There Is No Tried And True Path
"I used to think if I cared about anything, then I would have to care about everything, and I would go stark raving mad" - Prince Charming in Ever After.
I have always loved this saying, and it's not the first time I'm quoting this. In order to pursue something big, I made a conscious decision to care deeply about some things and less about others. For the longest time, where and how I lived was not important (only that it have minimal financial impact on me). Being available for every family gathering was not possible. Not having children was a decision.
I put other hobbies, talents, and passions on hold in order to pursue this wild and mystical music career. I didn't travel for anything but my work, never for leisure. I didn't have much of social life, except for the music scene. I was all in.
It wasn't big like getting an MBA or a doctorate. It wasn't like becoming a pilot or a brain surgeon. Those pursuits are huge and take a lot of time, studying, and effort. And for a while, most who pursue something like this put some aspects of their life on hold. A commercial pilot takes home a ridiculously low salary while in training (and a ridiculously high salary once certified). I know friends who all but disappeared from the world while studying for an MBA. Even entrepreneurs I know have a rough first couple of years before their business becomes stable.
Pursuing a music career is comparable in many ways. When you give it your everything to "make it" (whatever that means), it can be necessary to sacrifice other things in your life. At least, I deemed it necessary for me to be able to focus on my goals. But it is unlike any of these more traditional pursuits because of one critical factor:
There is no tried and true path.
Pursuing a music career is more like being a professional lottery ticket buyer than anything else, in that it's all about timing, luck, serendipity and happenstance. Just like the lottery though, you have to buy a ticket; in the music industry, you have to show up.
You put yourself in the midst of music and musicians. You put yourself out there, playing show after show. You release music, submit to playlists, hunt down radio stations, representation, publicists and co-writers. You rub elbows, make friends, keep in touch with people, to stay fresh, top of mind. Year after year the shows get bigger, your contacts get better. You have some success, you win an award, you meet a hero of yours.
But then what? Most people pursuing the traditional career paths have a timeframe to their pursuit. True, tests can be failed, and sabbath years can be had. You can be overlooked for a promotion and add a couple of years to that climb on the corporate ladder. But most will have an idea of when they are done putting their life on hold and can move their focus over on other parts of their lives.
This is not true for the pursuit of the music career. At least not in my experience. After almost 13 years of hyper-focusing on music, my choice to put other life areas on hold "until this music thing takes off" left me wondering what that even means. When would my venture start pulling its weight a little so I could turn my focus on other things? Like spending important time with family. Finding my forever home. Pursuing other hobbies, like riding horses or renovating furniture (yep, that's a thing I enjoy). Or even traveling simply for traveling's sake.
This is when I realized: there is no "end". There is no degree, no certificate. The time for shifting my focus is going to have to be up to me. I couldn't wait around and say "oh, once I win a Grammy I'll feel accomplished, and then I will focus on other things", because then I could waste my life away working toward something that really isn't all that important to me. For the record, if someone offered me a Grammy for my music, I'd take it. I have just come to understand that what I truly want is what the award stands for. And it's not the recognition, but that it represents having reached many, many hearts with my music.
When on tour last year we drove through New Mexico. As we saw exits to Roswell, we discussed whether we had time to make that detour and visit the alien capitol. We did not. It left me feeling a little hollow. I realized I do this a lot when I'm on the road. I won't have time to see places in the world I really want to see, even if I am close, because I need to make it to the next gig. For over a decade this hadn't bothered me, but this time it did. I felt it as we drove past Joshua Tree National Park - in the dark. I felt it when we passed the sign for one of the largest meteor craters in the US. and again when we passed on stopping to see dinosaurs.
I could of course try to do it all at once. I could play 150 shows a year, release music, make music videos, travel to Nashville - all while pursuing other passions. But I believe that's how people get strokes. So I decided to reevaluate my life and my priorities.
I love music. I will always love music. And I am certain I will be creating music until the day I die. But I want to do more of the things I love about music and less of the things I don't. And making this distinction has opened up time and energy to be able to immerse myself in other things. Things that fill up my heart and make me happy.
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