Everyone I work with is always terrified that whatever they launch is going to fail. They’re worried that if they fail, that will be the reputation that they will have for the rest of their lives. People will see them as that guy with the terrible startup or that woman who made that thing that sucked. It’s debilitating for many people and it’s the real reason that many people don’t get going in the first place. Here’s the thing. There are a lot of people that sucked for a really long time before they did anything worthwhile. And there are some people that knocked it out of the park immediately and then had a real rough go from there. Let’s talk about the pros and cons of immediate success. Let’s talk about time travel.
When I heard about the book, The Time Traveller’s Wife, I wasn’t sold. I have this theory that women read books where the title includes either a profession or object and a family member, typically a woman. Go ahead. Look at the books your wife or sister or girlfriend or you are reading and then get back to me with the percentages. I’m legitimately interested to see what you find. In any case, there is nothing wrong with these books but my wife and I are polar opposites when it comes to literary interests so when she told me I should read this book because it was great, I had my doubts. But then, while we were on a trip to BC, she finished the book and passed it off to me. I finished it in a day and a half. (Side note. I miss having unlimited time to read. I love my children but books about Dora or Paw Patrol don’t count).
The book was incredible but even more incredible to me was that this was Audrey Niffenegger’s first novel. Her first. Now, I’ve written a novel and self/co published it. I’m proud of it and it sold a few hundred copies. BUT, this book was TRULY a masterpiece. The book sold well over 2.5 million copies. This, from a novel that had trouble getting published. It had been rejected by agent after agent and it put Audrey Niffenegger on the map. THIS was the birth of a great literary powerhouse, right?
Well, I’m sure that Audrey Niffenegger has a really nice house and she’s probably doing alright but she’s written two poorly received books since. She received a $5 million advance for her second novel, Her Fearful Symmetry, published 6 years later. It sold significantly fewer copies and was poorly received, in general, by most critics. Her third novel, Raven Girl, received even less attention than her second. So what?
Well, most of us would LOVE to have Audrey Niffenegger’s life. She published a juggernaut of culture and literature. They turned it into a movie starring REALLY beautiful people. That’s amazing…but since that point, the work has fallen off. NOW, she has lots of money, so that’s great, right? Ask Elon Musk if he was happy to sit on his money.
Creative people; innovative people; entrepreneurs don’t want to rest on their laurels. In the words of coach Eric Taylor,
“There’s no resting on your laurels. You have no laurels. Not one laurel.”
It’s ok to suffer through a few failures. No on thinks about Stephen King as a loser because it took him a long time for his work to become a cultural phenomenon. People think about Stephen King as a success story. There are people who hit it out of the park immediately and then crash and burn. There are people who grind it out for years until they make it big. Which one is it better to be? Well, the answer is…neither.
We are FAR too keen on the end results and not nearly interested enough in how we get there. If the only thing you want is the glory and paycheque I promise you that you will never find success. Love the process. You need to LOVE writing if you want to write, you can’t just like to have published a book. You need to LOVE coding if you want to build software. Sure, the pleasure you take in the end result is important but if you don’t love the process, you’re doing it wrong.
Both Niffenegger and King are successful. Both made a lot of money living their passion. Both are recognized names in literature. One hit it big and has struggled a little since. One was a slow burn that caught on fire and has yet to burn out. But the secret, the important part in the story of each of these individuals is that in interview and interview and article after article they’ve spoken about one thing; they love writing. Love what you do. Let the rest come out in the wash.