Walter Mosley’s Career Advice: Forget Fame

Question: Do you have any advice for young people trying to find their footing in the world?

Walter Mosley: This question is a very complex question because what you’re doing is you’re talking about a young person in one period of time compared to a young person in another period of time.  So a young person at the end of the ‘60’s and into the ‘70’s and a person at the beginning of the 21st century.  

All young people have to feel lost to some degree because they’re trying to find their footing in the world.  They’re at the beginning, so they don’t know everything, they don’t know how to act, and they’re changing; physically they’re changing, but also they’re learning more, they’re become sophisticated.  So often you feel like you’re making mistakes, you’re making missteps.  That’s the same for the person in the late ‘60’s, early ‘70’s as it is for the person in the 21st century.  

But there’s a difference.  A person in the late ‘60’s or early ‘70’s doesn’t have the same ambitions; doesn’t say, “I want to be famous.”  One of the things that you are saying is that somebody is saying, I’m looking for myself, I’m looking for what I love.  A lot of young people today are looking for fame.  Say, I want to be famous, I want to be ****, I want to be well-known.  I want to be on the television.  I want to sell a million books.  I want to be in Oprah’s Book Club.  I want to be a star.  I don’t only want to sing songs; I want to sell a million records.  

My experience when I was young is not too many people thought like that.  Most of us thought, god – listen if I can make enough money to pay my rent, eat and get laid, I’m happy.  I’m completely – life is perfect.  You know.  I don’t know any young people that think like that today?

Question:  And why is that?  

Walter Mosley:  Why?  I think a lot of that is media.  The media talks a lot about fame, a lot about success, it concentrates on those, especially young people who are very – young and beautiful people who are very successful who have made it to this great thing and said, you know, who are loved who are...  President Obama may speak to or you know, on the other side Newt Gingrich might speak to.  People who are stars of movies and television.  It’s a whole other notion and all these expectations.  Those expectations are problematic.  If you want to learn how to be a good writer, not a great writer, just a good writer; how to be able to write a story from the first word to the last word, that’s great.  But if you’re worried about getting that story published in the New Yorker and then get a collection published and then win the MacArthur, well that’s a whole other series of thoughts which will get in your way. 

The novelist explains that high expectations and a desire for fame are increasingly becoming distractions for young people today.

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