Sunday, October 30, 2011

When $35 Million Doesn't Equal Success

Last night I stayed up until 11 p.m. (I know! Can you believe it?) to watch From the Sky Down, a documentary about my favorite band U2 and the production of their 1991 album Achtung Baby. The film chronicles the difficult recording period and the group's creative process.

In April 1987, my friend, Christi, and I saw U2 at The Summit in Houston. Joshua Tree was an astounding album and a phenomenal tour. In fact, we had to stay up all night at IHOP, eating blueberry pancakes and discussing the experience. The four boys from Ireland had skyrocketed to success in a matter of months, moving from arena to stadium venues.

I was astounded to learn in the documentary that the band was far from thrilled about the Joshua Tree tour. They said they’d often leave the stage and have a morose sit-down about how disappointed they were in their performances. Lead singer Bono said they were musically unprepared for their success. Drummer Larry Mullen, Jr. said, “We were the biggest, but we weren’t the best.”

WHAT THE F***? Boys, did you hear the gazillions of women screaming and crying? Did you see the lighters held high? Your album sold more than 25 million copies! The 79 North American shows on the tour sold more than 2 million tickets and grossed $35 million.

The point I’m making is that despite outside appearances, the band still didn’t think they were good enough.

How often do we feel this way in the face of success? Do we downplay milestones in our creative journeys or attribute them to luck? Or worse, do we beat ourselves up that we haven’t lived up to some ideal?

The whole documentary left me feeling a little sad because that album defined an important period in my life and the concert was an extra-sensory overload experience that stays with me today – 25 years later. But it taught me a powerful lesson. Money and fame and millions of adoring fans couldn’t make the boys feel good about themselves at that time in their lives.

I hope I can define success for myself in a way that is more compassionate.

Friday, October 21, 2011

On Growing Old and the Kindness of Strangers

Last night as my husband and I were about to fall asleep, he said, “I can’t believe you’ll be 64 tomorrow.” Then, he backtracked furiously about having dyslexia and of course, he meant 46. I told him I feel awfully spry for a 64-year-old, or awfully rickety for a 46-year-old. Most days, I fall somewhere in-between.

Just a couple of weeks ago, my sister visited me. It’s weird to realize how we’d both started worrying about our aging bodies at about the same time in our lives. Age spots, wrinkles, neck waddles, crepey skin (girls, you know what I mean).

Naturally, we found ourselves in the Oil of Old Lady (Olay) aisle at the Rite-Aid perusing the various skin care miracles. The price of that stuff is enough to scare the wrinkles right off you!

Anyhoo. After a few minutes, I grabbed a kit that contained a few different products. I turned it over to check the price. On the back were two yellow Post-it notes. One said: Yes, you are! The other: Beautiful just the way you are.

I grinned. A huge grin. The kind of grin that stays with you for hours. Days.

We left the Rite-Aid without purchasing anything. One simple, beautiful note from a stranger erased a lot of the self-judgment we’d arrived with.

I’m left with two thoughts:

  1. Let’s be kinder to ourselves and to all women and girls. Life is too short to feel inadequate at any age.
  2. Words are powerful. Let’s be careful to use them to uplift rather than tear down.

If you have a Post-it note handy, write a kind note and leave it in a library book, a menu, a bathroom stall, the gym locker room. I'm guessing you'll be responsible for a huge grin.