Please note: The following contains spoilers for the movie “Yesterday.” Don’t read if you don’t want to know what happens.
I saw the movie “Yesterday” this past weekend, about Jack Malik, a struggling musician, who after an accident, learns that he is the only person who remembers The Beatles. He becomes famous when he begins performing the songs as if they were his own.
After experiencing all the fame and success any artist could dream of, he comes clean about who wrote the songs, and returns to Suffolk, marries his childhood sweetheart, begins a family and happily lives a normal life.
I think there is a version of me somewhere who would have been disappointed in this ending, or who would have thought that Jack had given up on his dream. Most films tell us that one must never quit their dreams until they reach the top—a Grammy Award, a Pulitzer Prize, a Super Bowl ring. We are taught to believe that everyone can be the best there is.
Perhaps it’s age, and the fading idealism of my youth, but there was something poignant in Jack’s decision. I don’t actually think he gave up anything. I think he realized somewhere along the way that boardrooms at music companies in Los Angeles were never the dream. The dream was always about making and sharing music—something he is still doing as the end credits begin to roll.
It was a helpful reminder. It’s easy to feel the pressure to reach as high as possible. Obviously I would never reject becoming a New York Times bestseller or if someone wanted to turn my book into an Oscar-nominated film. But that’s not the dream. The dream is to spend my days how I want to. To write good and true words. And to connect with others while doing so. (While living near the ocean if possible.) That’s it. The rest of it, if it happens, is just a bonus.
Remembering this helps take the pressure off—especially when I go a week without writing, or when I begin to feel like I’m far behind everyone else. It also helps me to prioritize. I’m not trying to win the Pulitzer. I’m just trying to spend my days communing with the muse. There is no competition in that, or a finish line. There’s just the work to show up for day after day. If I can manage to do that, I’m happy—happier than I would be if I were constantly trying to reach some invisible peak.
This might sound like giving up to some, my younger self included, and I admit it’s a fine line to walk. But I think we need more stories like this—stories that reexamine what it means to be successful. Our culture has a very narrow definition that focuses on money, fame, and the number of social media followers one has. But sometimes success means singing Ob-La-Di Ob-La-Da to an audience of schoolchildren while your love looks on. For some, that’s enough.