Sorilbran on the weight of professional success

The Wonderfully Beautiful 10-Ton Weight of Success

Dude, what if great success isn’t glitter and unicorns? What if it’s really just tons of responsibility handled really, really well?

Success—it’s a word we tend to toss around. We crave it. I know I have. Oxford defines it as the accomplishment of an aim or purpose. Seems straightforward, right? But what if success isn’t just hitting a predetermined goal? What if it’s more complex, carrying a weight heavier than we typically associate with success? 

Over time, I’ve come to realize that success is often misunderstood. It’s not just about achieving a goal; it’s about finding the delicate balance between ambition and responsibility. It’s about juggling the vision we’re chasing with the people we’re impacting along the way. See, success isn’t always a parade of feel-good moments. I would even venture a bet that it usually isn’t made up of feel-good moments. 

Success always – ALWAYS – comes at a cost—a price tag we may not be ready to pay. And that price tag is the thing I believe ultimately separates those who succeed from those who feel as though they didn’t. 

Success, they say, has two faces—one that shines bright with achievement and another that hides in the shadows of sacrifice. I’ve seen both up close and personal.

As I reflect on my own journey, I see now what I couldn’t grasp in my thirties. Success isn’t just about the highs; it’s about navigating the lows with grace and resilience. It’s about understanding that every triumph comes with its own set of sacrifices.

Baybay… I Was Shinin’

As a young girl, I excelled in academics and music. Awards, recognition, opportunities — heck, even a spot in a prestigious school for the gifted. But behind the applause lay a harsh truth. Being smart wasn’t always enough; societal expectations and racial biases cast a shadow over my achievements. That was true both publicly and privately. 

I’d have one relative congratulate me and smile proudly. Another would accuse me of “acting white” and “talking proper”. That’s when I learned that my success could trigger an identity crisis in someone else. 

When it came to music, my eclectic background posed its own set of challenges. The first album I ever bought, I emptied my piggy bank to get. It was Rickie Lee Jones’ 1979 self-titled release. I’ve always been a huge fan of the beauty and simplicity of a song that’s just voice and guitar. But I also know my way around a mosh pit. And I have an ample supply of West Coast gangsta rap lyrics archived in my brain. And I remember the years I spent studying jazz and classical voice in college. And then there were my R&B days. And then there’s Kentucky’s pre-eminent psychiatrist, Chris Stapleton. Two words for you: Traveller album.  

My musical journey has been a melting pot of influences. So, when I ventured into writing and composing R&B, a producer told me to my face that I wasn’t black enough to be R&B and not white enough to be Pop. Familiar refrain, right? 

But okay… challenge accepted. Not only did I double down on R&B, I also began producing tracks for rappers. (I’m petty-slash-excellent that way.)

Business Victories with Not-So-Small Personal Sacrifices

Let’s skip ahead a bit to some of my entrepreneurial endeavors. At the end of 2007, my husband and I were well on our way to running a seven-figure business and it wasn’t even two years old. But when I think back on that business, I usually don’t associate it with my most prosperous time. Rather, I look back on that as one of the winters of my life. 

Our window company soared to the top of our market. It was the result of a pivot we’d made to hang on to our crew when the market began to tank and people went from wanting residential renovations to wanting to protect their properties from thieves. So, instead of closing down our construction company, we pivoted and opened a brick and mortar window installation company. We crushed our competitors by perpetually one-upping them on marketing. And in less than a year, we’d gone from not existing to being the top distributor of glass block in the region – we know that because someone from Pittsburgh Corning showed up at our office one day wanting to know how we were moving so much product. Looking back, that’s a pretty important moment. But in real time, I barely had time to greet the dude as he walked around our warehouse.

I was busy. Too busy. And burdened. Too burdened. Trying to run two businesses while trying to finally finish my undergraduate degree.

As the business flourished, our family life suffered. Long hours at work cultivating success gave way to personal exhaustion and distance at home. My marriage was fracturing under the glorious weight of our successful business.

Then came the heart-wrenching news of my mother’s bone cancer diagnosis— stage four. She’d lost her health insurance months before and hadn’t wanted to burden the family by asking for help, so she hid the diagnosis, attributing the stiffness and pain to arthritis. 

The good thing was that we were able to afford to pay for her health insurance. The bad thing was that I didn’t spend time with her. I should have. I wish I had been there instead of at the office. But then, I told myself my gift to her would be working hard to make sure she can get the care she needs and recover from cancer again, like she had years before.

She didn’t.  In fact, my mother died about 10 weeks after my husband asked for a divorce. And about 10 weeks before my household split up and I had to restart life out on my own. Thank God for my friends and sisters. 

“Oh, my gosh, Sorilbran… that’s horrible.”

It is. But don’t get too broken up about it. I wanted you to get a sense of my history so you believe me when I say this: Business success can happen in the middle of painful personal failures. And then looking back, you’d barely even recognize it as success.

Opportunity + Cost

Taken together, these challenges point to the idea that success is more about making tough decisions at the expense of other significant opportunities, rather than some elusive state only a select few ever truly attain. It’s a concept I’ve only recently come to terms with. My high school econ teacher would have called this an opportunity cost.

In the last week, I’ve watched five documentaries on Netflix about high performers: David Foster, Clive Davis, Nina Simone, David Geffen, and Quincy Jones. Worth the time investment if music and business documentaries are your thing.

Foster, married five times, lamented not being the father he wished he had been. Miss Simone faced opposition even within her own household when she sought to use her fame to support the Civil Rights movement. Quincy Jones, depleted after scoring “The Color Purple,” ended up in divorce court.

You hear these stories, and you can’t help but ponder the sacrifices that success demands. It’s a pattern seen with icons throughout history. Michael Jackson’s lost childhood. The Obamas being elected into and subsequently sort of locked inside The White House (to keep them safe). Thanos sacrificing Gamora to save the universe —another Stark reminder (see what I did there?) that achieving greatness often requires profound sacrifice. 

My Next Big Success

These days, as I lay the groundwork to build a media company and delve headlong back into music, I’m reminded that success demands a price—a reality I must embrace as I pursue my dreams. I wonder what that price will be:

  • I’ll have to be relentless about protecting my time with my dad and my daughters. #facts
  • I’ll have to protect my heart from charlatans who love the idea of me but will never feel at ease around me. #beenthere
  • I’ll have to watch my step so that I don’t slip because boys with guitars can be hard to resist. #girlyeah
  • I’ll have to balance running with the vision and prioritizing the people impacted by the vision. #leadsis

But I have a second vision, just as clear and just as important to me as the first – the grandma years. The period of my life in which I expected to be able to chill with my husband and spoil my grandkids. I tremble at the thought that my hopes for a husband in whose lap I can lay my weary head at the end of the day, talk shop, and watch breakdancing documentaries may be on the chopping block. I’ve earmarked the next 10 years of my life to build this thing, and I need all of my days to do it. And most of my nights.

I may be running too fast to see him. And too fast for him to catch me. That’s a hard sacrifice to make. 🥹


And my grandbabies… they’re not here yet, but they’ll probably spend more time in a building with Grandma learning the finer points of Afrobeat than sitting by the lake fishing with me.

So, I’m running toward the vision. But I recognize I’m also squaring off with success because I now know that every hard-won truimph comes with its own set of bitterly surrendered sacrifices.

And I’m here for it.

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