Here’s an old column I wrote more than fifteen years ago. Some references are dated.
When a friend in college told me that I had an addictive personality, I took it as an affront. Why shouldn’t I? The implication was that I was somehow abnormal or… I’m not exactly sure, but it was negative. He sure as hell wasn’t praising me in any sense. He pointed to my “habits”. My vices in his mind. Smoking. Drinking. A penchant for easy women. Well, maybe not the last one. I’ve never met a woman that was easy per se, but that’s another story for another time.
But, the more I thought about my supposed addictions, the more I saw that there really isn’t anything wrong with them. Hell, I’d argue that love’s an addiction, but I’ll let the masterful singer Robert Palmer do it for me: “You mind as well face it, you’re addicted to love.” Okay, bad joke, but I couldn’t help myself. (There’s actually a great Florence + the Machine cover.)
The problem with supposed addictions is that only vices and bad habits are considered. You know: gambling, drinking, drugs, chocolate, women, sex. All the stuff that we keep behind closed doors in our bedrooms. All the cool shit basically. It’s the supposed notion that too much of anything can’t be good. We’re a people based on moderation. But that’s erroneous; hard work and perseverance are preached daily to kids. You’re supposed to keep at something to become good in at it, right?
Trial and error. Trial and error. Trial and error and luck. Four words: Alexander Fleming. Penicillin. Gonorrhea.
People shouldn’t be surprised when someone of stature—someone considered a leader in his or her field—ends up being caught with a lifestyle choice that isn’t widely accepted. These people are so used to going all out in their endeavors that they’re not accustomed to doing anything half-assed.
For instance, Michael Jordan and Magic Johnson (That’s a hell of a porn name if I’ve heard one.) are great basketball players, and they got that way through hours upon hours of practice and honing of their craft. It’s not like they stumbled upon greatness. One could even say they have a basketball addiction, but instead, people say they’re ambitious. I’m calling it an addiction, and that’s why it didn’t surprise me when these ball players were found to have other addictions. Jordan with his gambling. Johnson with business. And they both “loved” women.
They have addictive personalities. Several others do, too. These people are obsessive about their work, immersing themselves in their craft. Look at Jack Kerouac’s fascination with writing and living. The guy just loved life, and he worked at living a good one.
Jean Donnelly, recent recipient of the National Poetry Award, used to tell me that she spent months trying to improve a single poem. Of course, there are exceptions such as fellow poet Robert Creeley, a strong proponent of writing single drafts. Writing just came to him easily.
Some athletes are the same way, but these natural specimens are the exceptions to the rule, and none of them would be considered greatest in their field of expertise. But all the greats attribute their success to hard work and practice. They’re addicted to their craft.