“In the last few years, I have often done what made sense logically and pragmatically. But in the past, I mostly just followed my impulses and things that excited me. What would it look like to go back to doing things that excited me? What would it look like to follow my heart, and build a heart-based business? Would it offer more fulfillment, even if the money weren’t there?”
I posed this thought to a friend, who honestly admitted she didn’t have an answer. Which is okay.
We were talking about the fact that, if you aren’t logic-minded, whether male or female, entrepreneurship can be a tough slog. And yet…
What if we were leaving the best opportunities on the table because we weren’t following our hearts?
What if our hearts would lead us more rapidly towards our goals, while offering greater fulfillment in the process?
What if our hearts led us to bigger, more rewarding ideas than our logical minds ever could?
What if we could have fun on our journey towards achieving our goals, instead of showing up out of duty and obligation? What if the journey didn’t need to be a grind?
“I do it because I have always done it” seems sensible, and yet is completely illogical when it’s robbing your vitality and joy. Is the hustle really building your business? Or is it just making you tired?
While in reflection, another question that came to me was, “what if there was nothing to prove?”
If there was nothing to prove, maybe you would stop wearing your long hours like a badge of honor. Maybe you would stop virtue signaling and bragging about your barely-there freelancing revenue.
Maybe I wouldn’t try to be so perfect. Maybe I would collaborate and delegate more. Maybe I would take a day off when I needed it. Maybe I would pursue what excited me in the moment without worrying about the consequences.
If happiness is the goal, then following your impulses and what excites you is the right move. Pursuing money somehow always produces the opposite result.
Following your heart brings joy into your life, and as result, all other things tend to follow.
Maybe your heart knows what’s up.
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As I lay in bed, I started to hear a melody form in my mind.
Having just returned from Japan, I couldn’t express myself as eloquently in English as I could in Japanese.
So, I hurriedly jotted down lyrical ideas – in Japanese.
I didn’t understand music either. But at 13, I had written my first song – melody and lyrics.
Filling Binders with Song Ideas
I was never one to pay much attention in school. I wasn’t a bad student (not a horrible one, anyway). I was just more interested in my own creative ideas.
My grades always reflected it. I had my share of Bs, Cs, and Ds – rarely As.
So, my jr. high and high school years were spent filling binders with ideas – song ideas, lyrics, doodles, drawings, graphic novels, Sci-Fi novels, mazes, video game concepts, satirical newsletters, and so on.
At 15, I performed in front an audience of the first time. And then and there, learned the thrill of performance.
That’s about the time when most of my creative energies started being redirected to writing lyrical content – mostly rap songs, but some punk rock and hardcore songs too (The Beastie Boys were a big influence).
I still didn’t know how to play a musical instrument.
A Guitar from Across the Pond
One of my father’s coworkers had lost her son. And she promised to give her deceased son’s guitar to me.
She was not able to deliver the guitar while we were still living in Japan. So, she came all the way to Canada, and dropped off the guitar at my grandparent’s home in Drumheller, AB.
It seems someone wanted to ensure that guitar made it into my hands.
The classical guitar sat in my closet for a year or two.
But then one summer, I was at youth camp and my friend started playing the popular tunes of the time on his guitar – Green Day, Blink-182, Matchbox Twenty, stuff like that.
Prior to that moment, I had no idea you could even learn popular songs on your instrument!
Immediately after summer camp, I started messing around on my guitar, and that’s when my mom started seeking guitar lessons for me.
Connecting the Musical Dots
Apparently, I had a knack for the guitar. My guitar teacher told me I surpassed him within a few lessons!
I showed him one of my rap songs, and he helped me write some funky guitar parts to it. That was a lot of fun.
Once I started connecting the musical dots, I began writing my own songs too. But they were quite disappointing at first.
I was excited about the guitar, so I kept on. I became somewhat disillusioned with it within 18 months, when I started to see that most songs and riffs were easy, and if they weren’t, there was usually a way to simplify them to make them more playable.
An odd thing to be disillusioned about, I know. Fortunately, it didn’t last, and I would go onto jam with my drummer friend and play in bands.
All the band’s songs were either written by me, my drummer, or by the both of us.
I slowly started moving beyond power-chord pounding and open chord strumming. I started to play riffs, mimic the melody, and bust out solos, even if I didn’t know exactly what I was doing at the time.
By that time, though, my drummer friend and I were much tighter than anyone else we brought in to play in the band. So, we needed to go about finding band members differently.
I only went to college for a year, but it had some perks because I ended up building some connections. And it just so happened that one of my friend’s roommate was a bass player. So, we started jamming with him, and the chemistry was obvious from day one.
We formed a band, and as our first order of business, started working on a couple of songs for a Daniel Amos tribute compilation.
Lightly Toasted Touché
The trio would come to be known as Lightly Toasted Touché. We were a jam band. We wrote some original music, and learned some covers, but wherever we went, we also improvised instrumental music in a variety of genres (metal, reggae, blues, etc.).
How did the name come about? Well, one day, while taking a break from rehearsals for a bite (as we always did), we were making sandwiches. And the drummer asked the bassist how toasted he wanted his bread. “Lightly toasted,” he said.
Our bassist was also in the habit of saying “touché” all the time (as his roommates were also prone to doing). And so, Lightly Toasted Touché was born.
The name was probably reflective of the transient and improvised nature of the band more than anything. We certainly weren’t stoners, and I’m not sure any of us were fully convinced. But we also couldn’t come up with a better name.
One day, we recorded several improvised demos and posted them online. Keep in mind, this was in 2003. We broke the internet, and because we had so many downloads, we ended up having to move hosts.
In our relatively short history as a band, we gained a small cult following, and even got “scrobbled” quite a bit on Last.fm.
Our last order of business was to record and release an EP, A Tale of the Coming Together and Murder of My Heart in the Golden State.
This EP captures a little bit of what it was like to come to a Touché show, with an eclectic mix of originals and improvised instrumentals.
I co-wrote “Today’s Creed,” “End of the Day,” and “Foundation.” The title track was written by the bassist, and everything else was improvised.
The band imploded shortly after. We attempted to bring a talented singer into the fold, but him and the drummer did not get along, and that was that.
Any band I had been a part of to that point was short-lived, with Touché being modestly successful. So, I thought to myself, maybe it’s time to go about this music career thing a little differently. If I can’t depend on others, maybe I can depend on myself.
Around that time, I ended up renting an acoustic guitar and wrote a couple of songs. The songs were reflective of the raw emotions I felt after my band had broken up.
The acoustic guitar felt right somehow. So, I kept writing and came up with eight songs. My drummer, who was still collaborating with me at the time, encouraged me to make it an album rather than an EP. So, I wrote 11 songs altogether, though one of them never quite worked. It was dropped.
During this time, I would come to learn just how undependable I was. Because sometimes weeks would go by without making progress on the album, and my friend told me it was because I failed to take initiative. I took that rather personally, as I was prone to doing at the time.
The album, Shipwrecked… My Sentiments, ended up taking about a year to complete.
Being my first solo album, it was not perfect, though it certainly had its moments.
Looking back, it was written in response to the boring and formulaic music of the time. A reviewer called it “an experimental approach to conventional rock,” and he could not have been more spot on.
Back on Shaky Ground
Those early years playing in bands and going solo felt tumultuous to me (is it any wonder my first album was called Shipwrecked?). I was overcome with a sense of loss. One, because of the band and friendships that had been impacted as result, and two, because my cousin took his life while I was recording.
It was time to begin work on my next project. But I wasn’t ready. Material wasn’t forthcoming. Having spent 2006 working on my album and writing 365 songs in 2007 (one song per day), I was spent creatively.
It turns out I just needed to live.
In 2008, I ended up burning myself out and experienced a panic attack. I spent the next five months or so recovering. In some ways, though, I’m not sure I’ve ever fully recovered from that.
I also fell in love only two months later. And only three months later, I was given the silent treatment.
Heartbreak is unpleasant, but one thing you can count on is that it will give you something to write about. That summer, I wrote my next album, and so, the concept of Back on Solid Ground was born.
Back on Solid Ground was written as a stripped-down, simple, heartfelt acoustic album.
But I ended up getting caught in the tides of chaos before the project could ever be completed.
Breaking the Silence
I had begun work on Back on Solid Ground with a new producer. But after a few months of working on it, he pulled the plug and said he couldn’t spend any more time on it. We’d captured some amazing drum and cello performances from local musicians, so this could not have been more heartrending.
To be fair, nothing was in writing. And I learned a lesson there.
In due course, I did recover the tracks. Only, many weren’t properly labeled. So, I didn’t know which track belonged to which song, never mind the fact that I would have had to manually align all of them.
Amid all this, the members of Touché were reuniting. And this time, we had a young singer interested in fronting the band. Angels Breaking Silence was born.
Touché always had a bit of a punk vibe to it, and with Angels Breaking Silence, we started embracing the emo and post-hardcore flavors of the time.
Unlike most bands, though, we didn’t write songs around breakdowns. To be honest, we only had one song that had a breakdown.
The band got booked all over – skateparks, summer festivals, camps, churches, pubs, and more.
We were so busy performing and touring that the only merch we had were posters, buttons, and my first album. We only ever recorded a few demos for MySpace and a compilation.
You’d be hard pressed to find our music anywhere online.
As with the previous incarnation of Touché, this one didn’t last longer than 18 months. Personal tensions flared, and two members were in serious relationships that likely would have prevented them from serious, committed participation.
Taking Creativity in New Directions
For the rest of 2009, I started getting into new media in a big way – blogging, social media, podcasting, making YouTube videos, composing for video games, and more. So, I did quite a bit of composing for my own videos too.
There are multiple compositions like this one on my YouTube channel (“Power Propeller” is probably one of my favorites):
I didn’t have much of an income coming in, though, so I knew in the back of my mind that I would probably need to become more pragmatic at some point (I only started learning how to be more pragmatic in 2014, by the way).
Maybe tired from all that had transpired, 2010 sort of ended up being a ”nothing” year for me. The most memorable part was travelling down through Idaho, Washington, Oregon, and later California with my mom and stepdad. Although I seem to recall making some important connections that year too.
I also recorded a handful of demos through the year, which I first released in January 2011 as Demos 2010 and later as Fire Your God.
To this day, fans still enjoy the rawness of this music. Go figure.
Once again, I found myself going at it alone, trying to learn the ins and outs of music production. That said, I’m glad I got into it, because I found I was better able to make my musical visions a reality. I struggled with previous producers, especially when it came to getting guitar tones I liked.
Economic Collapse, Roid Rage & New Frontiers
As 2011 rolled around, things became more desperate financially. And timing could not have been worse since the world was very much in “recovery mode” after the financial collapse of 2007 – 2008. I started pulling 50-hour weeks at multiple part-time jobs that paid peanuts.
The first six months of the year were terrible, not just because of the mounting financial pressure, but also because of an unruly, emotionally unstable roommate, who was prone to roid rage.
My friends didn’t exactly support my decision to get into network marketing. But honestly, it was something I needed to go through at the time. My life started changing rapidly for the better, as I started engaging in business training materials.
I still don’t know how I managed to pull all of this off, but that summer, I performed at the Calgary Fringe Festival daily. I also went on a mini tour with new collaborator Jonathan Ferguson and a vacation shortly after.
I don’t want to say that the next four years, from 2011 to 2015, were irrelevant to my musical journey. They weren’t. I kept writing and podcasting about the music business. I invested in a music industry startup. I kept writing songs. And I even wrote a book.
But my life was mostly swallowed up in the world of entrepreneurship. And I would go onto learn some crucial lessons there, too.
The startup I invested in tanked, and I could no longer financially sustain my network marketing business.
I was busy in 2016. But I made it my goal to record and release monthly singles.
I didn’t quite reach my goal, but I did write and release some great music. It felt great.
I released a couple of singles in 2017 (including this one)…
And a couple of EPs in 2019.
As result, I wound up contributing to another compilation project in 2020 (created by one of my mentors).
It seems strange to say, but I have many, many more songs I have yet to record and share with the world. God willing, they will see the light of the day.
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So, you’re looking to accomplish more as a creative or creator.
But you wake up late, check your phone first thing in the morning, and end up watching videos on YouTube before even getting your day started.
Not that there’s anything wrong with that.
But motivation is an inside job, and unless you have a reason to get up and do what you know you should be – and want to be – doing, you either won’t do it or won’t give it the attention it deserves.
One productivity hack that has worked for me, and that goes against conventional wisdom, is addition.
Doing More is Doing More
I’ve shared much about focus and doing less, but the ugly truth is, the main reason I get so much done is because I have deadlines to meet, and because I keep adding new to-do items to my list.
What!? How does that work?
Look, I’m not saying I don’t cull my list periodically. Whether it’s things that don’t bring me joy, don’t help me create an income, or simply aren’t effective, I actively eliminate, automate, or delegate what shouldn’t be on my docket anymore.
But before I ever reach that point, I just keep adding new items to my to-do list. Currently, my weekly list is up to 18 items (with some representing three to five tasks each). I’m due for a serious culling.
But if I’m looking to get things done, this is the way to do it.
As they say, if you want something done, ask someone who’s busy.
And I’m busy (although not in the sense that I’m out of control).
Both Positive & Negative Motivation Produce Results
There are plenty of pieces on Medium about writing a certain number of blog posts per week, or how to set up your writing processes to support the creation of new content regularly.
Look, I’m all for maintaining a library of swipe files, templates, and references. Processes are great to have.
But here’s the thing – you’re not going to do the work unless you have a reason to. It doesn’t matter how nice your keyboard is unless you start putting those fingers to work!
A deadline, however unsexy, is highly motivating (even if it’s what some would call “negative” motivation).
Towards the end of March, I decided I wanted to replace my digital magazine with an eBook, and there weren’t many days left in March.
So, in four days, I wrote 8,000+ words, edited, and formatted a brand-new eBook. Just in time for April 1.
I was clear on what I needed to do, and when it needed to be done by. I got to work, and any creative challenges I encountered, I solved along the way (instead of planning for millennia before even beginning).
Can You Handle Organized Chaos?
If you’ve been at this for a while, then you might know what organized chaos looks like.
In fall 2014, I started ghostwriting blog posts from home, teaching guitar at nights, and working at the University as a theater tech on the weekends. I even tech hosted community gatherings, played gigs, recorded music, and maintained my own websites and blogs. I kept up that pace until summer 2016, when I started working completely from home.
But if you haven’t been to that point yet, then I’m sorry (not sorry), you still have no idea how much you can accomplish in a day or week.
If you’ve been through organized chaos, I would give you a pat on the back and congratulate you on emerging victorious through the smoke of battle.
Otherwise, you’ve got to keep stretching. You will not write or create more just because. You will write or create more if you have non-negotiable deadlines to meet and clients you’re accountable to.
People on Medium often talk about earning $1,000, $4,000, or $6,000 per month writing. Trust me, it’s easy to earn at that level when you’re disciplined and have a solid work ethic.
Don’t Forget to Cull
I couldn’t handle organized chaos forever. Unless your name is Gary Vee, I suspect you won’t be able to either.
It’s all well and good to push yourself, at least within the limits of what’s healthy. But that line can get mighty blurry when you start waking up in a fog every morning (could be an early warning sign).
So, if you’re going to increase productivity through addition, please remember to purge from time to time. Discard tasks and projects that no longer serve you. Replace them with better ones. Or begin to cultivate more discipline and focus for the projects that matter to you.
Use addition as a tool to get things done, not as a strategy for freelancing, business, or life.
You could achieve more if you were in a position where you had no other choice.
If you get too comfortable, and have no reason to stretch, you’re not going to do more.
It’s as simple as that.
If you have a lot of free time in your day to stop and think, it might be time to start adding more to your to-do list.
Because you will begin to see just how much you can accomplish in a day or week.
There’s a lot more time than you think.
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“I’m frustrated, tired, and stuck. And I don’t feel like doing anything about it,” she said.
This comment struck me as familiar. Probably because, indeed, I had heard it before, from the same friend.
Her and I went on to discuss the personal development program we were planning to take – both for different reasons.
She because she felt irreversibly stuck in her business, and me because I felt like a fire was being lit right under my butt.
I don’t feel stuck myself, I just feel like progress has been incremental and slow as of late. As someone who has experienced breakthrough, I know the difference between slight improvement and exponential growth. And it’s hard to be happy with the former when you know what the latter feels like.
As I see my friends continue to engage and advance, I can’t help but feel a responsibility to keep on myself. I started a chain reaction of transformative learning back in 2018. If I hadn’t gotten into the program, it’s quite possible my friends wouldn’t have either.
Growth is Not Comparable
Since 2007, I have engaged in personal development daily. Which doesn’t prove anything in and of itself, except that I have consumed my share of books, podcasts, courses, and so on.
Because growth is not comparable. Someone will take three courses and create fortune enough to buy a yacht. Others will take 10 courses and will have only moved from a small home to a slightly bigger home.
Progress isn’t always measurable in material things alone. Growth can come in many forms, be it personal fulfillment, better quality of relationships, increased vitality, or otherwise.
And what people desire to create is not uniform. We each have our own visions of what “breakthrough” could look like in any area of life.
But if you go as far as you can see, you will see further.
The question I have, though, is “how do we get out of this insanity?” How do we curtail feeling stuck in our lives without relying on more transformative programs? Is it necessary to fall into a rut every single time before we realize the need for more courses? Or is ongoing, continual, never-ending engagement in transformation par for the course? What makes the difference?
I have more questions than answers.
And this post is more rant than content. More free flow than form.
If there’s anything I do know, it’s that I have not produced all the results I seek to create in life or business, despite diligent, persistent, tenacious, hardworking effort.
I have accomplished some big goals to be sure. And I’ve created a degree of freedom once only dreamed of. But I have scraped and clawed for all of it. There was little luck involved.
Looking back at where you were only one year ago, or five years ago, can offer needed context and perspective.
And I can see that I was not at the level I’m at now only a year and a half ago. Which goes to show that, indeed, I have grown tremendously.
I do wonder, though, if I have yet to find my exact calling. I’m close, but I don’t know that I’ve hit the bull’s eye.
People say I’m doing a service when I create resources for musicians. But it’s a complex and nuanced market to promote to. Without the daily grind, results aren’t exactly forthcoming.
At one time or another, I have been excited about everything I have worked on. But some of what used to fire me up doesn’t have me jumping out of bed in the morning anymore.
Passion can be a moving target. So, maybe that’s beside the point. Because, as I said, I haven’t stopped growing.
What I would like to know is whether the life I desire is more scraping and clawing, or if there is another way that isn’t just more of the same, long walk in the desert?
I would like to know whether it’s possible to feel good about life and work without having to constantly go for a “mindset refresh” or relying on yet another resource that’s supposed to be the “answer” but is sometimes little more than a placebo.
Don’t worry for me too much. I’m thinking aloud.
My personal development journey is far from over. And I hope I haven’t deterred you from yours.
What I’m looking for is a lasting breakthrough. Something more than momentary elation. A sense of wholeness.
Maybe that’s asking for too much. But I’m not sure my search will be over until I find it.
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Ambitious creatives and creators must learn to filter out distractions. It’s a survival skill.
Whenever you say “yes” to something, you’re saying “no” to something else. And vice versa.
The more yesses you give, the more commitments you will have to fulfill on.
And the more times you say “no,” the more you will leave space for what matters to you.
Sooner or later, as you continue to grow, opportunities are going to start showing up at your doorstep, wanted or not.
If you don’t learn how to control the flow of opportunity, and if you don’t have filters for sorting them out, you’re going to be swamped.
In a broader sense, Derek Sivers’ Hell Yeah or No filter works perfectly. Basically, it’s about only saying “yes” to things that excite you and bring you joy and saying “no” to all else.
Marie Kondo’s Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up is a similar philosophy as applied to decluttering and organizing your home, but it’s just as applicable to opportunity.
But on a more granular level, it can be challenging to separate the wheat from the chaff.
So, here’s an example of how I control the flow of opportunity, especially as applied to email:
- I welcome emails. That said, I set the expectation upfront that I may not answer for a week or two (which is generally the case).
- If the sender doesn’t mention my name, I delete the message.
- If the sender hasn’t demonstrated a clear understanding of who I am or what I do, I delete the message.
- If the sender hasn’t identified the mutual benefit of the communication, I delete the message.
- If the email is about guest posting or buying links and it’s coming from an SEO agency, I delete the message.
- I actively unsubscribe from newsletters I never read.
Some of this may seem kind of harsh. But if I didn’t have these filters, guaranteed I would get swallowed up in tasks that neither excite me nor bring me joy.
It’s your time. You’ve got to guard it with your life because it is your life.
Create filters. Document them. Follow them. And put more stringent rules in place as necessary.
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