What I learned in 2022
Lessons I'm taking into 2023
Earlier this year, I talked about how I'm ditching the concept of new year resolutions for taking lessons into the new year. With just a few days left before 2023 kicks off, let me share with you the lessons I'm taking into the new year. Perhaps there might be something in here that you might take into your 2023 too.
If you're looking for my annual Suyiverse Report for 2022, find it here.
This is a 10-minute read. Enjoy.
"The road is long, but the reward is not in merit, but encounters."
If I were to sumarize my biggest lessons this year, they'd be wrapped up in that statement. But on its own, that statement doesn't tell the whole story, so I'm going to isolate each phrase and unpack it for you.
1) The road is long...
This doesn't need much explanation as much as it should serve as a constant reminder. The nature of today's world requires us to focus much of our time on the instantaneous and the momentuous. The constant barrage of now now now makes a longer outlook a premium we sometimes cannot afford. Yet, I think remaining steadfast in this way of viewing the world is important, because it allows one remain focused on what's most important.
As a writer, for instance, I don't expect I will always be doing what I'm doing now---writing, publishing, teaching, etc---forever. At least not in this same way. I may write and publish and teach less or more in the next ten years. I may never sell another book, or I may suddenly publish the Greatest Novel Ever and gain literary acclaim. I may continue to write in this genre or suddenly switch genres or audiences; I may suddenly self-publish. My comrades may suddenly become machine-learning software like ChatGPT and Sudowrite, rather than real live humans. The world will suddenly be pulled under our feet, over and over again, because that is exacly what worlds---real or imagined---do.
Look at the last few years. How many systems have crumbled or shown their fault lines before our very eyes? Careers once held on to for dear life suddenly disappearing under the most fickle of pressure. Institutions once thought sturdy revealed to be held together by cellotape and hope. Ideas like meritocracy once held on to exposed to be bold-faced lies. Everything, everywhere, upending, upending, upending.
The road is long, and anything can happen. So, the real question is: what do you do about it?
My answer? Embrace the long road. Embrace the change that comes with it. Getting older? Then get older. Turn your focus away from the things you can't change and toward those you can. If you want to (or have to) eat differently, live differently, love differently---do it. Everything is fleeting and nothing is permanent. It is quite freeing to remember that our place in this world is not to hammer permanence into everything we touch. It's okay for things to end. Because only then can something new begin.
2) ...the reward is not in merit...
Can we name 2022 the year we all decided meritocracy is a lie? At least meritocracy in the sense of the biggest levers that move the world. In the Arts alone, Hollywood's blatant nepotism was aired on main, and global publishing's inequity was exposed by the failed PRH and S&S merger and the Harpercollins workers strike. In academia, I've been privy to why only certain people gain access to institutions (with a few outliers sprinkled to dispute the narrative). We've seen the blatant ordination and ascenscion of obvious failures (the UK had THREE Prime Ministers this year; a 12-year-old billionaire commandeered the biggest water cooler in the world and made it his personal plaything). We've seen people co-opt a global health disaster for their own gain, simply because they had privilege and access. We've seen that TikTok's algorithm mostly favours certain kinds of people. We've seen this everywhere, all the time, over and over again.
If we've always known that in this broken world we live in, 1+1=/always= 2, why do we still possess meritorious expectation?
Perhaps it's because we need to believe something to survive. All this work has to count for something, right? Input = output. Hard work = reward. What goes around, comes around. It's just a fact of life, a mainstay, like gravity.
Except, it's not. Because merit is not a natural phenomenon controlled by unbiased, unprejudiced forces. Merit is controlled by people and people-built systems, which means it is biased and prejudiced. Perhaps in an ideal world not held up by hypercapitalist forces, success may be the product of hard work + skill + opportunity + luck + tenacity/staying power (that formula may actually sometimes work for the underprivileged).
But in today's world, even a sprinkling of privilege (as I once defined it) ensures that opportunity is created and luck may not be required. If skill and hard work are all it takes to succeed, tons of people have bucketfuls of those. But who gets the opportunity to demonstrate theirs?
My second lesson, therefore, is that the cream does not (always) rise to the top. Because the rising of cream is controlled by gravity, and gravity does not ask what institution the milk attended, what is its race, ethnicity, nationality, socioeconomic status.
What do we do with this knowledge, now that we have it? What do we gain on this long road, if not merit?
3) ...but encounters.
I'm going to define encounters as "events and opportunities to pause, (re)evaluate and reorient." To me, this is what this long road is all about: to live as we need to, and take the opportunity to pause, adjust as needed. This, to me, is the road to true success.
I've long been led to believe that the life of an author (or teacher, or any other career, occupation or vocation) is to continue to write and put in the best effort, on and on and on, until you become successful at it. A hustle/grind mentality, if you will. But some of my biggest encounters and successes this year did not come out of a hustle/grind. I worked hard, sure, but hard work =/= hustle grind. Repeat that with me: hard work =/= hustle/grind.
Remember when I said success = hard work + skill + opportunity + luck + tenacity/staying power? It's because hard work improves skill, and sometimes fosters opportunity. But neither of those two things need to be done constantly. This is why the hustle/grind mentality's insistence on the continuous, the incessant, the neverending, is a problem. This is often mistaken for tenacity/staying power, but in truth, staying power is strengthened by intermittent pause and reflection, not constant work.
When the Netflix & PRH team approached me to write Stranger Things: Lucas on the Line, it was a function of luck and opportunity. But I'd also made a decision prior to step away from other work that wasn't serving my purpose (I turned down more work this year than I ever have in my career). But the Stranger Things opportunity ended up on my plate only because I had paused, reoriented, and made space for such an opportunity. The ability to see the long road ahead, and to take the time to pause/reflect, gave me the foresight to make that space. And with hard work and skill, when the opportunity arrived, I was ready for it.
I guess this is me saying that every opportunity to recognize and make space for encounters should be taken, and the time & space taken for recovery, reevaluation and reorientation is the true gift of the long road. These encounters will lead you to realize the importance of things once taken for granted. It took such an encounter for me to learn the value of good citizenship---of rising tides over my own boat---in contrast to performative community (and this was why I started the LLEAA). It was how I came to understand the value of Going Outside: physical activity, connections, engagement with spaces---communal or natural or otherwise. It was how I learned that the total amalgamation of these pauses and reorientations surmount whatever idea of merit we believe we may have received.
So, shade your eyes with your hand and focus on the long road ahead. Let not merit be your driving cause, but rather, place a premium on encounters: space & time to pause, reflect and reorient, and you may
Okay, that's it from me this year! In January, we begin again. First order of business: I will be doing a title announcement for Warrior of the Wind, with a secret exclusive excerpt and some dope character art. Watch this space!
See you at the turn of the year, and have a happy new year in advance. Iselogbe!