We’re told to dream big. Self-help books scream “Success is yours!” from their garish covers. But all-too-often we miss the fact that behind every success is a grind; years of hard work, perseverance, setbacks and apprenticeship. Social media arrived 20 years ago, and with it, the ubiquitous myth of overnight success, of influencers being “famous for being famous”.
But it also perhaps brought with it unrealistic expectations; a chance to curate the image of success, while editing out the disappointments and mundanity of everyday life. It’s no wonder that social media is connected to a growing epidemic of unhealthy social comparisons, low self-esteem, depression, anxiety and a “compare and despair” attitude.
Of course, there will always be anomalies. In Fortune magazine, Russ Ruffino points out that it’s Kanye West’s “obnoxious confidence” that is the key to his success: his overinflated ego convinces those around him of his talent. Sure. But the story that isn’t told is of West’s musical journey beginning at age 13; a decade-long apprenticeship of making beats for others, and multiple record company rejections. And let’s be honest, success stories of this magnitude are the exception, not the rule.
The music industry is replete with success stories of musicians being discovered and elevated, often before the hard grind has been done. Perhaps we do a disservice to the journey of musicians when we focus too much on those that have “made it”. We create an expectation that can’t be met. It’s in the chasm between these magical success stories and the everyday reality of the creative life that we find a raft of casualties; the drop-outs and jaded vets.
Doctors don’t short-cut their path to qualification. Athletes don’t nail ultra-marathons on day one. Being a musician is a career much like any other; one that requires training, apprenticeship, resilience, a firm grasp on reality and a long-haul mentality. In this great round-up on industry knowledge, manager Lorraine Barry (who was recently crowned MMF Manager of the Year) talks about patiently growing your ‘amazing’ and the importance of achievable goals. There’s no talk of ‘faking it till you make it’, or of overnight success.
And the question needs to be asked, controversial though it may sound: is the high level of mental health issues in the music industry due in part to unrealistic expectations?
So how do we maintain expectations grounded in reality? In the same article, Dixon Nacey nails it in one word: gratitude. Mark Baer explains that gratitude is the easiest way to introduce an empowering sense of reality to your expectations:
“People with grateful dispositions see their efforts grandly but not themselves. Life doesn’t surpass their dreams but it nicely surpasses their expectations.
Unrealistic expectations have a way of undermining gratitude. When we expect too much from life, nothing is ever enough; we lose our ability to present and to be grateful.
Have big dreams. Shoot for the stars. But realise that you’re on a long-haul journey towards them – and be grateful for every step along the way.