There’s no substitute for hard work. You can call it Karma, Brownie Points or Thermodynamics. But the unifying theme boils down to this: You get what you give.
The most refreshing iteration of this concept came from my friend Conor, a 16 year old career musician.
“When I was younger I thought that if you got a manager or a label you’d just be swept up by some magic carpet that would carry you to fame. It turns out you have to hike every step up the mountain to success. You get out of the music industry what you put into it.”
Conor’s mind has been made up for a long time now. He is going to be a career musician because he recognizes that he is the one in charge, Figuratively and literally. He is his own manager, producer, film crew, singer and songwriter. He’s already an exceptional musician in terms of skill, but equally impressive is his attitude. Because he is no longer waiting for the magic carpet, he is working on his own terms. Each note he plays is another small step towards his vision of success. His confidence reinforces his practice, and his practice brings him new reasons to be confident. Each new song, video, or hour of practice adds to this feedback loop of positivity.
For young people planning a career in ANY art form, it is so very important to avoid Bad Consultants. To define my terms, a Bad Consultant is any person giving you negative advice who: A. doesn’t share your vision, B. doesn’t know the real you, or C. states that your goal is “impossible.”
Bad Consultants are all over the place, even in your field of interest. That’s why its important to detect and reject them.
By some human error, a Type A,B, and C Bad Consultant became a photography professor at a major art institution. This Professor projected his hopelessness onto my friend, a highly talented and promising photographer. “Professor ABC” actually scared my friend into changing majors! I have no doubts that “Professor ABC” was telling his own failure story.
I’d love the chance to ask “Professor ABC”, or any Bad Consultant, these questions:
Did you do everything in your power to become the “blank” you wanted to be?
Did you persevere with “blank” even after many failures?”
Did you give up on “blank” due to permanent failure or fear of more failures?
Is “blank” really impossible, or do you just tell that to yourself (and others) to let yourself off the hook?
Professor ABC is unfit to give advice and I want him fired! I am furious that his hopeless words ended my friend’s photography career before it began. Nobody fails until they give up. Although Bad Consultants are regrettable, persevering in spite of them will make you all the more exceptional.
I was 8 years old when I started skateboarding. It was the greatest sensation I ever knew. I would skate every time I got the chance and my skills progressed. Since it was so fun, the many hours I spent practicing didn’t even feel like practice. But then at age 13, I hit a plateau. It seemed that no matter how much I practiced, I wasn’t getting any better. I actually thought I was ‘maxed out’ and it was physically impossible for me improve. I was so fixated on “being good” that I was no longer inspired by fun. Once the fun disappeared, I stayed at this plateau for a long time and eventually let my skateboarding fizzle out.
Last spring, I started skateboarding again, but something was different this time. I was skateboarding simply for the fun of it! The feeling was so intoxicating that I couldn’t get off the board. The spark was back!
I learned more and more new tricks. I got more comfortable riding the half-pipe. I was airing out of the bowl! Without even realizing it, I had broken through my plateau. I wasn’t skating for the sake of getting better. I was skating because I loved it, and my long list of new tricks was just a delightful consequence! Having goals is important, but you must also avoid becoming so obsessed with “greatness” that your passion stops being fun. Because if it isn’t not fun, then what’s the point? Let the progress be a side effect of doing what you love, not the focus. In my case, I played my way past my plateau.
I find encouragement in the notion that our success will be determined by the amount of effort we put in. This mindset allows us to toss the old idea of fate and chose a destiny of our own design. This work is not limited to hours spent practicing, but also requires that we avoid negativity. We must be inspired by the love of the process, not the success it brings. We need to get back up after the inevitable bumps and bruises that we are bound to encounter. Although the “path” to success may seem like this arduous journey, keeping it fun is what makes it worth the trip!
To check out some of Conor’s awesome musical projects, click here.