The Frank Ocean Effect
On post-success paralysis & how to overcome it.
Frank Ocean’s album, Blond, has finally dropped, approximately 4 years and a gazillion internet memes later. His first major album, Channel Orange, was, by all measures, a major hit.
As people across the world slated his tardiness, I silently thought: I get it.
How can he follow Channel Orange? The amount of pressure is IN-SANE.
Because on a much, much smaller scale, I know what it’s like to try and follow a piece of successful work.
Forgive me, as the next few words are going to make me sound like a total asshole, but a few of my blog posts have gone slightly “viral”.
I gained a new influx of subscribers, and then struggled with what to say to them. I’d sit at my laptop, Hemingway’s famous “sit at the typewriter and bleed” quote ringing through my ears, and yet not a drop. Not a word.
“I’m scared to hit send,” I’d wail to my friends. “People are expecting the same kind of writing again. I don’t know if I’ve got it in me.”
When something goes wonderfully right, a sudden sense of urgency sets in. Years of struggle teach us that success doesn’t come easy. So when it finally does, it’s easy to treat it like a scarce thing. You want to hold onto the hype tightly, because you never know when it might go.
Think of it as your dream romantic conquest. Success may spend the night, but it’ll likely be gone by the morning. Will it call again?
How do you follow an achievement? A much-loved piece of work? A critically acclaimed album?
Well, you can’t. Not exactly.
The expectations feel extreme. Somewhat self-placed, of course, but extreme. I can only imagine the amount of pressure placed on someone as successful as Frank Ocean.
My own experiences, however, have taught me a few things: you can’t get to your next big breakthrough without moving. It’s a destination, and you’ve got to keep putting one foot forward. Baby steps count.
You need to kill your imaginary critics. Seriously, shoot the motherfuckers.
You’re only a one-hit wonder if you allow yourself to be.
Sometimes you’re going to get it right, and other times you won’t. That’s the point. Each win and each loss all equates to progress. Trust in the process.
And, perhaps most importantly, you need to remember why you started in the first place.
When I published my first blog posts, my intention was to simply share my thoughts. Nothing more. If one person read it, that’d mean the world. So when thousands appeared, I was bewildered, flattered and enamoured all at once. I’d watch the notifications come in, to the point I needed to turn them off, and feel amazed.
People told me I needed to capture the attention and somehow monetise it, and I listened.
My passion project soon became a potential business venture. Only when I was nose deep in business books did I realise that I was so far from where I started, if I didn’t take action I’d never get back there.
Whether you’re a developer who worked on a major product launch, an artist who had a successful first exhibition or, like Frank Ocean, a global superstar with millions of impatient fans, it doesn’t matter.
It’s impossible to replicate former success, because your work has evolved. You’ve evolved. You’re not who you were when you did that thing, and you’re not yet who you’re destined to be, either.
That achievement was then — and this is now.
You’ve got to keep on moving.
And as for his album? It’s no Channel Orange. It’s better — an evolution of his artistry, and brilliant in its own way.