What I have long been afraid of–more so than ever not making it financially or in, say, popularity, like so many of them good looking, half-naked people on Instagram–is not making it technically. I’m afraid of being a hack.
The hack is someone who thinks they’re a whole lot better than they are. It’s the writer who says, “I’m a writer.” It’s the comedian who says, “I’m a comedian.” It’s the business person who’s only ever consulted other business people–like, that’s his entire business, is telling other business owners what to do, having never done any of it himself. These people are everything. And they are hacks.
You can make money and not be all that good at what you do. And you can become popular off of very little know-how. Look around. There are no shortages of people either rich or famous who make you think, but what are they actually good at?
The hack has no ability. Or they often have just enough to pull one over on people; to skirt by on what little proficiency they have, their charlatanism undetected. But the tastes of the general public, we know, are by no account an effective measure of anything. Oscar Wylde once told us that everything popular is wrong. I wouldn’t go so far as to say that. But I would say just because something is popular doesn’t make it good.
Where the hack is found out is in the field of other players. The writing hack may fool the average, everyday self-help enthusiast, but he’ll never survive the trials of being read by other writers. Same with bands like Nirvana. Cobain was pretty trash on the guitar, yet somehow he’s regarded as a legend. He may have been an OK songwriter–that, we can argue over some other time–but no guitar player after a year of lessons and practice has ever looked up to Kurt Cobain. May he rest in peace, but the man was a hack.
(Btw, I’m starting a guitar series on Instagram. Called The Guitar Workout of the Week.)
There’s the old joke of how you can tell if someone is a hack, because of how quick they are to launch into what they do. I mentioned it earlier. It’s the “writer” who can’t stop going on his or her eBook, the “comedian” who will tell you everything about the life of being a comedian, but never one of their jokes.
I had a friend like this once. Well, not a friend. He was just some guy one of my other friends happened to start dating. His name was Andrew, I think. Anyway, Andrew came over to house for a party one night. And the whole time we were sitting around the table the conversation kept getting back to how Andrew was a comedian. And what a treat it was. A real comedian. In our house? No! We could hardly believe it.
So naturally one or two people began to request he tell us a few of his jokes. But here’s the thing. Because when you have a friend who’s actually a comedian, you don’t need to have them tell jokes when they come to your house. Because you’ve seen their routine already, or at least watched in on Youtube. They’ve demonstrated they’re ability, not bragged about it. And that’s how you know they’re a comedian and also how you know when someone is not. Andrew was no comedian.
I would rather be technically proficient and die in obscurity than be rich, famous, and a hack. For if that were to happen–if I were to somehow come into bags of money for no apparent link to my ability–there would forever be that fraudulent feeling in my heart, that lingering thought of, but what am I actually good at? And I just don’t think I could live with that.