Don’t try


“Don’t try”. This is the phrase etched on Charles Bukowski’s gravestone and, at first glance it seems rather defeatist for a man who spent the majority of his life trying to be a writer whilst underemployed at the Post Office. He worked a succession of mundane blue collar jobs and bookended gruelling nightshifts with hours at a typewriter to find some creative outlet. This predicament is more relevant now than when it was written in the 70s. By pouring himself into a typewriter on a daily basis, without compromise on language, hope or humour, his life was one of perseverance, which ultimately led him to be a successful writer and poet.

So why, after all that effort and finally tasting the satisfaction of success, would he advise us not to bother? Was it because he was an alcoholic and an outspoken cynic? Probably, but this was a man so obsessed with the beauty of writing concisely there must have been another message.

Like employment, if you have to force the practice of writing without joy or compulsion, then it will be a labour rather than a love. I tried to be an engineer in my early twenties and ultimately my schooling got in the way of my education. The grades I posted and the effort required to wrap my head around things told me frequently that I was ill suited. Swimming upstream for all of that time in an act of defiant perseverance was an act of trying. Trying to picture the moving parts of a planetary gearbox relative to each other, desperately trying to understand concepts rather than remember them, the penny never dropped. This wasn’t down to poor mentoring or lack of trying. My mind is simply not wired that way and I couldn’t change it. No more than I can change the fact that my favourite colour is green but I can’t wear it because it drains my complexion.

If you have to force or overthink it, just like a bowel movement, you are going to have a bad time and end up wincing with regret every time you sit down at a desk. If you have to search for suitability or meaning in employment your life will pass with all the mundanities of daytime TV. If you try lots of different things through the process of disqualification you find out what you don’t want to do. This journey, whilst arduous, is not something I would want to miss. This is the colour of life itself, separate from routine and I’m told it builds character.

Is the true message of “Don’t try” fulfilling the idea of oneself without effort? Only doing what comes naturally is a privilege reserved for people with established careers who are forgiven their character flaws because they are deemed to be too old to change. Graduates have to try very hard both in self-improvement and finding purpose whilst trying to shake the labels of “green as grass” and impertinent. To try to fulfil your potential is a long term commitment to address the imperfect and realise something promised.

Or perhaps it is the thought of a life without purpose, passion and success that drives us to try. It shouldn’t come easy but if you aren’t compelled to do it through all the adversity and suffering then “don’t try” but “If you are going to try, go all the way.”

– Alex Pucacco

Recommended listening: Giving up, giving in – Streetlight Manifesto


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