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.

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