Let’s talk about success and failure through the lens of two real-life stories …
Jonathan Larson was an aspiring playwright in New York City. In the early 1990s he had ambitions to create a rock opera that would “bring musical theater to the MTV generation.”
Larson composed songs and developed a stage production over the course of several years while he waited tables to make ends meet.
At this point in his life, he was just another “struggling artist.”
He found a small theater company that was willing to give his musical a test run. But there were problems. The show was too long, too complicated, and featured too many songs.
So he cut several scenes and songs and refined it. The show was finally ready for public consumption.
In 1996, the night before the show’s Off Broadway premier, Jonathan Larson died of an aortic aneurysm. He was only 35.
The cast and crew were shocked and saddened. But in his honor, the show, called Rent, debuted and did its initial run.
The musical was a big hit and soon moved to Broadway, before it moved again to a bigger theater on Broadway.
Rent went on to win a Pulitzer Prize and the Tony Award for Best Musical. It grossed $280 million over a 12-year run on Broadway with 5,123 performances. It was later adapted into a major motion picture.
So, I ask you …
Was Jonathan Larson a failure?
Since he never lived to see the material fruits of his labor, did Larson have a right to feel successful? Was he a champion only after the play became wildly popular? Or was he already successful prior to the Off Broadway premiere?
Also consider the life of Stieg Larsson
He was a writer and journalist in Sweden best known for his left-leaning political views. He did a lot of research to uncover and expose right-wing extremism, racism, and hate groups.
At age 50, Larsson died of a heart attack after climbing seven flights of stairs when the elevator in his building was out of order.
Soon after his death, three unpublished manuscripts of his were found. He had written them in his spare time and never sought to have them published until shortly before his death.
The three books comprised a trilogy known as the Millennium series. The first book was translated into English and became The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, which became a bestseller.
The other two books followed: The Girl Who Played with Fire and The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest. The series has sold more than 80 million copies worldwide. The first book was adapted into a motion picture.
So, in the final years of Stieg Larsson’s life he wrote novels in seclusion while working as a journalist. If you had met him at that time, how would you have rated his value and success as a writer?
What did he have to show for it on a large scale?
The principle underlying both of these stories comes down to how you answer these questions:
- How do you measure success?
- What has to happen for you to feel that you’ve “arrived”?
- How do you truly define failure or accomplishment?
- What has to happen for your work to have meaning and deliver value to an audience?
I’d love your thoughts on this!
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(This article was adapted from my book, The Empowered Artist: A Call to Action for Musicians, Writers, Visual Artists, and Anyone Who Wants to Make a Difference With Their Creativity.)
This is Day 25 of my 30-Day Blog Writing Challenge.
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Bob Baker helps musicians, authors, artists, and creative entrepreneurs use their talents and know-how to make a living and make a difference in the world!