Frank Lloyd Wright: What He Did as a Washed-up Has-Been

In his recently published biography, Steve Jobs is quoted as saying that one of the best things that ever happened to him was getting fired from Apple, the company he created. It is often difficult to imagine a life after the one you’re in; the world seems to revolve around what you’re doing today. Yet time and time again I see the truly great people of our time succeed only when they faced defeat, failure, rejection, and dismissal.

Long before Steve Jobs was rejected from his own company, Frank Lloyd Wright was an example of how perseverance overcame great adversity and doubters, how in the end talent overcame mediocrity.

One of my favorite films is an early documentary by Ken Burns and Lynn Novick on PBS. Here is an excerpt from the narration of their film “Frank Lloyd Wright”:

Frank Lloyd Wright was 62 years old in 1929, and his long, turbulent career seemed at an end. Wealthy clients no longer knocked on his studio door. Younger architects dismissed him as a has-been, and his private life remained tainted in scandal. But at Taliesin the magnificent home that he had built for himself in Spring Green Wisconsin he stubbornly refused to admit defeat.

“It’s odd that when the country was flourishing, Wright was not. During the boom times of the 20’s his career was at rock bottom,” said his grandson. “When he was in his late 50’s there were articles about how this quite interesting architect but now a has-been was basically washed-up.”

He hadn’t built a building of any consequence for years; then came the crash of 1929, destroying Wright’s hope that his one remaining commission, an elaborate resort in the Arizona desert would ever be built. Nobody was interested in his ideas anymore.

Wright’s position as he went into his 60’s was probably at the most desperate moment of his life. Frank Lloyd Wright’s career lay in ruins; the victim of changing times and changing fashions, of personal scandal and the excesses of his own ego. His critics wrote him off as out of date and old-fashioned. But they had underestimated him. In the years’ to come he would eclipse everything that had come before.

His accomplishments after he was said to be “washed-up” and “too old” speak for themselves:

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Truly great performers,  they are called “hi pos” these days, have this inner grit and determination. They move on, they reinvent themselves, and they keep growing. They aren’t afraid to let go of the past or to risk their comforts; they stay hungry.


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