“I’m Done Trying to be Great”

“I’m Done Trying to be Great”

I’m done trying to be great.

These were the words that came to mind as I sought to complete an item on my to-do list today.

I’d put together a short to-do list before going on break. Nothing crazy, just a few things to help me get organized and prepare for the next six months, which will likely be just as intense as the last.

But running errands wasn’t going exactly as expected. So, I stopped and asked myself: “Is this something I really need to do right now?”

And I soon realized it wasn’t.

“I’m on break. My priority is to disconnect, rest, exercise, and get some sun.”

What I Realized

On my walk, I took some time to think about why my mind was feeding me those words: “I’m done trying to be great.”

And the answer was forthcoming, and much simpler than expected.

I need more rest, and my resilience isn’t at its best. That’s it!

It’s funny how much tiredness and fatigue can affect your mood and state of mind. Sometimes, it isn’t deeply seated trauma from childhood or an all-out spiritual battle. Sometimes it’s just that you’ve had too much caffeine!

What I’m saying is:

It’s altogether too easy to overthink and over-intellectualize everything. Sometimes the answers are right under your nose.

Is This Something I Need to do Right Now?

While reflecting, I also recognized the value of this question.

If you’re an ambitious creative or creator, chances are you have a to-do list a mile long already. Although everyone says to prioritize, this can be tough when you have so many tasks and projects to consider.

What I’m beginning to discover, though, is that about 80% of my list either doesn’t need to be done now or doesn’t need to be done at all.

By that logic, you should only be left with 20% of your list, which you should find easier to prioritize.

If you want to take it a step further, then do as Tim Ferriss does and find the one decision that removes 100. Find and focus on the one thing that will make most if not all others a mere triviality.

But if you do choose this path, know one thing – it may take days, weeks, or even months of thinking and reflection to uncover what that one thing is.

So, Am I Done Trying to be Great?

Well, in a manner of speaking, yes.

I’m done trying to be great when I can’t even be expected to be at, or give, my best.

Those hours are best spent in a cocoon – getting away from electronics, resting, getting some exercise, and bathing in the sun. If the world permits, travel, and pool as well.

This can also be a good time to think and reflect. But only if I’m ready. If I need to give my mind a rest too, I will.

It’s one thing to try to be Superman when you’re at your best, but you’ve got to switch that off while you’re on break. Expectations should be loosed. Surrender and let go. Don’t be hard on yourself.

This seems to create more flow in life, anyway. Things come easier when you aren’t trying so hard. And maybe it’s the best way to live.

Leave greatness to superheroes. Be you because that’s what people are going to be attracted to. Being you is how you will find your unique purpose, voice, and calling. Being you is the magic that attracts all you desire in life.

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What Do I Do When I Don’t Feel Like I’m Making Progress In My Music Career?

We’ve all been there.

Maybe you have kids to take care of, or maybe you have dozens of errands to run during the week. Maybe your job sucks all of the life out of you.

You start each day with the best of intentions, but time gets away from you and you don’t feel like you’re making progress on the things that really matter to you – your music, specifically.

So what do you do when you feel like progress is elusive, and you just can’t seem to get on top of things? What do you do when you feel like you’re stuck in a rut?

Here are a few tips for you to consider. Read on.

Tip #1 – Take Some Time Off

This is going to seem counterintuitive, so before you cry “heresy” and hit me over the head with an American Fender Stratocaster Deluxe, answer the following question:

When are you least productive?

The answer is simple, but it might not be what you think it is.

Some of you may have answered “at night”, “when I’m sleeping”, or “during the weekends.” Or, maybe you gave a more philosophical answer, like “when I’m doing things I don’t like to do.”

None of those answers are wrong, but the reality is that you’re least productive when you’re tired. Yep, that’s it.

And I don’t mean the kind of tired you feel when you come home from work every day. I mean the kind of tired that has built up over weeks, months, maybe even years. The kind of tired that lingers and doesn’t go away after binge-watching Netflix for 48 hours.

If that’s how you’re feeling, then you need to take some time off to clear your mind. Free up some time in your schedule, get away from home, and just relax for a while. You’ve been working hard.

The irony is that – if you do take a break –  you’ll likely come back to find your inbox full of new opportunities because you haven’t been pushing so hard for them. The things we want tend to come when we’re not striving for them. In this way, progress becomes effortless.

Tip #2 – Re-Frame Your Perspective

This is a mental tweak more than anything else, and applies specifically to people that have been diligent in following through with their commitments every single day, best to their ability.

You might think you’re not making progress. You might even feel that way.

But there is a big difference between feeling and knowing, and that difference tends to be lost on tired souls that are confused, frustrated or depressed.

You probably aren’t celebrating your victories often enough. Most of us don’t. You’re probably not seeing the forest for the trees. Again, most of us don’t, especially when our nose has been to the grindstone for a long time.

What’s needed is perspective. Also see tip #1, because that totally applies here.

If you can’t take an extended break, what you need is a timeout. You need time to think, to journal, to get away to somewhere quiet for a while, and just reflect. That’s something else most of us don’t do enough of – reflecting!

Learn to reframe your thought process. For instance, if you put out three new albums in the last two years, but you haven’t met any of your sales goals yet, instead celebrate the fact that you released three new albums in two years! That’s a major accomplishment.

Those who’ve had some practice with this can often re-frame the situation within minutes or even seconds of it happening. That’s why they’re able to keep their composure and stay happy.

Tip #3 – Reevaluate Your Priorities, Schedule & To-Do List

Even the best of us are aware of the fact that we waste time, and it’s the only luxury we’ll never be able to afford.

You may have heard entrepreneurs and executive level people talk about how they spend too much time on low value tasks when they could be doing higher value tasks.

A lot of people don’t really like that way of thinking, and may even think it’s unrealistic, but it’s absolutely true. We don’t automate, delegate and eliminate enough!

There’s a huge difference between being “busy” and being “productive”, and most people will tell you that they are busy. Unless the person saying that is an athlete, runs a company, freelances on the side, or makes a lot of art, there should be sirens firing off in your brain!

Most people are not busy. Their lives are filled with activity, and they prioritize going fishing, drinking beer with a buddy, watching the hockey game or going to the swimming pool. You can still do all of those things if you want, but if you’re using them as an excuse to not work on your art, then you’re just fooling yourself.

Take some time to think about whether or not everything that’s on your schedule or to-do list actually needs to be there. And then consider whether or not you can automate or delegate whatever cannot be eliminated.

Also see Musicians: All The Productivity Advice You Need For 2016.

Final Thoughts

Give yourself some grace. You’re doing the best you can at your present level of awareness. Sometimes life really does get in the way of the things we want to do. When that happens, it all comes down to our values and how we respond to the situation.

Our values dictate our actions – always. How we respond to a situation is entirely within our control – always, even if we can’t control the situation itself.

It’s important to realize just how powerful you are. If people are pushing you around and telling you what to do, then you haven’t found your inner fighter yet. You can’t let other people run your life when you have big creative goals you’re trying to achieve.

When progress doesn’t seem forthcoming, remember to stop and disengage. Take a break, and when you come back, take a look at the situation from a new perspective. If something needs to change, then begin making small changes. If a break was all you needed, then dive back in.

Lessons in Creativity, Part 1: Productivity

I was recently asked whether or not I’ve ever experienced writer’s block.

I smiled, shook my head, thought about it for a moment, and responded, “Nope. I’ve been burned out before, but I’ve never had writer’s block as far back as I can recall.”

The signs of burnout were:

  • Shortness with colleagues, coworkers, and people in general.
  • A lingering tiredness or fatigue that wouldn’t go away.
  • A lack of creative energy.

None of which were characteristic of who I naturally am.

Call it intuition, or call it an incisive word of God, I was prompted to take a sabbatical around that time.

When I decided to go fishing one summer day, I was listening to a podcast on the very topic of sabbaticals.

It was a timely message, and one I would have never heard had I not made a rare excursion into nature.

And when I say rare, the last vacation I had even been on was three years prior.

I took about a month off to think things over, enjoy myself, and go fishing a few more times.

I still fulfilled my daily commitments, of which I had a few, but I focused on completing the minimum amount of work required and not on doing a lot of extracurricular work.

***

I do think I get a lot done – though if I were to measure my personal output against my standards, I’m sure I would say I’m a far cry from where I would like to be.

People do sometimes ask me, “How the hell do you do it all?” Still others have commented, “You’re the hardest-working person I know.”

And in the past, I tended to deflect what I probably could have been taken as a compliment.

I would just shrug my shoulders and say, “I don’t know”, or maybe throw around a term like time management.

True, I have learned a great deal about productivity, time management, or priority management – whatever you want to call it – from the likes of Derek Sivers, Steve Pavlina, or Stephen Covey.

And maybe managing your time is something that becomes obvious to you given enough practice. And maybe if you have goals that really drive you, you’ll have no choice but to be productive.

Completing projects in one fell swoop instead of chunks, listening to podcasts while driving, conducting weekly reviews, or setting action-based (and not fluffy) goals… These things come naturally once you’ve done them for long enough.

But as with anything people ask you regularly, you start to form a more eloquent answer – or at least try to.

Even so, whenever people posed me with “How do you do it?” type questions, trying to respond in a caring yet direct way in conversation seemed impossible. I just started saying, “read the blog post Do It Now by Steve Pavlina.”

I guess most people don’t listen to advice, or maybe they just don’t take me very seriously. Maybe what inspires me doesn’t inspire them, or, maybe, like me, they fear being exposed.

To me, productivity is a serious life-or-death matter, and I don’t think anyone who calls themselves a professional would say anything to the contrary.

But if you’re serious about doing more with the time you have – we all have the same 24 hours in a day – you’re going to have to make some changes, and I think we’re all afraid of anything that threatens our comfortable way of life.

***

Is writing a creative pursuit? I suppose it is. But I can’t say that I’ve ever been at a loss for words, unless I’ve been completely burnt out.

I have observed, however, that there appear to be different rules for different mediums of creativity.

Throughout my life, my creativity has known many expressions – I’ve written and drawn graphic novels in Japanese, I’ve painted scenery, I’ve written songs… I could go on.

But I have never known a muse more fickle than the musical muse, if there is such a thing.

I’m either inspired to write a song, or I’m not – there is rarely any kind of middle ground. It’s like an on-off switch.

Significant life events often seem to prompt the need for a song – or many songs – but not always.

I’ve lost several family members through the years, including my dad, who passed away when I was 13.

But despite the haunting beauty of a song like Eric Clapton’s “Tears in Heaven”, I have rarely felt able to adequately express the emptiness that accompanies death.

A song called “Now That You’re Gone” is about the only one I’ve penned that has stayed with me over the years.

Some inspiration is worth waiting for, but most of it is gotten. You have to expose yourself to fresh stimuli on an ongoing basis, and even when you think you’re getting nowhere, you have to remember that your brain is putting the pieces together, absorbing everything you willingly open yourself up to.

***

W. Somerset Maugham, the playwright, is famous for saying:

I write only when inspiration strikes. Fortunately it strikes every morning at nine o’ clock sharp.

But truly, not much more needs to be said about consistency. You already know that you should be consistent.

You already know that you should have a specific time and space for your creative work. You already know that you should have certain cues in place to remind you to do the work on a daily basis.

You already know what you should do. But why won’t you do it? To me, that seems like a far more important matter.

Is it because you’re lazy, distracted, busy, unstructured, or tired? These are the problems and excuses you need to tackle. Forget about consistency until you’ve identified what’s getting in the way.

And I will add the caveat here that not all of us have a nine-to-five job, a symmetrical and pre-structured daily routine. Some of us are freelancers, contractors, entrepreneurs, or self-starters. I certainly fall under this category.

The reason I bring this up is because a pro always finds a way to do their work, regardless of whether or not they actually have a consistent time and place to do it.

It is immensely beneficial to have that predictability, but you can’t always afford it. You can’t always make it happen. Do the work anyway, or it will never happen.

Time is about all we have, and it’s going to pass whether or not you do something with it. Choose to do something with it.

Do you like what you read? You can pre-order the new book now.