We all await that day when we have finally moved away from home- we can eat ice cream for breakfast and stay up all night playing video games. There are no rules! This plan goes great and its fun until……suddenly we can’t function or get anything done.
This dilemma has hundreds of tiny examples in day to day life: not getting up early enough to get work done, keeping the clean laundry on the bed and eventually sleeping on it, not doing the dishes, not applying to that job….. all of these tasks are annoying and get in the way of our lives!
But what if by simply doing these tasks, as a routine, we find more time to do the things we want to do? It is easy to let things go and have them weigh on the brain for days, months, even years, and we know we should do it, but we continue to avoid. Every first step is the hardest in a process that never ends: exercising, eating right, writing a blog. But maybe it is through these structures that we find actual freedom and the ability to be creative.
Rules can be made by others, requiring us to do certain things. But rules can be even more useful and effective when we set them for ourselves. Rules are what make any game fun to play, someone not playing by the rules ruins the game for everyone. Why not take the same approach to everyday life? Be your fiercest competition. Be your own referee.
We don’t really know what the upper limit of our potential is. Maybe by taking a leap of faith and starting those projects that are on the back burner, you find a clearer mind and a more focused lifestyle. You may never look at ice cream the same way again.
Jim Carrey has been in the news lately for saying some wacky stuff in interviews. It brought me back to a concept I’ve heard him speak about in the past, the Law of Attraction.
Carrey wrote a check to himself for 10 million dollars, dating it to give him a deadline (3 or 5 years) to “make it”. Keeping this check in his wallet, he used visualization as a tool to “bring out” the reality that he wanted. Eventually, he was able to cash that check by the date he wrote on it.
The only people who are going to “make it” in any field are the ones who are trying to “do it”. A record contract won’t just magically fall in your lap without writing any songs or playing any shows. You dress for the job you want, not the one you have. The same goes for preparation and presentation. Visualize your success, mark the path, and do the work. Yes, right now people may call you crazy and a wishful thinker, but how can you expect to make it without doing it? Just wishing for things won’t make them come true, and just doing things aimlessly won’t work either.
And even if its all placebo, if it works, why not?
Another useful addition to the “why” is the how. I personally love asking “how?”. I find that it completely reorganizes my brain and get me asking the right questions. How does this work? How could this be? How did we get to this point?
By asking how, we can see the blueprint of what others have already figured out for us. How does this process work? Is it the most efficient version? Can I improve it? What knowledge is this thing already built upon?
By knowing how things work, you set yourself up for success. Rather than relying on what other people told you, do some investigation for yourself. You don’t have to be an expert to have some knowledge on different topics. If you feel as though you continually draw the short straw in many situations, asking how did this happen, how did we end up here, etc, will probably help you avoid ending up in that situation again. Yes, bad things just happen sometimes. But wouldn’t it be great to reduce those chances?
How you may ask? Good question.
One of the hardest transitions from childhood to adulthood is how our lives are structured. In my own personal experience, certain markers showed whether you had “made it” or not. Something like advancing to the next school grade, passing the test, getting first chair in all state band, etc. While all of these things involve productive and positive people, treating them as arrival points can be misleading. I cannot tell you the amount of tests I took in high school where I crammed and passed the test, thinking “I’ll never need to use that information again”, and simply forgetting what I had (sorta) learned. Or that I happened to be the best person at a task that day in my grade, in that year, at that school….. (you see the point?), and thinking to myself, oh I must be superior at this.
In college, it can feel the same way. Here are a set of credits and tasks you much match up to, once you do them you have passed and here’s the degree. Maybe its once you land your first job, or buy your first car or house.
But does anything in life really reflect these arrival points as the be all and end all of success? This reward structure, while enticing and clear, can make one feel lost once the carrot is no longer in plain view. Suddenly, once we have everything we should want, we have to make our own carrot. Now, this is the scary part: what if this carrot we make for ourselves can never be caught?
It is the acceptance that life is a continuous cycle of milestones and failures, that using one thing (I must get THIS to be happy, nothing else will do) may cause more unhappiness than needed. Perhaps focusing on larger developmental goals, like being honest, curious, and persistent, will lead to a more fulfilling way to navigate our path. While you may never “arrive” to what you originally set out to do, at least you know you gave it your best and most honest shot. And that’s the most you can do.
Certain recent events have led me to reflect on the concept of legacy. It is a very noble thing to want to go out there and change the world. However, you may feel like you want to change something, but don’t know how or what. You take notes from those who have made a legacy for themselves, an impact that outlasts their lifetime. Were they caught up in changing the world at the time? Perhaps their actions and inclinations in the present were simply what they thought was the right thing to do. Each one of these small decisions led to a ripple effect which eventually, and essentially, changed the world. Maybe to change the world, you have to start with the substance of your work rather than the goal of being known. Otherwise, we could be after fame for the wrong reasons, and ultimately have no meaningful substance in our legacy.
*Roughly speaking*, things are they way they are for a reason. It may be for a very bad reason, but a reason nonetheless. There are so many things we encounter on a daily basis that were the culmination of many brains thinking of the same problems, for a very very long time. Music as a language is a great example of the hive mind working; rules and boundaries created that don’t necessarily come from one authority from on high.
Though it may take way more time and effort, if you encounter something that doesn’t make sense to you right away, maybe consider why that is. Why would someone else make this decision? Why would a ton of people do it this way? Can I see it from their perspective? Why isn’t this thing valued the same way anymore?
Things will probably not be the exact way you want them to be right out of the box, but that would be boring if it were real life. Investigate why, consider if it works, use that information (“useless” information is still useful), don’t settle for short cut answers, and continue the journey.
While you’re out there gathering information from experts, it is imperative to remember that the times-they are a changing. In a Facebook group that I am a part of, a fellow musician was talking about the hardships of selling recorded music as a form of income. Record sales are a perfect example of this shift; just because something worked 20, 10, or even 5 years ago does not mean it will work now, or when you are “ready”. Looking back on the entire history of music as a profession, record sales as a major income stream will be a blip in the tale.
Zoom out far enough to see the blips, have footing in what works now, and be flexible to change for what’s to come. Sitting back and remembering how things used to be is time spent; someone else is out there making “the now” work in their favor.
“The worst they can say is no.”
We have all heard this, right? Well, it can be a very useful tool. If you see a professional/expert out there in the world right now who you want to learn from, there’s no harm in asking for advice or help. The worst possible situation is that they don’t reply or they say no. You never know; they may be eager to share their knowledge, or they may be looking for someone to take on their mantle in the future. You may also have the skills, time, and ability to do a task they have been meaning to do, but have put off because of their busy schedule. Who knows! You certainly wont until you ask.
Being polite, professional, and eager is sometimes enough for an expert to make time for you. They certainly won’t be working with the person who never asks.
One more thought on standards.
Your goals should be lofty, but not too far out of reach. Putting too much pressure on yourself to achieve huge goals can crush you completely. Having high standards is important, but not to the point of self destruction. I am sure we have all experienced disappointment with something that maybe no one else even noticed (“I sounded so bad because of that wrong note!”……”I didn’t even notice…?”).
Your goals may even change along the way ¹
Try to be as objective as possible when analyzing your progress. The things you may see in yourself today will maybe disappear tomorrow. Yes, with no risk or hardship there is no progress or reward, but if you go too far you may completely kill your productivity. Know you limits, and buckle up for the long journey.
¹ There is nothing wrong with that!