This was going to be the year, I told myself. We’re gonna make last year’s trip a distant memory. We’re gonna do it bigger, badder, and longer. I was geeked up, I can’t lie.
Sorry, I’m getting a little ahead of myself. Each year we make holiday trek to Branson, MO. The highlight is a visit to Silver Dollar City. 5 million Christmas lights! A wholesome family atmosphere, great food, and a dancing Christmas Tree. It’s the Holy Grail for Christmas lovers like myself.
In 2013, our trip did not go as planned. Late Friday night we started dropping like flies from a 24 hour bug we caught at a family friend’s house on Thanksgiving day. We’d planned to visit Silver Dollar City on Saturday but spent the day alternating trips to the bathroom instead.
I thought about asking for Monday off so we could stay longer. I thought about coming back the next weekend. Eventually we decided to spend a few hours at the park on Sunday, then head home in the evening. Bittersweet doesn’t describe it.
So when 2014 rolled around, I was bound and determined to make our trip the best ever. I got the entire week of Thanksgiving off from work so we could go early and cook Thanksgiving Dinner in our hotel suite. I bought 2 day tickets to Silver Dollar City so we could take our time and see everything we’d missed the day before. It was gonna be awesome!
Then, during our second day at Silver Dollar City, my wife said something that hit me right between the eyes. “I’m not feelin’ it this year,” she told me. Damn. I can’t lie – I was feeling the same way but I didn’t want to admit it. Our visit was good, don’t get me wrong. But it didn’t live up to the hype. And, to be totally honest, it wasn’t Silver Dollar City’s fault.
A few months earlier we’d taken a trip to Walt Disney World Resort. We stayed on property, visited all 4 theme parks, dined with Mickey and the gang, and had Disney take all the photos. We loved it! I was a bit skeptical at first but, by the end of the trip, I was hooked. I’m a fan and we’ll definitely go back someday.
But poor Silver Dollar City. It didn’t deserve its fate. If anything, it had gotten better than it was last year. New rides, new food, new parade! But no mouse, and that made all the difference in the world.
And that got me thinking…
Avatar Was Good But Titanic Was Better
People couldn’t wait for the The Matrix Reloaded to come out. It was good but it was no Matrix.
Guns ‘n’ Roses strung us along all those years but we were still lined up at midnight to buy Use Your Illusion 1 and 2. Both very good albums that showed the band’s musical growth. But they were no Appetite for Destruction.
Twilight? The Hunger Games? Don’t even get me started.
Why can’t every sequel be The Godfather Part II instead of The Matrix Reloaded? Poor Wachowski Brothers. Did they have any idea? Surely no one tries to do a sequel that doesn’t measure up to the original.
Imagine you’re a singer and your debut album went multi-platinum. Your follow up sold great that first week, but overall it was a disappointment. People stop you for autographs all the time but all they want to talk about is your debut – their favorite album. “Hey, my new record just dropped. Check it out,” you tell them. “Great, I’ll do that,” is their response. But they won’t. You’re a nostalgia act now.
Is Silver Dollar City our nostalgia act? What about next year? Are we going to subconsciously compare it to Disney again? Will every year’s visit be a little less special than the one before?
The Top 10 Reasons Top 10 Lists Suck
And herein lies the problem…
Our culture has a fascination with quantifying things as a way of giving them meaning. There has to be a 10 best and a 10 worst list. If version 2.0 doesn’t outsell version 1.0 it’s a failure. There’s a ‘sequels that were better’ pile and ‘sequels that didn’t live up to the hype’ pile. No wonder Harper Lee stopped after writing “To Kill a Mockingbird.” Who could possibly live up to these expectations
But we artists keep trying. Naturally my goal is to make each post better than the one before it but I know some just won’t measure up. Am I ok with that? Well it depends on how I’m measuring “better”. If my quality is not getting better, I’m not ok with it. I’m supposed to be learning, growing and living after all.
If I’m not getting more readers that’s something I can live with. Look at any good blog on the web and you’ll find a list of the publisher’s most popular posts. Some were written 5-10 years ago, others 2 months ago. It’s not easy catching lightning in a bottle. Not every post will have universal appeal.
Here’s something I can’t live with – being a slave to the whims of a society that constantly asks the question, “What have you done for me lately?” I’m the measuring stick when it comes to my work. If I’m producing quality work, growing as a writer and paying the mortgage on time every month I’m happy.
Measure Up To Your Own Standards
You’re probably not a writer if you’re reading this. This isn’t a blog for writers, it’s a blog for searchers. So how does what I’ve written above apply to you?
Falling into the comparison trap is dangerous. If you’re doing it with everything you read, watch or listen to are you really enjoying the art for what it is? If you’re comparing people are you appreciating them for who they are? If you feel valued or important because of how people are measuring you against some subjective standard are people really appreciating who you are?
We all need validation. But if we look out into the world for it, sometimes we’ll get it and sometimes we won’t. We’ll do great work that doesn’t get noticed and mediocre work that catches on for reasons we’ll never understand. Caring about people’s Top 10 lists, as they relate to you, only leads to frustration, disappointment, and ultimately a lack of fulfillment.
True validation comes from within, from knowing you’re doing what you were created to do. It comes from having high personal standards and not compromising them. It comes from understanding the principles that govern our universe and making sure your every thought and action conforms to them.
Start by appreciating Iron Man 2 without comparing it to Iron Man. And while you’re doing that, I’ll take a slow walk through the park right at dusk when all 5 million lights come on. I’ll take a deep breath of that cool November air and drink it all in. The smiling kids, the blacksmith demonstrating his craft, the line of people waiting for the Sing-A-Long Train, and the kettle corn popping. I can smell it now.