of Republic of Noise: The Loss of Solitude in Schools and Culture and the 2011 winner of the Hiett Prize in the Humanities, awarded by the Dallas Institute of Humanities and Culture. Her second book, Mind over Memes: Passive Listening, Toxic Talk, and Other Modern Language Follies, was published by Rowman & Littlefield in October 2018. In February 2022, Deep Vellum will publish her translation of Gyula Jenei's 2018 poetry collection Mindig Más.

    Since November 2017, she has been teaching English, American civilization, and British civilization at the Varga Katalin Gimnázium in Szolnok, Hungary. From 2011 to 2016, she helped shape and teach the philosophy program at Columbia Secondary School for Math, Science & Engineering in New York City. In 2014, she and her students founded the philosophy journal CONTRARIWISE, which now has international participation and readership. In 2020, at the Varga Katalin Gimnázium, she and her students released the first issue of the online literary journal Folyosó.


    On April 26, 2016, Diana Senechal delivered her talk "Take Away the Takeaway (Including This One)" at TEDx Upper West Side.

    Here is a video from the Dallas Institute's 2015 Education Forum.  Also see the video "Hiett Prize Winners Discuss the Future of the Humanities." 

    On April 19–21, 2014, Diana Senechal took part in a discussion of solitude on BBC World Service's programme The Forum.  

    On February 22, 2013, Diana Senechal was interviewed by Leah Wescott, editor-in-chief of The Cronk of Higher Education. Here is the podcast.


    All blog contents are copyright © Diana Senechal. Anything on this blog may be quoted with proper attribution. Comments are welcome.

    On this blog, Take Away the Takeaway, I discuss literature, music, education, and other things. Some of the pieces are satirical and assigned (for clarity) to the satire category.

    When I revise a piece substantially after posting it, I note this at the end. Minor corrections (e.g., of punctuation and spelling) may go unannounced.

    Speaking of imperfection, my other blog, Megfogalmazások, abounds with imperfect Hungarian.

  • Recent Posts


  • Categories