This week, I’d like to share a story about someone who dreamed of being a famous singer-songwriter, or, failing that, a famous author. It’s based on a true story and while the person’s identity isn’t important, the story is one that many starry-eyed hopefuls have when they travel to music centers in search of industry success.
This particular person stated in a book she wrote (and published a decade ago) that in spite of having her songs recorded and released, she “did not reap fame and fortune.” In her twenties, she hoped to break into the Nashville scene (for a decade beginning in 1973), supporting herself with day jobs to pay the bills. She distantly rubbed shoulders with other singer-songwriters who were making names for themselves and watched as they reached the heights she had hoped to grab for herself.
Nearly forty years later, she still holds her tattered dreams up as a banner, reminding people on social media that she was once introduced to Dolly Parton back in the day.
When she wasn’t able to achieve her dream, she walked away from the music industry. Two decades after leaving the music industry, she tried her hand at writing books, with her last book being published by a vanity press in 2004. The website set up as a companion for her last book no longer exists anywhere online as a live website.
SIDE NOTE ABOUT THE VANITY PRESS MENTIONED: It appears that back in 2004, a law firm in Gary (IN) allegedly began a class action lawsuit against the vanity press. The law firm represented a number of authors and writers who had published books through this particular vanity press, and who claimed the vanity press had not performed their contractual duties as agreed to in their contracts.
It’s sad that the woman who dreamed of “fame and fortune” allowed two dreams to fail. Perhaps she wasn’t as talented as her hometown friends had led her to believe she was. Perhaps she didn’t fit in with Nashville’s culture at the time. Perhaps she alienated more than she endeared herself to during her decade there. And perhaps she just wasn’t able to understand that, like every business, success rarely falls into your lap with minimal attention and effort invested.
It’s rumored that Willie Nelson and Toby Keith were once told that they would never make it in Nashville as songwriters or singer-songwriters. The ones who succeed in the arts industry are those who keep knocking on doors. They keep presenting their art to the public. They get out on the “entrepreneur street” and show people what they are capable of doing.
They don’t ever think for a minute that they know everything about their industry on the basis of having a few minor successes and five or ten years of professional experience behind them. What’s more, they are very aware that there’s a limited number of people in each industry who will make it to the top of the ladder.
Those who stay in the arts industry are able to answer one question with a smile: Does success hinge on your perception of success or on what you believe other people say success looks like?
If you live for other people’s definition of success, no matter how high up the ladder you may climb — or may have climbed during your stay in the arts industry of your choice — you won’t be happy and you won’t be satisfied. You’ll be miserable and bitter, and that misery and bitterness will last long after you’ve walked away from your dream (or dreams).
There’s a reason for sharing this story.
Far too many aspiring success stories in the arts industry — whether it’s music, literature, dance, visual arts, or any other domain — fail to plan for the possibility that their dreams may not come true exactly as they have envisioned them in their naive understanding of their industry. Not everyone will make it to the top of the pile, and many will fail to adapt with their situation and turn their backs on their dreams, bitter that ultimate success wasn’t theirs to hold.
Oddly enough, however, those who are miserable and bitter about their failures oftentimes seem to think of themselves in narcissistic terms in order to avoid facing the reality of their failure to achieve “fame and fortune.” Those who are most affected by their failure seem to resent those who continue to be successful on their own terms, and will stoop at nothing in an attempt to discredit them.
One word of advice: Avoid miserable, bitter people as they are toxic, and they know they are.
If the sun ain’t singin’ the blues for Jack and Jill, Jack and Diane, Harry and Sally, Melissa or anyone else, you shouldn’t be singing the blues for yourself. Turn your attention to the success you are working towards achieving, and be grateful with each new accomplishment you reach.