A couple of weeks ago, my husband's generous boss offered us a set of tickets for a Bruce Springsteen concert. Full confession time, okay: I've never been a Springsteen fan. I'm not not a fan, I was just sort of, well, neutral. I knew a few songs here and there, but that was about it. (I know, I'm sorry!) But he's got to be iconic for a reason, right?
I walked out of that show energized, excited, galvanized ... I really don't have enough inspirational words here. Springsteen is just really, truly motivation in action.
I was so impressed by the show that I had to know more (you know how I love research). I went home and started looking up Springsteen. I read about his life, his music, his fans. I even watched two recent documentaries — "The Promise: The Making of 'Darkness on the Edge of Town' " and "The Ties That Bind," both produced by Grammy- and Emmy-winning filmmaker Thom Zimny (who, weirdly, does not have a Wikipedia entry. In a world where we have entries for William Hung and twerking, this baffles me. But I digress).
I would expect anyone who does as much wordsmithing as Springsteen does for his lyrics (he has all these spiral-bound notebooks where he jots down hundreds of options for each song as he's writing it) to be very quotable (and he certainly was), but more than that, he was also very relatable. He talked about life in a way that wasn't just coming from a celebrity, but from someone just like the rest of us, someone who's trying to find their way, do the right thing, make the right choices.
In fact, we could all learn (or be reminded of) a little something about the road to success from Bruce Springsteen. So here they are:
Five Things We Could All Learn from Bruce Springsteen:
1. Remember your values. In "The Promise," Springsteen says that a lot of people he admired had drifted away from the essential things that made them great, and he talks about the "cloud of success" hanging over the band as they worked on "Darkness." He describes how he had to accept it but work hard to keep it from distorting who he was. "The success brought me an audience," Springsteen says, "It also separated me from all the things I'd been trying to make my connections to my whole life. And it frightened me because I understood that what I had of value was at my core."
It sounds simple and trite, of course, but it's clearly not that easy to recognize it as a pitfall or it wouldn't happen as often as it does. We all work so hard to achieve our chosen goals in life that when that success actually starts coming in, it's easy to lose sight of what the important things really are. I don't know what the exact "right" way to remember your values might be, but I suspect being realistic and aware is the first step.
2. It's all about how you handle adversity and roadblocks. In the mid-1970s, Springsteen went through a lengthy legal battle with then-manager Mike Appel, as he felt that the fit was no longer right and wanted to replace him as manager and record producer with music critic Jon Landau. This lawsuit temporarily paralyzed the band's recording options and broke up Appel and Springsteen's friendship, which Bruce felt acutely and called "a terrible loss."
Once the suit was settled, however, Springsteen reached out to not only reestablish the friendship, but even found an upside in the recording hiatus. In a 1978 interview with Dave Herman, Springsteen says, "There was a moment where I assessed my strengths and weaknesses, you know. I’m glad it happened. I don’t have one regret about one second of the past three years because I learned a lot about it."
Could he have given up the friendship and been bitter about the lost time? Sure. But instead, he found the silver lining in the situation, used the time to work on personal growth, and realized that the friendship was important enough to salvage. We should all be so humble.
3. Know when to compromise, and when not to. Yes, compromise and finding common ground are often the linchpins to successful relationships, but Springsteen notes that there are going to be some essential things you never want to compromise on. You should know the parts of yourself you have to keep, the parts you can't compromise on or you'll lose yourself.
For Springsteen, that was being in creative control of his music; obviously this is going to be different for everyone, but it's certainly worth sitting down and outlining what the non-negotiables are for you. Having them clearly listed would help keep them top-of-mind the next time you're in a situation where it's tempting to bend (and we've all been there).
4. Don't be afraid of failure; learn from your mistakes, and be persistent. Springsteen has never been afraid of failing. "The Ties That Bind" covers the process behind the 20-song double album "The River." And what a process it was. After making nearly 200 cassette-player home demos, Springsteen and the members of the E Street Band scrapped nearly all of them once they actually got into the recording studio. “I had to be willing to throw myself back into the wilderness, hacking away, not knowing if I was going to get where I wanted to go," Springsteen says.
And, in fact, the studio sessions themselves didn't help that much: It took a year and a half, a full record that Springsteen actually took back from the record company and re-dissected, and 53 recorded tracks — of which 33 were eventually rejected — to finally get the product Springsteen and the E Street Band wanted to make. They worked their butts off on every single one of those tracks, and then at the end had to say, "This isn't the right fit," call it a failure, and go back to the drawing board. Again, and again, and again. “I probably worked the hardest on some of the things that ended up as outtakes," Springsteen says. "You never knew where it was going."
"The River" ended up hitting number one on the U.S. pop albums chart, has been certified quintuple platinum by the RIAA, and has been ranked on Rolling Stone's list of the 500 greatest albums of all time.
So the next time you fail at something you've worked yourself to death over (as we all inevitably will), get back up, evaluate what you learned, and get on to the next attempt. Because you never know where's it going.
5. Love what you do (enthusiasm is contagious)! Springsteen gives incredible concerts. They are insanely long (the one I went to lasted nearly four hours) with no breaks, and at the end Springsteen is just as excited and enthusiastic as he was in the beginning — and possibly even more so! I was exhausted just by watching him, but he never flagged. He sang shoulder-to-shoulder with all of his band mates, danced in the dark with the audience, and urged the crowd to twist and shout as he ended the night on a high note.
The crowd loved it. The E Street Band loved it. I loved it. I felt like I was a part of something huge and amazing, a grand adventure — which is actually exactly what Springsteen calls it, when talking about the live shows and trying to get that feeling into the studio recordings. "We knew we were going on an adventure, and a journey, and a quest. ... Part of our concerts, there’s a lot of joy and a lot of fun," Springsteen says. "That was important."
Bruce Springsteen is 66 years old, yet he acts like a kid on Christmas morning on that stage, night after night. He clearly loves what he does, and that joy brings the people around him along on that ride.
So share the enthusiasm with your team, your family, your friends. Go on, embrace your own adventure!