One of my biggest worries is that, after finding success, I will become unable to do the thing that made me successful. I’ve observed this tendency in some of my favorite recording artists who did their best work in their first album. Luckily I’ve discovered one way of thinking about the situation more clearly.
Imagine you’re a gold-miner who’s just mined a vein of gold. You’re spending it, getting what you want, and being treated like royalty. Finally it’s gone, but you keep acting like you can still buy what you want even though you’re broke, as if the gold wasn’t something you had, but something you were.
Obviously you are not the gold. You’re just the person who found the gold. The same thing is true with performers or creators.
Consider Richard Wagner. He composed some of the most wonderful music ever. He is also one of the most distasteful people in music history.
No reason to hate Wagner’s music. It’s great and what Wagner did as a composer was great. No reason to feel guilty for hating Wager either, because when he wasn’t writing beautiful music, he was saying disgusting, bigoted things that may have inspired massive slaughter a generation later.
I am a person who is capable of finding and bringing wonderful things to light. That doesn’t make me wonderful, and it certainly doesn’t mean that if I find or bring out something, it’s going to be wonderful. If I want to bring out more wonderful things, I will probably have to work just as hard, no matter how many successes I have.
If I think I am the gold, then I won’t see the point in continuing to work hard for it. Then I’ll fail to get more gold. For that matter, I may have mined all the gold and I really ought to be looking for something else, like firewood.
If I realize that I’m only the person capable of getting my particular gold, then I’ll have more clarity on the difference between who I am versus what I can do. I’ll be able to make honest assessments about my talents and my successes. I’ll also have a better sense of what I should be capable of doing next.
Humility in this case is not only a virtue but a saving grace. And after all, I should be proud to be a successful miner, because not everyone can get to the gold. And if I can’t be a miner anymore, there are lots of other things I can bring up that people need.