I was polishing wine glasses behind the bar when the restaurant manager sat down across from me.
“Pour two shots of Stoli,” he said.
I set up two pony glasses in front of him and poured the shots. He slid one back to me and said, “Cheers.” It was a slow night and he wanted to chat.
“So, why do you write fiction?” He asked, knowing that was what I did all day before coming into work.
“Fame and fortune,” I said, giving my standard answer.
“Not because you love it?”
“Oh, I love writing. I would do it even if I never got published, but making money from it is certainly a driving force.”
“Any other reasons?” He inquired with a raised eyebrow.
“I suppose it’s how I’ll leave my mark on the world.”
“Ah, your legacy.”
“Yes. How about you, don’t you want to do something that people will remember you for after you die?”
“So that strangers, people I don’t know, will remember me?” He shook his head. “No. My legacy is my children.”
“No kidding,” I thought, “you have five of them.”
He continued, “The time I spend with them, the experiences we have, the memories we make together will be enough for me.”
I was 26 years old and his wisdom was beyond my comprehension. Nor did I understand what was actually driving me to write. Years later, I would learn that my ambition was deeply rooted in my early childhood experiences.
When you entered my childhood home, the large portrait in soft pastels that dominated the livingroom told you who ran things in my family. Everything in our household revolved around my mother: her interests, her needs, her goals.
My sister and I quickly learned that love came with a price tag: achievement. If we wanted love and attention we had to earn it. My sister became a straight-A student in school. She worried so much about achieving a perfect report card that she ended up in the hospital twice with bleeding stomach ulcers before she was even in high school. While I never reached the pinnacle my sister did, I felt the same pressure. I recall during my first years in school I would break down in tears whenever I couldn’t answer a question or solve a problem on a test.
I grew up learning from my mother that love was conditional. Whether it was a blue ribbon for winning the hundred yard dash, or becoming an Eagle Scout, every scrap of approbation I received garnered a moment of precious loving attention and motivated me to strive for more. Sometime around second grade my mother praised me for a few lines of poetry I wrote, and the seed for becoming a writer was planted.
It wasn’t until recently that I learned my mother was a narcissist, who was incapable of giving love. As a child, I didn’t know that I could never be smart enough, attractive enough, accomplished enough—in short, good enough—to win the love I so desired.
As a young man in my twenties, I was determined to write a novel clever enough to become a best seller. Something that would win me the love I longed for. I wrote several, but none were quite good enough to be published. Years later, long after the passion for getting published wore off, I became a parent and discovered what my manager from the restaurant tried to tell me. Not having received it myself, I was determined as a parent to provide my children with a stable loving environment where they could flourish.
One of the ways I would do that was to make up bedtime stories for them. A story about a ghost kid became a favorite and they asked to hear it again and again. I kept adding to it, and they began to tell their friends about it. So many children wanted to hear it that I wrote it down and published it. Ironically, my dream of creating a legacy with fiction may come from a story that evolved out of the legacy I am building with my children.
I sometimes wonder how many famous people are driven by the desire for an unattainable unconditional love they never received as children. Is there something from your distant past that still motivates you today?
Robert Evans Wilson, Jr. is an author, humorist and innovation consultant. He works with companies that want to be more competitive and with people who want to think like innovators. Robert is also the author of the humorous children’s book: The Annoying Ghost Kid. For more information on Robert, please visit www.jumpstartyourmeeting.com.