9 Books About Geniuses Who Floundered (aka You Just Graduated And May Be Floundering, And It's Totally OK)
Welcome to the world, guys. Welcome to internships that pay you in stolen office supplies, 17 roommates (eight of whom are unskilled musicians and three of whom smell like sadness), and a void of meaningless. It's great! Maybe you're one of those people who majored in engineering like President Obama told you to, or maybe you're just filthy, filthy rich. Go away. This is article is not for you. No, it's for us poor fools — the English majors, the wannabe actors, the ones who chose Latin to fulfill our language requirements. People like me who graduated from college and realized in about four seconds that we had no idea what we were going to do with our lives. Or how to pay rent.
For us, the years after college are terrifying. Before graduation, we were interesting. We were translating Anna Karenina. We were protesting the war in/on [insert your war here]. We were fooling around with our Latin TAs. Suddenly we are living in our mother's basement. We're eating ramen for every meal. We're being turned down for jobs that pay... WHAT? SERIOUSLY? NUMBERS GO THAT LOW?
I was there once... by which I mean until about 15 minutes ago. But after a few years of staring into the void, I figured out I wanted to be a writer, and am contentedly trying to make a go of it. I promise that do find that thing that gives you purpose. But first, you flail. And if you think that flailing means you're doomed to fail, you're wrong. Here's the proof: there are thousands of geniuses who first fell flat on their faces. These are just a few.
Ball of Fire: The Tumultuous Life and Comic Art of Lucille Ball by Stefan Kanfer
Lucille Ball was a second-rate actress in B movies until she convinced CBS to let her try her hand at television. She was 40 years old when the first episode aired, which makes her getting I Love Lucy made an even greater accomplishment — back then older women had trouble getting acting parts. Pssh, thank God that's over....
Alan Turing: The Enigma by Andrew Hodges
Alan Turing's genius knew no bounds — he was a pioneer mathematician, cryptanalyst, philosopher, and marathon-runner. You know, one of those people that makes you hate yourself for existing. But! He spent much of his academic career struggling to pass and had to apply to university more than once. And you better believe he didn't come up with his spinny-wheel, code-cracker, Nazi-ass-kicking machine all in one go. He flailed like all the great ones do.
Blood, Bones & Butter: The Inadvertent Education of a Reluctant Chef by Gabrielle Hamilton
Gabrielle Hamilton is the chef behind Prune, one of New York City's coolest tiny restaurants (and that is saying something, considering, well, New York.) She also won Best Chef in NYC from the James Beard Foundation, the Oscars of food. However, she spent much of her youth completely lost, angry and resisting the pull of the kitchen.
Allen Ginsberg: Beat Poet by Barry Miles
He made floundering his life work! Allen Ginsburg lived and breathed the world of the beatniks. We remember them as black turtleneck-clad hipsters who liked to snap their fingers for claps. But Ginsburg was realer than that. He liked heroin, bumming around New York City and shoving unpleasant truths in his readers' faces. Ginsburg's poems are big odes to floundering. And it worked out for him — well, mostly — so why not give it a shot?
Great Soul: Mahatma Gandhi and His Struggle with India by Joseph Lelyveld
It took him years to figure out he wanted to do... which was want pretty much nothing. This book tells of Gandhi's years in South Africa where he first learned that he wanted to be more than a lawyer, that he wanted to help people become free. He didn't just inherently know how to wield the power of non-violence. He learned it in his successes and failures. Becoming Gandhi took a long time.
Angela's Ashes by Frank McCourt
So if you want to do something creative after college, you'll probably end up with a day job to pay the bills. And at some point you will serve a latte to someone you went to college with. Or pick up her dog's poop. And you'll feel like a failure. But take heart, it isn't true. Before the author of this memoir became a Pulitzer Prize-winning author, he worked in a hotel, on the docks, in warehouses, and worst of all, at the post office. Day jobs are where you'll find the suffering that inspires you later. Trust me.
The People's Tycoon: Henry Ford and the American Century by Steven Watts
Let's just say he's not famous for the Model A, Model B or Model C. If you're a trial and error kind of person... you're in good company.
My Life in France by Julia Child with Alex Prud'homme
Julia Child went from spy to master chef. During and after World War II, Child worked for the OSS (which would soon become the CIA). It was as a spy that she travelled across the Atlantic and met the man she would marry. When she left the life of the double agent, she floundered. She struggled again to find a meaning in her life. Thankfully for all of us, she found it in Paris. And butter. So I would encourage you not to limit yourself. Be like Julia — have two baller careers. Have three! You want to be the first ever interpretive dancing astronaut to make her millions on Wall Street? Do you. Just do you.
Louisa May Alcott: A Personal Biography by Susan Cheever
The book that made Louisa May Alcott was one she never wanted to write. She did it because her family was poor and they needed the money. So, at the behest of her publisher, at age 36, she wrote the pseudo-memoir that would enchant 7-year old girls for generations to come. You've got 14 good years to figure out how the hell to write about your crazy family. You're gonna be fine.
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