What if success means not quitting?

Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about our obsession with “upgrading”or hacking ourselves to become better, faster, more. This urge to optimize ourselves to superhuman levels is really appealing but does it really add up to greater success? More importantly, does it contribute to deeper satisfaction? Where is authenticity in this push to optimize? What about just plowing forward and never quitting?

A couple of months ago I found myself standing in a cozy, dimly lit basement under a long-time Madison bakery. The space is home to Williamson Magnetic recording studio and a modest performance space for local musicians. I was there to see a close friend of 30+ years perform a set of her original music. Connie Ward (performing as In the Rushes), has been performing music since the first day I met her in 1985. In fact that day might have been the first time she ever played and sang in front of an audience. It was an audience of about 8 people who showed up for a live music event at my high school. The band that was supposed to play had some technical difficulties (amplifier on fire), so Connie and I decided to entertain them with some off-the-cuff entertainment. It wasn’t much of a show, but it was the beginning of a long friendship and perhaps galvanized Connie’s passion for music and performance.

Standing in that basement some 30 years later, listening to her precise guitar playing and her moving lyrics, I was struck by how the audience was not much bigger than so many years ago. Connie has performed in several bands, has played to much bigger audiences and has toured a good chunk of the United States with her music. She has been through difficult band break-ups and incredibly beautiful collaborations. She has survived her own family losses, job difficulties, health crises and relationship issues. But what has remained constant for Connie has been her commitment to and passion for music. It has been her medicine. It could be said that music has been Connie’s reason to live and keep putting one foot in front of the other. It might be said that music is her purpose here on this earth. She never quit. (here’s a video of one of the songs she performed that night)

Likewise, Mark Haines, who runs the recording studio, has been around the Madison music scene for a number of years. He especially loves the analog recording technology that was at its peak in the 80’s and early 90’s. When he decided to set up the recording studio he had a vision to help people learn to use this technology which has all but disappeared from the recording industry. His mission and purpose drove him to source an analog sound board. He found one, agreed to the price and drove to pick it up. When he shared his vision with the person selling the board, they were so moved by the vision that they decided to give him the board (I hope I’m retelling this part of the story correctly). He brought it home and has created a fantastic space for people to record in analog, have live performances and teach people this art of analog recording. He never quit.

Last week I stood among probably a thousand Patti Smith fans as she performed her iconic album “Horses”. At 70 she hasn’t slowed down. She moves and sounds like she might have when she was in her 20s. Recently Smith made headlines for her moving performance of a Bob Dylan tune at the Nobel Prize Ceremony. Despite stumbling over the lyrics and becoming very emotional, she continued the song and then went on to write about it. Not only did she not quit, she powered through a difficult performance and came back to her art (writing and singing) to find strength and courage. Her whole life story it seems is a story of not quitting on her passion and purpose. Not quitting on herself. Her beautifully written books are great examples of this and motivational to anyone searching for the courage to press on with their mission. She didn’t quit.

Not all of us have an art form as our primary passion or purpose.

Other than the fact that they never quit, what stands out for me in the examples that Connie, Mark and Patti set is that they are all very genuine. They exude a sense of commitment to themselves through their art. They are authentic in this way. And if I equate authenticity with success, as so many thought leaders today do, then they are some of the most successful people I know. So the challenge for those of us who are not artists is to find the artistry in the way we share our authentic purpose. Perhaps your craft is to connect people, or to lead teams, or to promote products and services, or to spread love and joy.

  • How can you use that craft to fuel your courage and sense of self as Smith did?
  • How can you use your authentic gifts to survive tough times in your life as Connie does?
  • How can you share your gifts in a way that inspires others to get behind your vision as Mark does?
  • What does it look like to you to be artful and authentic?
  • What is it like to not quit?
  • Does that feel like success to you?

The movement to upgrade or optimize might actually look more like going a little deeper inside and committing a little more to the things we love to do and have natural ability for.

Never give up on something that you can’t go a day without thinking about. ~Winston Churchill~

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