Some of my early heroes as a guitarist were Jimi Hendrix, Eddie Van Halen, and Nuno Bettencourt, and I learned a great deal from each.
But there always seems to come a point when drawing from the same wells of inspiration doesn’t yield new results anymore.
You can go and find new heroes, of course, which is what most us do. But these new heroes often end up being extensions of well-traveled paths. So, there’s a limit to how much more we can learn from them.
Legendary British jazz fusion and progressive rock guitarist Allan Holdsworth was known as the most technically adept guitarist to ever live (he passed just four years ago in 2017).
The irony? He hated guitar. He always sought to imitate the saxophone.
I’m not sure whether his secret was that he took inspiration from an unusual source, that he worked hard at is craft, or ultimately, both. I think we can agree, though, that all these factors were important.
Here’s another example that makes the point:
You can hear bits of Chet Atkins, Jimi Hendrix, Stevie Ray Vaughan, West Montgomery, and others in virtuoso guitarist Eric Johnson’s playing.
What is fascinating about his playing, though, is that his style was also influenced by the piano. Which is why you rarely see him just strumming chords, as many rhythm guitarists are known to do.
This might seem restrictive to some, but it’s clear to see how it would fundamentally shift how you think about your instrument.
These are key lessons as applied to developing your creative projects and businesses too.
It’s fine to take inspiration from your peers and competitors. It might even be prudent, given that imitating another’s brand can sometimes give you instant trust and recognition.
But let’s be real here. As author Todd Henry often says, “cover bands don’t change the world – you’ve got to find your unique voice.”
There’s a great deal of inspiration that can be found in completely unrelated industries, niches, practices, and disciplines too.
My main niche is music, but I’ve started taking inspiration from:
Japanese variety shows
Political and geopolitical podcasts
Online drum lesson memberships (this one obviously has a closer connection)
Internet marketing and online business sites
Now, if we want our projects and businesses to be successful, we can never ignore who we’re talking to or the language they’re using to describe their problems. That’s the main way we’re going to ensure our mission is sustainable.
But there may be opportunities to create better products and services by taking inspiration from unrelated niches.
The key is to approach all that you consume with open loops. When you do, you’ll find answers to questions in unexpected places.
Beginning Tuesday, I’m going to be taking a little over a week off.
I already have a to-do list shaping up for the duration of my break, which I will add to, or subtract from, as I see fit.
So far as work is concerned, I will still be publishing daily, but other than that, I will only be handling edits on work already completed.
First and foremost, I’m looking forward to having a bit of time off. I already started offloading a bit mid-May because I was beginning to feel fatigue settle in.
Having come to this point, I don’t think I’m in as bad shape as I originally thought I was, but in preparation for the velocity and volume of coursework and work I have coming up, recharging seems like a wise choice.
I will be making exercise, getting some sun, and resting a priority.
Secondly, this will likely prove an important time of reflection.
I have spent the last year or so experimenting with a variety of platforms and project ideas. And now I’m ready to cull the project list, drop what simply doesn’t make sense to work on anymore, and put more time, energy, and resources into the ones that excite me most while serving a pragmatic function.
I already have some ideas shaping up that I feel excited about, and this is a good reminder that I shouldn’t spend all day every day working. Leaving space allows for new ideas to form.
My reflections from Vernon were important, at least to the extent that I retained a general (rather than specific) set of intentions from that point forward. But I have a feeling what comes out of my reflections during this break will be more laser targeted to current projects and goals.
Thirdly, I will be spending time cleaning up, getting organized, and hopefully getting a new office space set up so that I have a better environment to work, record, and film in.
To this point, I’ve either been working in the kitchen, in the living room on a coffee table (usually quite awkwardly), and sometimes even in bed.
I also like working in coffeehouses at least once per week, but that has mostly been a no-go with rolling lockdown restrictions.
I have a study that has remained unused to this point, so I will either be setting up there, or in the bedroom that I don’t use.
The point is, I need to create a space that I find a joy to work in – one where I can be inspired and comfortable.
At the end of the day, I’m not overly ambitious. If I find the need to spend most of my time laying in bed, so be it. That’s probably what I need most right now.
Breakthroughs are followed by breakdowns. And breakdowns are followed by breakthroughs.
I have observed this pattern on far too many occasions to call it coincidence.
You can prepare for the breakdowns but only to a certain extent. There’s a good chance it will be unexpected, out of left field, and all-consuming, even if only momentarily. Which makes it harder to observe the pattern and easier to get caught up in the emotion of it.
But observing the pattern is all you need to do to see it for what it is. The battle is half won once you’ve trained yourself to observe. More importantly, the pattern is not an impasse but rather a test.
Life is full of tests, which result in lessons. Lessons not learned always return later at inopportune moments to haunt us in the form of tests.
To advance in life, in creativity, and in business, we need to learn our lessons. There is no other way.
So, will you develop the mental toughness to invite and welcome tests in your life? That’s how you know you’re on the path to rapid growth.
With that, here’s what I created for you this week:
David Andrew Wiebe
I publish daily to inspire creatives and creators just like you.
What were you meant to do? What is your purpose or mission? What is your identity?
These are much harder questions to answer when you don’t feel as though anything you’ve done to this point has met your expectations.
Success is yours to define, to be sure. But even then, it’s going to come down to whether you feel you’ve measured up to the vision you’ve created for yourself.
You can keep moving the goalpost, but all that does is reinforce your adult-sized dream – full of constraints and limitations.
It is healthy to accept that you might not become an NBA star when you’re 5’9’’, 40 lbs. overweight and 39 years old? Absolutely.
But should you admit defeat in the face of what you already know to be possible? What if a bit of elbow grease and persistence could bring your goal within reach?
Wouldn’t moving the goalpost, then, be a soft admission of defeat?
We’re always trying to balance everything out – impact, fulfillment, gratification, finances, material things, and more.
But I wonder whether we do this because it’s authentic to who we are, or because we think we’ll appear nobler, more honorable creatures for having something other than our own advancement in mind.
Is it possible we spend far too much time caring about how we’re going to come across to others?
If you want money and material things, wouldn’t it be best to admit this to yourself?
It’s not as though you’re not going to realize how ultimately empty that pursuit is. But you can’t shortchange that experience because it could be a valuable one. It might ultimately lead to your spiritual ascension.
We all know that money doesn’t buy happiness. But to know what that even means, we might first need to experience wealth.
This goes for everything else, be it relationships, travel, entertainment, or otherwise. Because on some level nothing will ever satisfy. And that’s fine.
The point is, can you admit to yourself what you are truly about? Are you willing to be vigilant about establishing clarity of purpose?
Further, why do we feel balance is so important? Nobody would call Michael Jordan, Tiger Woods, or Oprah Winfrey “balanced.” They’ve achieved what they’ve achieved because they were out of balance.
Maybe trying to balance everything out is the wrong approach. Maybe it makes you a Jack or Jill of all trades and master of none.
We can’t have all the answers, no matter how long we’ve been chasing a version of reality we want for ourselves. We can’t take for granted that we know our mission or purpose. If anything, it’s only becoming incrementally clearer by the day. And that’s if we’re even paying attention to it in the first place.
It’s easy to arrive at a sense of purpose about yourself. But a successful business always adds values to others. It’s easy to create a mission for your community. But you will not have a community if others aren’t involved.
Reducing everything down to a mission statement and reciting it daily is not enough. In time, it will become little more than a mantra.
Perhaps we can gain a greater sense of clarity around these questions if we were to meet our immediate needs. Because if we had more flexibility and freedom, we’d have time and energy to contemplate the impact and difference we want to make in the world.
To be sure, a life of servitude can be more rewarding and fulfilling than a life dedicated to personal gratification. It can be a beautiful exchange.
But it’s also where boundaries go to die.
The moment you choose to let others in and find a way to meet their needs, there’s always the chance you’ll be taken advantage of. And like a donkey chasing a carrot, there might be intangible, ineffable incentives that keep stringing you along.
It might be weeks, months, or even years before you realize you’ve been had. The greater the investment, the greater the chance you’ll be steered by loss aversion. None of us like to feel like we’ve been duped. So, instead of acknowledging our mistakes, we’ll justify and rationalize our choices.
What’s often missing from this conversation is this:
You can only give out of your overflow. If you are exhausted, burnt out, and drained, how can you give to others? You can’t.
Before you can serve others well, you’ve got to become a master at serving yourself. Yes, it might seem selfish. It might even appear that way to those on the outside looking in. But it’s not selfish to care for yourself. If there is no you, there is no you to give.
Put yourself first and invest in your growth. You’ll be far more resourceful, and of more value to others when you’ve woodshedded and conquered yourself.