Did you know that Ben Franklin once tried to be a poet? I learned this reading The Autobiography of Ben Franklin. Ben wrote a couple of poems, printed them, and sold them on the street. The first poem, The Light-house Tragedy, was a success. Despite that, here’s Mr. Franklin’s opinion of his work with the benefit of hindsight:
“They were wretched stuff, in the Grub-street-ballad style;”
This despite that bout of monetary success:
“The first sold wonderfully, the event being recent, having made a great noise.”
Based on the success of that first poem, Mr. Franklin thought about being a poet. Thankfully, he had someone to provide perspective, because he certainly didn’t have it.
“This flattered my vanity; but my father discouraged me by ridiculing my performances, and telling me verse-makers were generally beggars.”
Again with hindsight, Mr. Franklin realized his success was due to timing. Mr. Franklin went on to say that because he did not follow this path, he was able to pursue prose writing. That led to his prosperity and fame. Imagine how different things would have been if he had chosen to be a poet. Consider where Ben Franklin might have ended up if he hadn’t been cautious of his “beginner’s luck” and listened to his father.
If you have early success with something, try to understand why. Is it because of timing? Is it because of something else outside of your control? Or is because you have the right makeup (skills, experience, etc.) to repeat the success? If it’s not the latter, you should be cautious. There’s a lot of advice out there about “following your passion.” Often, initial success causes us to be passionate. Benjamin Franklin certainly was. If we don’t have the capability of repeating the success, our passion could drive us to unnecessary failure and misery. Therefore, the advice to “follow your passion” could be bad guidance for us.
The other problem with initial success is that it can cloud our judgment. This happened to Mr. Franklin. Therefore, we need advocates who are interested in what is best for us and who are willing to and able to share the truth with us. Ben had his father. Ben listened to his father. You and I need our advocates, too. We must be willing to listen to them, even if what they are saying conflicts with what we’re feeling. If the arguments they present are sound, we should heed them.
These two problems are the reason we should be cautious with early success. We must try to understand why we’re successful. Hopefully we will have advocates by our side who can help us discern the causes for our success. If it’s something we can repeat, then by all means we should consider pursuing the path. However, if we determine that success is due to something outside of our control, it is probably best if we celebrate the success and move on.