Scaramouche, Scaramouche, can you do the Fandango?
I challenge you to find me anyone of any generation who hears those seven words and doesn’t know exactly which song they come from. Bohemian Rhapsody sold over six million copies worldwide, and become one of the best-selling singles of all time.
But it wasn’t always so popular. At the time it was written in 1975, everyone in the industry thought it was bat shit crazy! The critics reviews were mixed; some grudgingly accepted that the song was original and technically accomplished, while others predicted that it would have zero commercial relevance due to its length and the fact that it had no shred of a tune for an audience to latch on to.
If it wasn’t for the absolute tenacity of the band Queen (who went around the rejections of their record label and leaked the song directly to the right DJs who could give it air play) we may never have enjoyed countless years of belting out the song at dance parties and karaoke nights the world over. Or… Wayne’s World!
It’s a complicated, emotional journey to face rejection. When you’ve put all of your heart and soul into an idea, a business plan, an audition or an interview – the feeling of a door slamming in your face is a soul crushing experience that can often cause us to retrench, to lose confidence and worst of all, soften the edges of our extreme approach. What sets the great success stories apart is not just the determination to keep going when the “haters” tell you no, but to critically recognize when those Negative Nellies are not the right audience anyway. Playing your own game by definition means being more original; there’s only one ExtremeYOU in the world standing in YOUR space with YOUR life experience. So when your approach challenges the status quo, take stock in the fact that you might just be on to something completely original. Freddie Mercury once remarked “A lot of people slammed ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’, but who can you compare it to?”
Exactly. And the irony is that the block buster success of the song is something that everyone now would do anything to replicate!
But there is a whole lot more that we can learn from this story than just sheer grit and resilience in fighting for something that you believe in. It doesn’t take much deep googling to get sucked into the entire history of the band Queen. For every one of us wanting to discover our most Extreme selves, there are amazing lessons in their legacy.
1. There’s the path your friends and family expect you to follow – and then there’s taking the risk to become one of the most original global icons of all time
Queen was one of the greatest, genre defying, utterly original bands to ever emerge. Yet – when you look at the back story – they were 4 average, pretty nerdy guys that happened to meet when they were studying astrophysics, music, engineering and dentistry in college. There was a fine line between them going on to have the standard suburban life and their ultimate super stardom. The difference laid in their willingness to reject the perceived safety of an expected path and own the consequences.“If we were going to abandon all the qualifications we had got in other fields to take the plunge into rock,” Brian May once remarked, “we weren’t prepared to settle for second-best.”
Achieving extreme success is a choice that we can all make, but only if we are prepared to accept the consequences of failure and use that fear to drive us to our best. It’s one thing to dream or have ambition, but what stands the true icons apart is the willing pursuit of absolute originality. Especially when the establishment tells you your ideas aren’t going to work and the results are not guaranteed.
Today like we live in a culture where it’s re-enforced that the “shortcut” is the better way. So many entrepreneurs come to investors with ideas that are the “Uber of X” or the “WeWorks of Y,” but it’s worth taking a step back and asking yourself if this is actually the best you can do. Instead of seeking the easy path, find the most extreme, original and relevant contribution you can make to the world.
2. Surround yourself with people who are different than you
All four members of Queen made a unique contribution to both song writing and performing. As has been demonstrated by the lack luster performance of their solo projects, each member on their own was simply not capable of delivering their best work without the push back and tension that came from their team of opposites. I’ve always believed that the greatest extreme teams are made up of “spikey individuals” who know their great strengths and complement each other’s weaknesses. Studying the history of Queen- including the natural fights, disagreements and near break ups- actually reveals the story of one of the greatest “teams” of all time. They were able to use their differences to create the kind of tension that generated such extraordinary work. Bohemian Rhapsody may have been dreamt up in Freddie Mercury’s mind, but it most certainly could not have become what it did without the entire team’s input. Including that fckn EPIC guitar solo thanks to Brian May!
The lesson for us is to actively seek out those team mates that we can deeply trust to bring an opposing perspective to our great and ambitious ventures. Take the disagreements as a good sign that you are moving towards a better product instead of choosing to “not hear” that opposing point of view.
3. Commitment matters. There is no such thing as “overnight success”
Here’s one of the most interesting factoids I read about Queen in the last few weeks: During the tenure of their 20 year career, tragically cut short by Freddie Mercury’s death, they played live in concert over 750 times. Think about that! It’s the equivalent to playing live once a week every week for over 14 years. And that means playing the same songs over and over again to continue to develop such a deep passion in audiences everywhere.
We have seen such an enormous cultural shift in recent years towards instant gratification: job hopping when we get bored, multi tasking and side hustling to keep our fingers in lots of pies. All of us are becoming increasingly impatient for the successes we are pursuing. But reading this factoid really made me take a step back and think about the true commitment it takes to leave the kind of meaningful legacy that Queen did. Staying committed to one thing certainly doesn’t mean you need to become complacent, comfortable or stale. The way this band relentlessly challenged their own creative process to “not repeat the formula” shows us that you can challenge yourself to get uncomfortable and grow while at the same time planting deep roots in the ground and building on a strong foundation.
So next time you are considering making that big leap with your unique ideas, drive and creativity, remember that you’re going to face rejection. BUT it’s not a reason to walk away from the one thing you are truly committed to. How you deal with push back is what will determine your ultimate success.
So go ahead, “Open your eyes – look up to the skies and see”!
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