Artists and creatives are perennial dreamers; that’s why love them. A musician’s post-rehearsal dreams are littered with sold-out Wembley Stadium shows, sycophantic Rolling Stone cover interviews and gold-plated Maseratis.
A lot of people, artists or otherwise, have dreams of making it big, of starting a world-changing business or becoming a famous broadcaster.
There’s nothing wrong with having lofty goals. After all, vision makes creative genius. Great art can’t be made in a vacuum of ambition. Many of us wrestle with the lion of ego and the persistent desire to be the best. No musician ever hankered after a No. 5 hit.
But there’s an offset to ambition—a curse in the blessing. The path to finding success in any field is paved with disappointment. And we don’t talk about those letdowns enough.
Artists are considered one of the top 10 in the world when it comes to depression. People working in the arts are fifth most likely to suffer from depression, with around 9 percent of them reporting a recent major depressive episode.
In a 2013 study, music service Next Big Sound estimated that around 91 percent of artists in the world are classified as “undiscovered.” Literally millions of songs on Spotify haven’t even been played once. (The guys at Forgotify are doing their bit though.)
According to Forbes, 90 percent of startups fail.
Acceptance rates at schools like Princeton, Harvard or Stanford are well under 10 percent these days.
Setbacks and sucker punches are no respecter of persons. Ever since our parents told us about the big, bad world out there, we’ve had to come to terms with that fact that life doesn’t always go our way.
Property prices slump. White Picket Fences fail. Sweethearts walk away. Death touches us all. In the last decade, suicide rates in baby boomers has shot up precipitously. While researchers are still struggling to contextualize this discovery, many researchers are pinning the trend down to a generation disenchanted with how their lives turned out.
These are depressing facts. But what if our perspective changed? What if we saw, as Henry David Thoreau did, a “compensation in every disappointment?”
It could be that failure is the best thing that could ever happened to you. Here’s why:
Disappointment Reveals Your True Passions
Think about it: Why are you so disappointed when it all goes wrong? Why does this setback/rejection/closed door tear you up so much?
Hidden somewhere in this reaction is a very valuable indication of just where your passion lies. On the other side of your disappointment is an essential truth worth plumbing; you care about something enough to emotionally invest.
Disappointment Galvanizes Your Priorities
Past its initial sting, disappointment has a funny way of redefining what’s important to you. Think of it as life’s great performance review; capable of identifying your idols, streamlining your goals and helping you spring-clean your ambition.
Every time you experience failure, take time to sit with it and ask yourself some important questions about how your priorities have been affected. Are you more determined than ever, or caught out holding a golden goose?
Disappointment Strengthens Your Resolve
Disappointment is like that time your dad sat you down and told you the way the world really worked—that one day you’d have to pay your own way, that one day he wouldn’t be there to bail you out. Disappointment is the cold, hard slap of reality. But, as the old adage goes, it’s not about how we fall; it’s about how we get up.
The world will let you down. And it’ll hurt. But if you get back up, if you learn, if you resolve to see the experience as a lesson and not a sloping path to bitterness and cynicism, you’ll be stronger for it. You may not know it, but each disappointment will make the eventual reward that much sweeter.
Setbacks have the potential to claim victims for life, cutting off ambition at the knees. But like the concept of resistance training, they can also make you exponentially stronger.
There is no grand dream that is easily won. Disappointments will happen, like storms that batter the path of your life from a straight lane to a zig-zagged track. You don’t need to make friends with disappointment, but you can make letdowns work for you if you see them as a chance to learn, to reassess and to strengthen your step.
Luke Oram is a writer and musician from Auckland, New Zealand. He works with Parachute Music, a not-for-profit that helps Christian musicians shift pop culture with the power of a song. He’s also a member of worship outfit Edge Kingsland and creative collective SMOKE music.