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20 Feet From Success: Exploring the Gap between the Dream to Succeed and Success

Updated: Oct 8, 2023

Recently, I re-watched “20 Feet from Stardom” which is a moving documentary about the background singers behind famous musical legends. This is the story of their dreams.  One poignant moment is when Merry Clayton says, “I thought if I gave my full heart to what I was doing, I would automatically be a star.”  Her eyes fill with tears and her voice catches.  She is talented and ripe to be a star in her own right.  And yet,  she does not arrive on the shores of success as a solo artist.

If passion and talent are not enough, what does bridge the gap of dreams to succeed?  How do we find that vortex where talent, love, passion, purpose, circumstance,  luck, and perseverance align?

How often we hear the stories of those who have given their full heart to a dream, only to succumb to the financial reality of not being able to keep going?  Talent goes unrecognized while by happenstance someone less talented moves into the spotlight of success.  We see success all around us.  They seem to be in the right place, right time, right connection vortex.   It can be like winning the lottery when talent, purpose, and passion call us on stage to receive the success of recognition and compensation.

Don’t We All Need Back Up?

In “20 Feet from Stardom” Bruce Springsteen says, “If you don’t find someone who understands who you are, you can be a great singer and just not make that next step.”   Success relies on the relationship we have with people who really get us. If we are going to be able to translate our dream into reality, there is a mighty force in being held by many. 

A dream coming to fruition relies on someone standing in our corner, be it family, a coach, a colleague or friend.  At some point, we are going to need someone who knows our value and holds us when we waver and helps us to explore the interior and external blocks we are facing.

Most of these backup singers fell short of the dream of becoming successful solo artists and they are talented and passionate singers.  They loved singing and felt the calling to step into the limelight and they were well connected and took risks. Sadly, we watch as they take jobs cleaning houses or jobs that did not fulfill this dream to be a star.  As Claudia Lennear said, “I came to a fork in the road and music wasn’t on it.  It has been a regret that I didn’t just hang in there.”  Could Claudia Lennear have continued to persevere if she had support?   Where were her metaphorical “backup singers”?  Who was backing her up, so she could continue to hang in there?

What Does Love Have To Do With It?

Soon after seeing the movie, I was pondering how love and talent had not been enough to carry these talented singers those last 20 feet.

 Love is a generative state, generating dreams and possibilities. Love will carry us past seemingly impossible external challenges and our terrified internal critics.  Love is a superpower allowing us to see possibilities and take action which overrides fear.

I’ve heard many stories when seemingly devastating challenges actually launched a dream into success. A favorite of mine is when Ben & Jerry were first starting out making homemade ice cream in Vermont. They were gaining popularity and Haagen-Dazs (owned by Pillsbury) shut the distribution of their ice cream down by pressuring vendors to stop selling Ben & Jerry’s or lose Haagen-Dazs business. Haagen-Dazs was popular and vendors turned Ben & Jerry away. It looked like the end of their venture. What they did was take out a full-page ad: “What is the Pillsbury Doughboy afraid of”?  Angry calls poured into Pillsbury and Ben & Jerry’s ice cream launched into success. They had a passion-infused dream and were not going to allow their dream to be bullied out of business.

Facing Into Disappointed Dreams

And at some point, love is not enough.   We will find ourselves in a field of disappointed dreams once the wings of love let us down.

This period of facing “reality” – where disappointments and fear turn into a voice of practical assessment – is often a time of resignation.  Our talents must be recognized and compensated to continue investing.   This is a crisis point and it is here where opportunity disguised as loss can be the turning point, although perhaps not what we imagined.

Success isn’t necessarily about the dream as we envisioned it.   Perhaps our calling is different than what we dreamed up.  A favorite podcast of mine is a story where an aspiring violinist has to stop playing due to an injury.   She is devastated. The story is how she comes to reinvent herself and succeed in a way she had not dreamed possible. 

When success eludes us, we might need to strengthen our talents, renew our passion, and try again; or let go, grieve and incubate a new dream.  Grieving our losses is essential. This is a challenging and vulnerable time. 

Second-guessing takes root, doubting our talent blossoms, and confidence wanes.   If ever there is a time to call in support, it is now.  This is a crisis and we need those who believe in us to explore options.

Beyond The Mountain Top

Success assumes a pinnacle of achievement.  We stand on the mountaintop, having reached our long-sought-after desire.    And it is easy to forget that success is not just the end game.   It is a path inclusive of failing, learning,  asking for support,  re-evaluating, risking and overcoming challenges.  We hear of the “overnight” success story which is years of failing and getting back up.

What is often revealed by those who have reached their pinnacle is that the greatest joy of the journey was the early stages when creativity, passion/ love, and challenge called forth innovation and genius.   This is the success of overcoming internal and external obstacles, tapping into our genius and keeping our heart committed.

 Success is the overcoming our fear that we are not worthy.  Our worth and value are called into question.  We need to investigate our fear of being an imposter, of not deserving.  When success eludes us we are not at the end of the journey, we are at the next step.  If we are willing to call on support and lean into the net of many, we can uncover faith in our belonging and reinvent who we think we are. 

This is not a solo act, and the best solo artists have ‘backup singers.’ 

Success blossoms as we journey deeper into our belonging; the sense that what we offer has a place, and no one can do it better than us.

Take a step.

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© Judith Duhl, 2018,


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