Mick Jagger And The Uncertainty Of Creative Success

*This post originally appeared on ToddHenry.com

Last night, as I was watching a short segment on the British Invasion on CNN, I was snapped out of my half-attentive state by an interview with Mick Jagger of The Rolling Stones.

He was asked how long he thought the Stones could continue its run of success.

“I think we’re pretty well set up for at least another year.”
— Mick Jagger, in 1965

In retrospect, statements like this seem ridiculous. Every big success appears inevitable after the fact. However, work that eventually becomes recognized as great rarely feels inevitable while you’re engaged in the process of making it. Brilliant work is sometimes launched more with a shrug of the shoulders than a fist in the air. (Is this good? Not sure – I’m too deep into it.)

No matter the outward perception, things often feel tenuous and fragile on the inside, where all the risk is being taken. It’s hard to let yourself think that success will sustain, or that long-term viability is possible. For most people, the hope is to simply stay in the mix, and to be able to continue to produce work that resonates.

This is why expectation escalation can be so destructive to the creative process. When you compare your in-process work with the best of whatever is out there, it can squelch the very process that you need to do your best work. You have to allow yourself to live with the fragility and angst, and to be in the moment of creation without the need to make predictions about whether or not the work will be successful. Ultimately, that’s not your decision anyway.

And that is, I think, the genius of Jagger’s response. He didn’t seem too interested in the question. I really think that he was giving it all he had to make the music great, and to make the ride last as long as possible, whether a year, or five, or fifty.

Don’t believe the lie that success feels inevitable to the successful. On the inside, where all of the risk is being taken, it often feels like things could fall apart at any moment, and that’s precisely how it should be.

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