I found myself transfixed by this image of Saturn. It was taken by the Cassini spacecraft as it passed into the gas giant’s shadow in July 2013. The article is here. I’ve been thinking about it quite a lot, and as I mulled it over, I began to consider—no matter how odd the connection—Saturn’s seemingly perfect beauty and the nature of success. The connection arose from my own quest to becoming a professional author, during which I’ve had many difficult challenges, the largest being faith in self.
In his book David and Goliath, Malcolm Gladwell discusses our tendency to compare ourselves, not with an entire population, but with those directly around us. This is dangerous because, while we might be doing very well, if we compare ourselves to the wrong peer group, we’ll never feel like a success. If we don’t feel like a success, we can lose motivation. By feeling that we’re the only ones who struggle, our chances of quitting skyrocket. If I hold my career up to James Patterson’s and Stephen King’s, I’ll surely (at this point) fall short, and that doesn’t feel good.
To compound this, I’ve seen a tendency for people to make a key error when considering those who’ve already made it. Those at the top often seem to have easy lives, and the story of their rise to success sounds quick as it is told, but like the rest of us, most who’ve achieved success had days filled with doubt, failure, and lack of self worth. When we look at successful people, we’re at a distance from which they appear perfectly put together as though it’s always been that way. This is much like the seeming perfection of Saturn and its blade-like rings. While those rings appear to be smooth, when we get up close, we find something very different. “Truth is, the rings only look solid. They are really a jumbled mess made up of millions and millions of pieces of ice and rock, ranging in size from tiny grains of dust to chunks bigger than a house.” (Nasa, July, 22nd, 2004).
This is a critical issue because believing that those who’ve come before us had, and are having, nothing but smooth seas can be self-defeating. When we understand that everyone around us, even the most successful, have days of doubt and failure, we begin to understand the truth of success. It isn’t smooth and beautiful. When we get up close, it’s rocky, disjointed, and ice cold.
Why is this important? Because the key to success has little to do with the days of wine and roses. It’s actually seated firmly in the bad days. Fundamentally, we must understand that success’ fate is balanced on how we respond to those bad days. We all have them, we all fail, and we all doubt. Seeing the beauty of success is fine, as long as we don’t deceive ourselves on what it’s made of.
Has anyone else known those with success who’ve struggled as much as the rest of us?