Originally published on Forbes.com.
“I’ve missed more than nine thousand shots in my career,” said Michael Jordan in a Nike commercial. “I’ve lost almost three hundred games. Twenty-six times I’ve been trusted to take the game-winning shot and missed.”
The commercial delivers an important message: don’t be deterred by failure. You need to fail to succeed because failure teaches you to be resilient. It frees you from fear of failure and empowers you to take risks.
But what if your path to success is failure-free? What if you make every single shot and win every single game? Does it make sense to fear success?
Pearl Jam’s 10-million-selling debut album, Ten, was completed when the band had been together less than one year. Their next two albums, Vs. and Vitology, were critical and commercial triumphs. They hadn’t missed a shot.
But Pearl Jam were not as cocky as one might expect of a band on such a streak. Singer Eddie Vedder got plenty of flack for his supposed aversion to fame, fortune, and mass popularity. People do not expect rock stars to complain about being successful. But in the sports world the downsides of success are well-documented. As two-time Olympian Matthew Syed wrote in his book, Bounce: Mozart, Federer, Picasso, Beckham, and the Science of Success, “A defeat offered such a pleasing variety of emotional options: vengefulness, stoicism, anger, resignation, sadness, exasperation. But the metaphysical hollowness that often accompanies a long-desired triumph is something that nobody can prepare you for.”
What this quote highlights is that it’s not only how people deal with failure that determines future success, but how they deal with success. Can they make sense of it in a constructive way? Can they mobilize energy to strive for new goals?
Pearl Jam’s answer to their hot streak of hit albums was to scale back their success and become a lifestyle business. Rather than focusing on growth, expansion, and increasing return on investment, the goal of lifestyle businesses is to enable their owners to earn a living and sustain their lifestyle. Lifestyle businesses allow their owners to fulfill their ambitions without sacrificing things that are important to them.
At the peak of their success, the members of Pearl Jam were burnt out, unhappy, and bickering. Looking at their career from the top of the mountain, they had a flash of insight. They did not have to choose between voracious expansion and disbanding. The key shift in their paradigm was to see their future not in terms of avoiding decline but rather making their lives as rock stars sustainable.
So they stopped making music videos. They stopped giving interviews. They took on Ticketmaster and scaled back touring. They redefined their definition of success. “If we can survive and play music and put out records and play live shows, and live our lives as family members, community members and friends—that’s the goal,” Vedder told Newsweek in 2006.
Not surprisingly, their record sales have steadily declined as a result. But considering their starting point, that doesn’t mean they don’t make a good living. Their last album, released in 2009, debuted at number one on the Billboard chart and was certified gold by the RIAA.
Ultimately, by making moves that sabotaged their success, Pearl Jam got to experience the benefits of failure. And they kept the band together. As rhythm guitarist Stone Gossard said, “We might not be selling as many records, but everything seems fine.”
Pearl Jam is launching their North American tour in Chicago next week. Their new album, Lightening Bolt, will be released October 15. Below is the first single, “Mind Your Manners.”