Welcome back to the Creative Life Adventure.
I recently came across a compact disc recording of Elvis Presley‘s comeback special (officially titled “Singer Presents…Elvis!”) that aired on NBC in December, 1968. Presley hadn’t performed before a live audience in years. It was a dramatic example of a career comeback that, for a few years at least, rejuvenated Presley’s passion as a musical performer. It got me thinking about other famous career comebacks and the relevance of a “comeback” to creatives.
It’s not hard to find examples of big-name comebacks. Frank Sinatra‘s fading singing and acting careers were both rejuvenated after his supporting role in From Here to Eternity. Martha Stewart‘s professional future seemed questionable after an insider trading conviction, but she returned to being a household name as a result of her creative achievements. Vanessa Williams‘ reputation seemed permanently tarnished in 1984 but she went on to become a successful recording artist and actor. Andre Agassi was the highest rated tennis player in the world in 1995, nearly lost his career to drug addiction, then made a remarkable comeback to #1 ranking again by 1999.
Even animals can make comebacks. The racing horse Seabiscuit, and his long-time jockey Red Pollard, both recovered from career-debilitating injuries to ride to victory together in 1940.
If you ever face a creative downturn, a number of options are open to you, and giving up should not be one of them:
- Some people use a career setback as an opportunity to start their own business or strike out in a new direction.
- Downtime during a setback shouldn’t be wasted. When Richard Nixon gave his “last press conference” in 1962, he immediately began crafting a comeback so successful that within ten years most people wished he really had retired. If you have soul-searching to do or strategies to devise, this is the time.
- Sometimes compromise might be in order, taking less glamorous work, or work for which you’re overqualified, to maintain and enhance your skills until better opportunities come along. Before his career resurgence in the mind-blowing series Mr. Robot, Christian Slater may have seemed to disappear from the public eye after issues with alcohol addiction. In fact, he was working steadily, with film or TV credits almost every year from the mid-1980s forward.
- Time away, whether forced or voluntary, can be a time of reflection and learning, figuring out lessons from past mistakes and redirecting your creative focus. Use this time to set new goals and repair or rebuild your network.
- If your time out of the spotlight, whatever your particular spotlight happens to be, is a result of some error or wrong-doing on your part, this is an opportunity to make amends and also give others emotional distance so that they’re prepared to give you another chance. This should be a sincere effort, but remember that the public can have a notoriously short memory.
Returning to Andre Agassi, in an interview after his retirement from professional tennis, he reminded us of the potential hidden in setbacks when he said, “Sometimes, when you’ve been broken into pieces, you come back and give much more to people.” And maybe that is the point. To never lose sight of the creative potential in each of us, potential that remains even after a misfortune.
Winston Churchill, a fellow who knew a thing or two about comebacks, expressed this in his commencement address to Harrow School in 1941:
“Never give in. Never give in. Never, never, never, never–in nothing, great or small, large or petty–never give in, except to convictions of honour and good sense. Never yield to force. Never yield to the apparently overwhelming might of the enemy.”