10 unexpected lessons in success learned from the Country Music Hall of Fame

I may have grown up in Farmington, Utah, but I am NOT a country music fan. Sure, in high school I had close friends who were bull riders, calf ropers, or barrel racers, but that was not my scene. 

Then, a few weeks ago I was in Nashville, Tennessee, to deliver some training and had a free afternoon. I decided to visit the Country Music Hall of Fame because…why not. I was there, I had some free time, and figured I might learn something. And boy did I. I went in wanting to learn about a music genre I don’t really appreciate, and I walked away inspired to strive for greatness. 

Here are the 10 insights on success that I learned from the most accomplished talent in the country music industry: 

1. Put in the hours (weeks, months, years)

Everyone in the Hall of Fame worked incredibly hard to get there. They spent a countless amount of time honing and perfecting their craft. There were no “overnight success” stories in there. Most didn’t achieve success until later in their career after they had worked and worked and worked. 

2. Do the stuff nobody wants to do

Not only do you have to work hard, you often have to do so by doing things others wouldn’t want to do. Or do things that would be considered to be beneath them. One story in particular stood out: one artist started in his early teens working the “square dance circuit” on the Texas/Louisiana border and did so for over 40 years before he saw more widespread notoriety. I don’t know what those dance halls in that area of the country look like, especially in the 1930’s or 40’s, but I imagine they were small and unglamorous to say the least. 

3. Focus on goals

Dolly Parton. Taylor Swift. Garth Brooks. These artists all have a vision for their life, and they are singularly focused on it. They recognized what they wanted and weren’t afraid to dream about it.  

4. Be confident in who you are

Looking at artists unironically dressed in chaps, cowboy hats, boots, belt buckles, and other apparel that I sometimes scoff at was refreshing. These folks knew who they were, knew what they represented, and were unapologetic about it. There were many stories about music industry executives trying to steer an artist one way or another, only for that artist to push back because it was not true to who they were. 

5. Be willing to put yourself out there

This one really resonated with me given that much of my job is in front of others (in person, virtually or even digitally with these blogs). Those artists were willing to show up and be on stage night after night. I’m sure some shows were amazing, most were average, and some probably were a disaster. But they continued to put themselves out there despite setbacks. 

6. Be willing to take risks

Almost every one of these artists had to take a big risk at some point. Whether it was moving to a new city, changing labels, bringing on new bandmates, selling everything they own to finance their first album, they were willing to bet on themselves and take risks.  

7. Be willing to fail

Along with being willing to take risks, they were willing to fail. “Failure is not an option” is simply not true in real life. Failure is always a potential outcome, and sometimes it’s the stacking of failures on top of each other that leads to success. All of these artists had failure along the way. They were willing to go through those experiences, learn from them, and use them to make themselves better. 

8. Don’t try to do it alone

Music is an interesting industry. Individual artists are often celebrated as if it was all the artistic brilliance, or talent of that individual that made them successful. When in reality, no success is achieved alone. Every story in there spoke to the people in the lives of the individual artists that made them successful. One example was Patsy Cline who didn’t achieve widespread success until she found the right producer that could marry her unique voice with just the right instrumentals. 

9. A little bit of luck goes a long way

This insight comes less from the actual Hall of Fame and more from the Uber driver who took me back to my hotel. He was an aspiring songwriter who had written, in his estimation, close to 500 songs. He played two samples for me that he was able to record in a professional studio.  As far as I could tell, (a non-music-industry-talent-scout) they sounded radio ready. Yet he was still waiting for his big break. Yes, “we make our own luck” does play a role, we do things to put ourselves in situations to be successful. But at the end of the day, luck does play an oversized role in many successes. 

Last, and maybe most importantly:

10. Success is not determined by induction into a Hall of Fame

It’s easy to look at those in any hall of fame and feel they are the epitome of success. However, does achievement alone define success? Very few of the displays talked about the artist’s family. Or how they were as a neighbor. Or how they treated their roadies. All they talked about were number of records sold, number of #1 hits, weeks on top the Billboard Charts, etc. All those are fine measures of success, but they are incomplete. How will you measure success? That can only be defined by you. Don’t look to external accolades to determine success. Focus on your values, focus on your personal vision for your life. Yes, artists like Dolly Parton or Taylor Swift are incredibly successful, but they defined success for themselves and then set out to achieve it. Your success may look different, but it’s no less important or meaningful.