The best way to make progress isn’t to be the most organized or the most ambitious, or to be the best planner or the hardest worker. The best way to make progress is to stay focused on the work–laser-focused–to overcome the daily resistance that reduces any long-term goal to nothing more than daydreams. Resistance makes a mess of all men who do not have the wisdom to fight it effectively, and resistance will bury you. For the last twenty years, in some regards, resistance buried me.
Teaching music has been great; I love it and I have gotten really good at it because I have made it a priority, given that it’s my career. I’ve forged a large part of my identity from my role as a music educator and I don’t regret a thing about that part of my life. However, for many years I have been avoiding a paramount personal goal without even realizing it. I have been playing games with myself, and these games were played for decades, deeply rationalized to the point I could not see them. On the surface it seemed as if my music was on course and I was pursuing growth in the best way I could manage. But if I was on course, why was I having such strong reactions to specific events? I should be able to attend a live show and be the audience member, not long to be the artist! I should be able to listen to a song and not imagine I am the one who wrote the record. I shouldn’t be deeply regretful (while also being proud!) when my friends release music and announce shows.
In a podcast with Sam Harris, the author, David Whyte, said something really special that I’ve held onto. Profound changes in the self can happen suddenly. Entire cities within you can feel as if they are imploding silently, in slow motion, yet instantaneously and weightlessly. Currently, I stand at the ruins of my own city of Potemkin, seeing it clearly for the first time, and I partly have David to thank for this.
“Whatever the name you have for the great calling in your life, if you don’t stay within the gravitational well and invitational pull of that calling, you will end up as a mere tourist here.”– David Whyte
Music is the gravitational well and invitational pull of my life, but what is the most accurate manifestation? If I had to pick one and only one musical path to focus on, what would it be? I’ve reflected on this for some time, and I have come to terms with the fact that I may never be a truly amazing guitar player or a master of genres, or an excellent sight-reader or improvisor. I may never build out my student base to create a music school, or become a successful entrepreneur, or open my punk rock ramen bar or start a podcast. I may never become a documentary filmmaker and bring light to the lives of others in a way I feel I am destined to, with my own unique and effective vantage. I may never become a great writer, but I can try by writing posts like these.
I can continue to work towards all my hopes and dreams, and I could live without attaining any number of them, but the one thing I cannot do is leave this earth without manifesting the music I have inside of me. My music must come out. I am an artist and I have to share my music with the world. This was a terrifying realization for me, but also the most self-empowering shift I have had in my life because now I can place all of my agency into this trajectory. Music is my gift; not to simply teach, read, or play it, but to create and share it.
Music is my gift; not to simply teach, read, or play it, but to create and share it.
There is great risk to any artist; the very process of creation requires it. Most people would rather die with their art in them than risk attempting to create something knowing it will be jettisoned into the world. Any faker can become wildly confident, as he is simply stealing things that are well-known to be effective at no personal cost to himself. Snake oil salesmen are everywhere. Real artists prefer to hide out of the spotlight. Art is, in fact, hard.
I’ll be damned if I end up a tourist here.
Living life to the fullest isn’t about jumping off bridges and posting about it on social media; it’s about having the courage to be who you know you need to be in the face of a world telling you to go play it safe. I can easily stack the missed opportunities miles high, but lamenting would be counterproductive and I refuse to let anything get in my way from this point forward. Denying my path as an artist over the years created so much unhappiness within me because I was also unknowingly denying my own identity and the future I owe myself. Now I am thankful; I have realized what I am supposed to do here on earth with my one and only precious life.
Moving forward, I am staying laser-focused, or at least focused, haha. I am not just a musician; I am not just a teacher; I am an artist. I have music inside me and it must come out.
I have set a goal for the remaining days of the year, posted below for accountability:
I don’t expect this song to turn out amazing, but I know I will be heading in the right direction, and that is all that matters. It’s time to stick to the plan and put in the work. I’ve got two weeks to do this and a lot of DAW to learn. I’ll be damned if I end up a tourist here.
Also, I highly recommend reading The War of Art by Steven Pressfield.
You can reach me in the real world here.