What exactly defines “success?”
This seemingly simple question replayed in my mind as I stood in the living room of a local Richmonder’s home over winter break, anticipating the show I was about to witness. I was attending a “house show,” otherwise known as a mini-concert set in a house to showcase the live talent of local bands.
I attended the show initially because my friend knew of one of the girls who was scheduled to play, Indigo De Souza, and I regularly listened to her on Spotify. The whole endeavor got me thinking: What exactly defines “making it?” Does Indigo De Souza believe that she has accomplished all of her singer-songwriter goals because her band’s music is available on Apple Music and Spotify? Or does she consider this a small, insignificant victory on the road to fame and fortune?
How do we as a society come up with an exact definition of what it means to be considered successful in the eyes of ourselves and our peers? If you close your eyes right now and think about success, an image of yourself with a high-paying job and a larger-than-life lifestyle most likely comes to mind. Why is this? We have been socially conditioned to think of success as having this one idealistic lifestyle, as the ability to have every material possession you have ever wanted and more, along with a steady job and a healthy social life. In reality, the notion of being successful in life can and should go far beyond just these things.
If you have ever accomplished something, whether it was winning a spelling bee, making the school soccer team or — in the case of our friend Indigo De Souza — uploading your songs to Apple Music and Spotify, the two most popular music streaming services, you have felt some small part of what it means to be successful. When you think about famous bands or singers, you probably think of them as being successful, but where does that success begin? Is it the moment that the lyrics form in your mind and spill out onto the pages? The second the red light begins flashing in the recording studio? The first time the song is performed in front of an audience of Virginia Commonwealth University students in someone’s Richmond apartment? Or is it nonexistent until you have become a household name?
I believe that we need to start celebrating little victories for what they are, instead of constantly wishing away the present and obsessively pushing toward the future. This is not to say that looking forward to future accomplishments is wrong; it is simply a reminder to appreciate each of your successes as they come. Every little thing you accomplish, no matter how small, lays the groundwork for where you will end up.
There is irony in the fact that the most famous people we can think of tend to have a negative outlook on fame. We are only human, and by nature we require certain means of privacy and moments of isolation before we can thrive in social settings. Therefore, being demanded to share every aspect of your private life with the masses is no small favor.
When you think about it, fame culture has become common practice when it should really be considered an alien subject. We forget that celebrities are people, too, and thus we begin to overstep their boundaries, expose their personal lives and worship them as if they were royalty for their talent. Arguably, the worst part of all of this is that these celebrities cannot even effectively express their discomfort about their invasion of privacy without the media crucifying them for not being able to handle the lifestyle they have chosen. This raises the question: Should you expect to forfeit any sense of privacy you previously had in order to make it big in the fast-paced world of fame?
This may be a solution for some, but not everyone who goes down the rocky path of making music (pun intended) aspires to reach the level of fame in which they must surrender their personal lives in exchange for notoriety. This leads me back to wondering if the small-town girl I watched on stage is content with where her life is at this very moment. I still wonder, even weeks after her performance, what went through her mind while she looked out at everyone in the audience singing along with her songs as they swayed to the beat of the music she composed. How can we measure the level of pride and accomplishment that she felt that night with other areas of success? Should we even attempt to compare levels of success with each other, or could that lead us down a toxic path to invalidating ourselves? Again, I strongly believe that we all need to adopt the idea that success is not one finite thing, but instead thousands of little things we experience each and every day that eventually lead us to becoming who we are and where we end up.
As I stood in the living room of the dimly lit city apartment surrounded by my fellow Richmonders to watch Indigo De Souza perform her set, I found myself hoping that she was proud of that moment. Even with a relatively small social media following and a still-developing stage presence, she can confidently say that she has done something with her life, something larger than herself. She has made music that my friends could enjoy. She has inspired me to think critically about what it means to make it. She has created a small, yet impactful legacy for herself, and, in my eyes, that is the true meaning of success.