What does success really look like?


Written by Jeffrey Nytch, DMA
Director, Entrepreneurship Center for Music
University of Colorado – Boulder

University of Colorado Theory Instructor Philip Chang sent me the above image, and I thought it would make a good topic for this week’s entrepreneurial thought. It’s also a great corollary to last week’s discussion of the role of failure in achieving success (entrepreneurial or otherwise).

I’ve noticed that folks often think the road to success is a straight line. And by “folks” I mean humans in general, and artists in particular. And there are two problems with this. One is that the “straight line” view implies a single acceptable destination, when time and again we see careers that unfold in unexpected ways – ways that turn out to be far better than the original goal would have ever been. The second problem with the “straight line” approach is that it hardly ever works this way. Both our reading of history and the popular media reinforce this idea that the “greats” see greatness in their future, go for it, and perhaps after a period of struggle or hard work success shines its face on them and from there on out they’re on Easy Street.

This is a fiction. There might be individual cases where this is the way things unfolded, but they are the exception, not the rule. Far more often we travel a twisty path of apparent defeats and hollow victories before we finally figure out what we want to be about. And that’s okay: our path helps shape us, helps us develop our skills (can sometimes force us to develop new ones), and enriches our personal and professional lives in ways we can’t possibly foresee. Those experiences make us better.

What does this have to do with entrepreneurship? Well, folks who have made a life out of starting entrepreneurial ventures – so called “serial entrepreneurs” – all say the same thing: things never turn out as you expect them to, and that’s a good thing. Successful entrepreneurs have learned that obstacles and “failures” are often the most valuable learning experiences of them all, teaching critical lessons they would not have learned any other way. They learn to celebrate the twists and turns of the path, for those are often the points at which breakthroughs and innovations emerge that would have been missed otherwise. The same is true for student artists, whether they be pursuing a career in performance, education, scholarship, arts business, or something else altogether: it’s in the curvy paths of our life that the most powerful skills are developed. Celebrate those twists and turns – and see where they lead you!

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What does success really look like?

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