The Curse of Early Success/The Blessing of Early Failure

After I turned 30, my thoughts turned to the grave. I’ve been reflecting upon what I’ve done and not done. I’ve focused quite a bit of thought into past failures as I see them, but viewing them as fortunate occurrences. I’ll explain. When I look back on the things that didn’t work out, and really consider just what happened and what came after, I’m comforted. To look back on events that at the time felt world-ending, but with the insight of years, it’s a fascinating feeling. Whether it’s relationships that fell by the wayside, or situations that reached their end, all things lead toward the end.

            I don’t believe in fate, destiny, or the universe as an interventionist power. I do believe that things happen, and time keeps moving. I’ve been especially reflecting on my entire time in music – and I’m proud to say that I was not a success. From my time in my first bands to my final band, I had only sporadic bouts of fleeting success. At the time, all successes felt major, momentous, and life-altering. But, they weren’t. They were ego boosts, but ultimately inconsequential. Even playing to bigger audiences at fantastic venues across the country, while it’s an achievement, wasn’t success in any traditional sense. I’m richer for the experiences, but certainly not the income – if money is your aim, music is a terrible way to go about getting it. 

            When I would play famous venues with the band, it would feel like I made it. But several years removed from it, it was a cool event, but it wasn’t fame, and it certainly wasn’t success. After those shows, those tours, I’d go back home to my parents’ house. The audience generally went back to homes of their own, but the musicians – all of us – returned to less impressive situations. Musicians, touring ones, live like refugees. 

            I thought I was joining an established, highly successful band for my last foray. The band was established, yes, and had fans strewn about the country, but I was absorbed by the excitement of joining. During my time in the band, we had quite a few concerts with a single digit audience, or with an audience much spottier than the last show in that city. The entire time in the band, I was told stories of the band’s history, of their earlier successes. What I never considered at the time is how all the stories were in the distant past. Those stories, which I imagine are still told within the band’s circle, are decades old now. 

            And so, my time in the band, while at the time seemed like success, now I see it wasn’t. I saw my leaving that band as a failure, that I couldn’t handle the pressure. But removed from it, the whole situation was dark. I became a different person, liked what the group liked, dressed how they dressed, spoke how they spoke. I know now that success in that situation would be the end for me. To stay there would cement that existence, which wasn’t good for me. Early “success” would be my achievement, and everything after would be sad. Whereas now, as my career as a writer is only just beginning, I don’t see limitations. I don’t see restrictions. And I certainly don’t see any person or group that I need to please and bend over backwards for. My “success” in music was failure writ long. But I’d choose learning from early failure versus living with bygone early success any day. 

Published by Christopher Goodlof

Writer, Visual Artist, Musician

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