In 1983, a talented young guitarist, Dave Mustaine, was kicked out of his band. The band had just been signed to a record deal and they were about to record their first album. But a couple days before recording began, the band showed Dave the door. As Dave sat on the bus back to Los Angeles, he kept asking himself, “How did this happen?” By the time the bus hit L.A., Dave had gotten over his self-pity and had vowed to start a new band. He decided that this new band would be so successful that his old band would regret their decision. So he spent months recruiting the best musicians. He wrote songs and practiced religiously. His seething anger fueled his ambition; revenge became his muse.
Within a couple years, his new band had signed a record deal of their own, and a year after that, their first record went gold. The new band Dave formed was the legendary heavy-metal band Megadeth. Megadeth went on to sell over 25 million albums and tour the world many times. Today, Dave is considered one of the most brilliant and influential musicians in the history of heavy-metal music. But the band he was kicked out of was Metallica, which has sold over 180 million albums worldwide. Metallica is considered by many to be one of the greatest rock bands of all time. And because of this, in an interview in 2003, a tearful Dave admitted that he couldn’t help but still consider himself a failure. Despite all that he had accomplished, in his mind he would always be the guy who got kicked out of Metallica.
Another rock star, Pete Best, was fired from Beatles in 1962, after the band landing their first record contract. As a replacement, the band brought in some oddball named Ringo Starr. Ringo agreed to get the same ugly haircut as other members and insisted on writing songs about octopuses and submarines. The rest of the sixties were not kind to Pete. He had sued two of the Beatles for slander and all of his other musical projects had failed horribly. He attempted suicide, only to be talked out of it by his mother. His life was a wreck. Pete didn’t have the same redemptive story Dave did. He never became a global superstar or made millions of dollars. Yet, in many ways, Pete ended up better off than Dave. In an interview in 1994, Pete said, “I’m happier than I would have been with the Beatles.”
Pete explained that the circumstances of his getting kicked out of the Beatles ultimately led him to meet his wife. And then his marriage led him to having children. Fame and glory would have been nice, but he decided that what he already had was more important: a big and loving family, a stable marriage, a simple life. He even still got to play drums, touring Europe and recording albums well into the 2000s. So what he really lost was just a lot of attention and adulation, whereas what was gained meant so much more to him.
We always measure ourselves against others. The question is not whether we evaluate ourselves against others; rather, the question is by what standard do we measure ourselves? Dave chose to measure himself by whether he was more successful than Metallica – despite the success of his own band. We may look at Dave’s situation and laugh. Here’s this guy with money and adoring fans, a career doing the thing he loves best, and still he’s getting all weepy-eyed that his former band from 20 years ago are more famous than he is. On the other hand, Pete is grateful of what he owns today. Our values determine the standards by which we measure ourselves and everyone else. If you want to change how you see your problems, you have to change what you value and how you measure success.