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Immortality isn’t actually forever

The challenge with starting strong is maintaining that momentum can’t go forever.

Last Updated
4 min read
Mike Fiechtner / Sounders FC Communications

Every once in awhile, if you are ambitious and lucky, history taps you on the shoulder. You get to be part of something that will outlive you, an achievement that will be written about and remembered long after you yourself are gone. We often call this immortality, an odd, unwieldy word, especially considering it is not you who will live forever; it is the thing itself, the thing you built. As often as not, it is through immortality that you discover your own frailty. The thing you built may live forever, but you are getting more and more mortal every day. 

I remember when Ms Marvel became an unexpected cultural phenomenon — and by unexpected, I mean unexpected by everyone, including me — and all of a sudden my life became a zero-mistakes environment. At signings and conventions, I was used to having leisurely lines of half-interested readers. Now my signing lines snaked around the corner, and I was holding fans as they sobbed on my shoulder. I realized in a haze that the emotional wellbeing of a non-zero number of people was dependent on my ability to churn out my best work every single month, month after month. Holy shit, I remember thinking, What happens when I can’t keep this up anymore? 

That’s the terribly ironic part about immortality: it doesn’t last. After it’s over, after the accolades and the speeches, you are left to ask what’s next? You’re not prepared for what comes after; this is usually the part where the movie ends in a swell of inspirational music. But real life continues after the curtain falls. You still have work to do, and the expectations for your performance are now higher than they’ve ever been. 

The problem is, your best work is not typically your benchmark work. It’s the product of over-performance. You are pushing yourself past the upper boundary of your skillset. The fact that this is even possible feels like magic, like something supernatural. That’s why watching a spectacular soccer match, or a stunning ballet, or reading a book that changes your life, or looking at a painting that makes you cry, is such a transformative experience. Human beings can push themselves halfway to godhood. But it’s not  sustainable. You fly at the sun, your wings melt, you fall back to earth. Authors who are heavily lauded for their first novels are notorious for producing mediocre second novels. Actors turn in award-winning performances followed by shockingly poor ones. Medal-winning gymnasts get the yips. Sports teams win championships and then have drop-offs. Long ones. 

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