Lucy Barton’s lover in My Name is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout tells her that to be an artist she must be ruthless. I have found myself going back to this statement over and over and thinking about the truth in this statement and how it translates to non-artists as well. Do you need to be ruthless to succeed?
Ruthless is defined as “having or showing no pity or compassion for others.” If ruthlessness is required for success in the arts or other life pursuits then I question the value of success. Are the artists that are today considered to have been or to be at the top of their craft ruthless. Does someone have to be without compassion to produce work that is perceived by others to be a ‘classic’ or worthwhile? Is the only way to gain fame to be ruthless?
I wonder if the better advice that Lucy’s lover could have given is that she must be selfish, fearless and able to use rejection as motivation. In Lucy’s case she [spoiler alert] did make a decision to leave her family to pursue her art – was this ruthless or selfish. Selfish is defined as “lacking consideration for others; concerned chiefly with one’s own personal profit or pleasure.” I do believe that Lucy felt she could not be the best writer she was meant to be within the confines of her marriage and family. She was certainly selfish in this decision but was she truly ruthless?
As I mom I can’t imagine completely choosing my personal pursuits – artistic, career, etc – over my family. I do see the need to compromise There are times when family doesn’t have to come first but there are times when it must. In order to be successful in a pursuit there are times that you must be selfish but the success that is achieved through selfish acts must be measured and evaluated against the impact that selfishness causes others. Leaving her family may have been the right choice for Lucy, but it would never be for me.