This might fly in the face of a lot of things you’ve heard before. But you’re a creative mastermind, and a brilliant abstract thinker, so I trust you as a keeper of this knowledge.
What I learned from author Mark Manson (you might have heard of a little book called The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck), is that there’s a toxic pattern hidden in many personal development methodologies. And I can honestly say I’ve sometimes been caught in that toxic pattern!
Again, I know this is paradoxical because what are we talking about here if not self-betterment – strategies and tactics for a better music career? What does it mean to be a musician if improvement is subtracted from the equation? Nothing, really, because it’s our job to show up better than we did last time! And make no mistake – practicing your instrument or voice every day is a form of personal development!
What I got from Manson is that trying to be better all the time can be a depressing way to live. And even beyond the hype-based, rah-rah weekend conferences that light you up for a mere week before you crash and go back to “normal” life, there is something about being in constant pursuit of more that disagrees with one’s identity, spiritual path, and desire to be happy (which many have entirely written off).
One of the reasons for that is because it’s human nature to play the comparison game. “Look how much better they’re doing,” you say, recognizing just how far you must go to be at their level, whoever they are, and whatever they’ve accomplished. And I do mean to say you don’t have the context to even understand how or what they’ve accomplished, because you are not them.
Either way, the question is, can you be content with where you’re at? Can you enjoy the journey of kaizen, of being a little bit better today than you were yesterday, and staying in that process over the long haul?
Because the thing about every destination is, the journey is the longest part. If you don’t enjoy the journey, you’re not going to be much happier at the destination. You might experience a fleeting sense of relief or joy, maybe even victory or celebration, but it will be so brief compared to the long, hard road it took to get there, it will hardly feel worth it.
As hard as it might be to believe, every day can be a holiday. It takes some deep, intellectual work for this to sink in, but if you’re up for the challenge, have a read through Reality Transfuring, Steps I-V by Vadim Zeland and Joana Dobson. I don’t know what they were smoking or what planet they were sent from to write this work, but it can really open your eyes to the possibility of going through life with a carefree sense of joy and excitement.
Now, Bruce Lee said:
Do not pray for an easy life, pray for the strength to endure a difficult one.
And his point is well-taken. Diamonds are forged under pressure. We all transform under pressure.
But I think what Zeland was saying is that even in challenge and difficulty, the events themselves are neutral, and we can make them mean whatever we want them to mean. You can go through any event in life with a sense of discovery.
What I learned from Manson is, instead of trying to be better, be curios. At some point, we all start to feel like we’ve seen it all, heard it all, or tried it all. But that can’t possibly be true when our lives don’t seem to be working at the level, we see others working. There’s always more to discover, more to learn. And sometimes it’s the simplest things.
In an interview with author Tim Ferriss, former CD Baby founder Derek Sivers said it was a profound discovery for him that women like sex. Like I said, the simplest realizations can sometimes alter your course for good.
Being curious is still personal development, but it’s a different approach. It’s coming from a place of humble discovery versus all-knowing arrogance.
They said not to blog.
Writing a book is a waste of time.
They said not to make music.
The odds of becoming a successful musician are less than getting hit by lightning.
They said not to podcast.
They said, “forget about becoming a YouTube star.”
They told you not to build a business.
Throw away your hollow dreams of passive and recurring revenue. Pat Flynn and James Schramko have no idea what they’re talking about, and they are the very purveyors of snake oil.
Tim Ferriss’ The 4-Hour Workweek is a sham. Even Ferriss clearly works more than four hours per week.
Give up. You’re not special. There’s no way you can make it.
“If I couldn’t do it, there’s no way you could.”
That’s what my friends were saying behind my back. Only a few short years ago.
In 2005 and 2006, I recorded and launched my first solo album, Shipwrecked… My Sentiments.
In 2007, I started blogging. One post helped me generate upwards of 800 visits per day.
In 2008, I formed a band called Angels Breaking Silence. It didn’t last more than a year and a half, but at our peak, we were touring churches, skateparks, festivals, universities, and more.
In 2009, I started podcasting. I’ve gotten as many as 3,000+ downloads in a month.
I also started making YouTube videos the same year. My little video on Sim City has gotten more than 89,600 views to date.
In 2011, I created, produced, and performed Back on Solid Ground for 11 consecutive days at the Calgary Fringe Festival.
In 2012, I briefly become the co-host of Inside Home Recording, a popular home music producer podcast.
I also started blogging professionally, and contributed to multiple music releases as a guitarist, producer, and engineer.
In 2013, I started working for Ghost Blog Writers, ghostwriting for a variety of individuals and companies, including Entrepreneur and HuffPost contributors.
In 2014, I launched my first audio course, How to Set Up Your Music Career Like a Business.
In 2015, I launched my first book, The New Music Industry.
I also became a staff writer for Music Industry How To the same year.
In 2016, I started working entirely from home. I was no longer tied to a physical workspace.
I also launched multiple singles the same year.
In 2017, I helped a local jazz artist crowdfund $15,000+ for an album.
In 2018, 2019, and 2020, I launched several more books.
And that’s just scratching the surface. There are so many other accomplishments. So many other stories to tell. So many funny, weird, and memorable experiences. So many highs and lows.
It’s been at least 16 years since I started down the path of building my life around my creativity and passions.
It’s been 16 years and I’m still going.
What were you told not to do? What did others discourage you from trying? Who didn’t demonstrate any belief in your big dreams?
Maybe you were meant to go and do those things after all.
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Polymaths are bound to have a mix of projects on the go at any given time.
Some of this is by design. Inspiration hits and you find yourself unable to resist compelling possibilities. So, you initiate new ventures, knowing it will require personal expansion, even as you hurry to cause completion with projects already started.
And, of course, some projects serve a more practical function of creating cashflow. And this means maintaining a healthy inflow of leads and stable of clients.
So, how do you keep all your plates spinning? Here are several practical tips to help you maintain order amid chaos.
1. Batch Process & Optimize Weekflow to Boost Productivity
Batch processing will prove essential to getting things done. When you’ve got many projects to tend to, you can’t afford to lose time. And task switching is a known productivity killer.
That said, if you don’t optimize weekflow, I’m going to posit that your batching efforts aren’t going to be as effective as they could be. If you don’t have a good sense of the big picture that’s forming, you’ll be plowing away at a certain task, only to be interrupted by a client call, meeting, deadline, or some other fire you didn’t see coming because you were too busy working.
In my experience, a desktop calendar pad can go a long way towards achieving better big picture clarity around forthcoming meetings, deadlines, calls, and so forth. Some people like to use their phone, but I find notifications annoying, and they break concentration besides. Paper-based systems like Getting Things Done (affiliate link) by David Allen force you to rely more on your organizational skills (and putting things into existence) than on unreliable tech.
2. Leverage Themed Days to Maximize Results
Don’t just group your tasks. Group your days.
I’ve talked to multiple entrepreneurs who keep multiple plates spinning, and the main way they do this is by setting aside certain days for specific projects.
I, for one, publish daily, write for Music Industry How To and MIDINation, maintain Music Entrepreneur HQ, and create content for The Indie YYC.
I use Mondays to outline the content I will be developing for the week. I divide my time between my various Music Industry How To and Music Entrepreneur HQ duties between Tuesday and Thursday. Friday is The Indie YYC day, though realistically, it doesn’t require more than a couple hours per week.
The point is that I’m not trying to advance all projects simultaneously on a given day. I give each my full attention on their designated days, so that my mind space is only occupied by pertinent tasks and conversations. As you can imagine, this helps you generate better ideas and think better overall.
3. Get into Communication to Grow Your Team & Maintain Client Relationships
First, admit to yourself that being a lone wolf polymath is unworkable. Because it is.
Second, recognize that there are people around you just waiting to engage in meaningful projects. Their jobs are boring. Their home life is humdrum. They’re just waiting for you to pick up the phone and invite them to be a part of something, even if there’s no financial incentive!
Build a personal relationship with everyone in your team to keep engagement levels high. It might seem a little unreasonable at first, because it’s going to take a lot of time out of your day. But you will soon see your workload minimize as others pick up the slack.
Keep your clients informed of project progress as well. You don’t need to type out 1,000-word essays to get the point across. Clear, succinct communication helps decrease misunderstandings and sets proper expectations.
When a promise is not going to be met, communicate. Everything is about communication. Don’t try to manage people. Manage promises instead.
Internalize the fact that promises are empowering. Many people avoid making promises because they don’t want to be on the hook for anything. But promises tends to elevate the importance of tasks or projects, maximizing your overall effectiveness. And that leads to better results.
4. Minimize the Amount of Time You’re Available to the Public to Make More Time for Focused Work
Unless self-initiated, I’m only available to the public on Wednesdays and Thursdays, between the hours of 11 AM and 5 PM for ad hoc calls and meetings.
This may appear self-serving, but when I leave my calendar open for anyone to book at any time, I may not be in the best position to serve them (because of energy levels, distractions, other tasks I need to get to, social events, or otherwise). I might even miss their booking requests. So, it’s in everyone’s best interest that I take calls only when I’m best equipped to handle them and give the matter the attention it deserves.
5. Prioritize Self-Care & Wellbeing to Keep Energy Levels High
I understand that your days will be booked to the brim with various forms of work. After all, you’re a go-getter.
But if you’re not taking care of yourself, you will burn out, and if you burn out, you will need to spend time in recovery. This can cost you severely in terms of productive time, medical bills, supplements, rehabilitation, and more.
So, it’s best to work a little self-care into your routine, even if it’s just five minutes here, 15 minutes there. Do five minutes of yoga. Meditate for 10 minutes. Take inspiration from some of my burnout reversal strategies.
Something is always better than nothing. And you honestly might be surprised by how much a difference walking for a few minutes daily can make.
6. Test Alignment & Prune the Stinkers to Manage Energy
Pay attention to how every project and client makes you feel.
There are ebbs and flows with every task or job, no matter how aligned you are. But ultimately, some projects will boost your energies and fulfillment level, while others will take away and steal your lifeforce.
Book Yourself Solid (affiliate link) author Michael Port suggests cutting clients that drain your energy, because inevitably they will consume the most time and energy, making any financial reward almost irrelevant. The 4-Hour Workweek (affiliate link) author Tim Ferriss has made similar assertions.
You need a “red rope policy,” as it were, meticulously defining the type of customer you want to work with, while pricing your services out of reach for those who are sure to be lesser quality clients.
The same goes for personal or collaborative projects. It might hurt to cut some off, but if you’re not acting on them today, and you didn’t last week, and you didn’t the month before, can you honesty say you’re ever going to get around to them?
As former CD Baby founder Derek Sivers says, goals shape the present, not the future. If the goal has no impact on current actions, then there’s a good chance it’s misaligned.
We want to examine our relationship to everything we do, as personal development guru Steve Pavlina suggests. And we can shift our relationship to our projects at any time. But inevitably, you’re going to bump up against work that’s not in alignment.
Consider eliminating the projects and clients that take up too much mind space, time, energy, and resources. They are robbing you of fulfillment in every dimension.
7. Track & Review Your Progress to Ensure Momentum
Take some time to review your progress each week. If you’re not advancing in certain areas, remember – goals that aren’t shaping the present are bad goals. They aren’t in personal alignment.
Each week, take some time to review:
- What is getting done
- How much progress was made
- Your overall performance relative to each project, on a scale of one to 10
- What is not getting done
- Where progress wasn’t made and why
- Areas you need to improve in
- Tasks others are working on
- Tasks you need to delegate
- Projects you need to revise or prune
- Your overall fulfillment level
If you aren’t tracking and reviewing your progress, you can’t make an honest assessment of how a given project is going. And that stifles your ability to adjust, or course correct.
Clarity is key. You can easily forget or lose track of specific tasks, projects, or people if you aren’t aware of how your projects are going, and that is unworkable.
You’re busy, and you’re up to something. And you won’t do everything perfectly. You will drop balls, and you will make mistakes. Which is why communication matters so much. But as much as possible, you want to create workability in every facet of your endeavors, and your weekly review is a good time to think and reflect on that.
Taking on many projects isn’t for everyone. But where there’s a will, there’s a way.
I would still advise chipping away at projects that don’t serve or fulfill you, as they are bound to consume more time and energy than they are worth. That said, I’m not one to stop anyone from running three businesses simultaneously. I know people that do. And it’s possible because of the practical tips discussed here.
So, find the things that keep you up into the wee hours of the night, and have you jumping out of bed early in the morning. These are the things that will inspire you to be, do, and have more.
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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 is it that you’re looking to achieve right now?
Where do you feel stuck?
What change are you looking to make?
It’s easy to feel powerless in taking first steps. In my experience, powerlessness is our default state as we look to shift from wanting to creating.
But it’s critical to realize that wanting only creates more wanting. It cannot beget anything else.
It’s good to be in touch with what you want, but if you want to get what you want, you’ve got to move to the getting phase as soon as possible, or you’ll just end up focusing on what you don’t have, and the wanting/not having cycle will continue.
The key thing to remember in the getting phase is that everything is available in communication. If there is anything lacking in life, it’s likely because of a conversation (or series of conversations) not had.
Jobs, pay raises, new relationships, better relationships, and all forms of opportunity are available on the other side of conversations not had.
This realization doesn’t make it any easier to have those conversations, but it’s crucial that you understand it. Because without this realization, you will spin your wheels going about trying to get what you want in other, ineffective ways. You’ll try to convince yourself that there is a different way, a better way, a way that doesn’t involve making phone calls and being upfront, and vulnerable, and open about what you want.
But what good has hiding what you want done for you? Has it gotten you any closer to what you desire?
This doesn’t mean that you will get a “yes” just because you ask for what you want. It may be necessary to transform your ask or to clear away the clutter before the dam breaks. And the “yes” you’re looking for… it may not come from who you think it will, when you think it will, or how you think it will. But that’s not an excuse to stop asking. The ask must be made regardless, because what all successful people have in common is they ask for what they want.
This sheds light on all the funny exercises (such as laying down in public places) Tim Ferriss has you do in The 4-Hour Workweek (affiliate link). It’s not just about growing your comfort zone or tolerance for drawing attention to yourself. It’s about getting in the habit of taking risks and acting in the face of fear. And as an ambitious creative or creator, if you want to reach your goals, I promise you will need to take risks and act in the face of fear.
Taking a page from my own life, I have seen all manner of contracts, investing opportunities, and resources flow into my life in the last couple of weeks. And it all happened because I started finishing conversations that had already been started. Sometimes, it is necessary to close open loops for what’s in our vibrational escrow to manifest in our lives.
Even if you aren’t aware of what conversations you need to have right now, start communicating. You’ll start to figure it out. And don’t forget to start listening from a new space.
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