I have read many an inspirational essay and heard many a motivational talk on the good of failure: failure frees us from the tyranny of the world's expectations, failure shows that we were willing to take creative risks in the past, failure makes us more willing to take creative risks in the future, failure helps us grow. Samuel Beckett is quoted as saying, "Fail. Fail again. Fail better."
Two days ago I heard a delightful lecture by rock music scholar Glen Gass of Indiana University, speaking on the 45th anniversary of the release of "Sergeant Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band." It served as a powerful reminder about the good of success.
The Beatles came to this stage of their career riding a tidal wave of success. They were rich and famous enough to stop touring, so they could devote months rather than days to the recording of this newest album. (Prof. Gass noted that the album itself in essence became the tour, as listeners felt themselves to be in the live audience for the tour of the fictitious Sergeant Pepper's band). The Beatles could wander the world in search of unusual sources of inspiration: sitar music for George, classical music for Paul. They could call upon the world's finest creative resources to amplify their own creative arsenal: Paul hit upon the idea of using the piccolo trumpet for the instrumental solo in "Penny Lane" (recorded during this same time period), after hearing a performance on the BBC of Bach's Second Brandenburg Concerto - and then the Beatles proceeded to hire the London Philharmonic's piccolo trumpet player to record that solo for them. For the Beatles, success became creative liberation.
Now, so far this post isn't very helpful to those of us who want to protest (as I do): "I'd love to be successful and reap all these creative rewards from it! The problem is that . . . I'm not." So I want to draw some lessons for myself from this Beatles story about how I can reap some of these benefits of success even without success itself, even as decidedly less than a rock star.
Even in this less-than-stellar state of my career, I can;
1. Work to clear away distractions to give myself space to create on a deeper, richer scale.
2. Open myself to unusual sources of creative inspiration and be willing to bring a wealth of different creative traditions into dialogue in my work.
3. Spend as much time as I can surrounded by other stimulating creative people in a simulating creative environment.
I can do these things, even if I'm not a Beatle. I can! And maybe that will lead me to my own Sergeant Pepper breakthrough. It's worth a try.