Failure is Not an Option

by Satu Runa // Friday, July 5th, 2019

What happens when you achieve the goals society or your parents had for you, but they don’t align with your own dreams? Is it better than living in a constant struggle while pursuing your own goals? If you’re the ambitious type, when you are lagging behind your personal goals, it makes you reexamine your life choices, and inevitably: the impossible dream you chose to pursue.

satuballetI’ve always rejected conformity with the force of a hurricane. I come from a family who hits the academic life hard, pushing degree after degree, much in favor of the respectable family life (job, house ownership, kids). We strive for success, mainly in academia, medicine, or law (typical of most South Asian diaspora in the West), ingrained early on as the best choice offering the most out of life, paired with marriage and children.

I had a tremendous amount of support from my parents to pursue a life in the performing arts, and I am forever grateful. However; simultaneously, there’s always been a concentrated effort to lure me away from it (partially due to the fact that it’s not the most financially rewarding career- I can’t blame them). After chatting with some of my peer cousins, I wondered about the differences between the path of either pursuing the goals your parents wanted for you verses pursuing your own specific dreams- particularly if they don’t match up. I’ve known since watching Jesus Christ Superstar on TV for the first time at age seven that I wanted to be a performer. This dream has never altered, I’ve only adapted to this tumultuous industry by expanding my skill set (as a writer, director etc.). There is also the crushing force of society careening young career women into a life dedicated towards a successful marriage and rearing children. Then there is also the commodified lie that you can “have it all.” That’s only true for a select group, and it always involves making loads of money to support it. For those of us millenial freelancers who hardly survive check to check, it’s a choice between family life and pursuing your career dreams. No amount of mental conditioning can overcome this economy we’ve inherited.

Satu Runa (former co-owner, Keeping It Reel Productions)

Wearing multiple hats (writer/director/producer slate) with my previous prod. co. in 2012

I’m lucky that I developed other skills early on in order to survive, because I’m using them now to pay the bills and to move into directing films, primarily. The whole journey of pursuing a life in the arts is tragic for most who never see true success, but for me it would be immensely more tragic if I never went after what I wanted and instead lived someone else’s dream. If I found out I was going to die tomorrow, I’d rest easy knowing that I truly went for it despite pushing against the relentless tides of reason and conformity.

To pursue the dream, or to live a life of security?

I must reveal one Earth shattering moment that happened a few days ago. I saw a post with an Alan Wilson Watts quote (the British philosopher, author “The Meaning of Happiness,” 1940) that cracked my mind open like a cantaloupe. It read:

“The meaning of life is just to be alive. It is so plain and so obvious and so simple. And yet, everybody rushes around in a great panic as if it were necessary to achieve something beyond themselves.”

This goes against everything my family stands for, as we are ambition defined. Both of my parents achieved the impossible. “Giving up” is not in my vocabulary. But when I saw this quote, it struck me: Just knowing that I could “give up” at any moment was bolstering. I really could just walk away from all of this, 16 years of running, pushing, hustling. It’s been utterly exhausting, but I could leave it all behind. Today. I could jump on a plane and go live in a log cabin in the middle of the woods and just “exist” for a while, or forever. It never occurred to me that I had permission to stop.

Letting go of the idea that there’s a ticking clock of some kind is the most freeing experiment. For women, we always have the ticking reproduction clock. I’ve done my best to ignore it because it’s the single greatest injustice that humanity has ever known. I’ll never stop striving to be free from the restraints of my biology. There are socially constructed rules that hold me back, and then there is very real biological reality holding me back (must procreate by a certain age, or die trying). For the time being, I’ve gained a tiny bit of illumination this week, and I intend to gain more. I’ll set myself free by ridding myself of impossible expectations. I know, without a doubt, what I enjoy doing while here on this Earth, and I will always strive to do just that. I want to create. Everything else is just someone else’s expectation of me. I suppose that’s worth striving for, and I’ll never give that up.