The Gatsby Effect

January 9, 2016:

Success is a fickle thing. It’s hard to gauge when it’ll happen and where it’ll come from, as it is near impossible to know what will bring it on. We can use all the genius we have to find it, and still somehow fail.

I was walking back from the beach when I thought about this idea of success. The Great Gatsby (1925), an “American masterpiece,” and one of the few books I’ve read more than once, was the third book in the author F. Scott Fitzgerald’s bibliography, a marginal success both in sales and critical acclaim, and had neither the out-of-the-gate popularity of his first novel, This Side of Paradise (1920), nor the heartbreaking reception of his later novel, Tender Is the Night (1934). It was basically the middle book of an author who had a declining career.

Here are some fast facts I found at Mental Floss about The Great Gatsby. Take note of fact #’s 7-9 for more relevant insight:

So why bring this up? I think it’s really easy to get discouraged when our lofty expectations are crushed under the weight of reality. But it doesn’t have to mean anything. Sometimes success requires time, or a change in understanding, or a change in approach. James Dyson, founder of Dyson (a company that makes and perfects a number of our modern conveniences, like hand dryers, for example) had to make over 5000 variations to his vacuum cleaner design before he got it right–and right it was because Dyson vacuums are awesome. That’s basically five thousand failures before one success was possible. The point is, we keep going until something sticks.

I’m writing this more for me than for the general public, but artists, like me, can be susceptible to discouragement by the weakest of critics or the flimsiest of sales if we’re not careful. Some things just take time to grow. I think it’s important to remember that a work isn’t genius if the rest of the world gets it immediately. But success can still happen at any time, for any reason. The Great Gatsby found a resurgence at the end of World War II, 20 years after it was published. Now it’s recognized as the literary classic and masterpiece we know it is today, with or without the movie adaptations. Even people like J.K. Rowling had to experience early difficulty before achieving a rousing success (read the short version of her biography if you want to see a classic example of building success out of heartbreak). Just something to think about the next time you, me, or anyone wants to take a stab at something that may or may not resonate with audiences or consumers. We don’t have to give up because we didn’t hit the ground running. Maybe we need more time for our perspective to gain respect. Maybe we need a trend to change. We just need to keep doing what we’re doing because, if it’s worth anything, someone will eventually understand where we’re coming from, appreciate our viewpoint, maybe even share it, and that, I believe, is the beginning of success.


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