Trying not to swim upstream

I’m talking about anxiety. I’m not an expert, so don’t take anything I say here as advice.

I’ve always been pretty bad at remembering names, and abstract numbers, dates, codes, measurements, etc. This is bad when I’m talking to other musicians, who are usually gear heads and love to talk about how many watts or the size of drum heads or brand names. It gets embarrassing. But on the other hand, I’m very good at logic, concepts, metaphors, techniques, and coordination. So, I’m going to keep playing drums, and I’m not going to try to be a publicist any time soon. If you’re an industry person, you need rote memorization skills–which frankly I lack. I could tell you how things work until I’m blue in the face, but don’t ask me about the names of those things. So, I know my limits, and I continue to work on improving my memory of equipment specs, as well as your name. But for the time being, I tend to avoid situations where I have to be an equipment junky, and that often puts me at a frustrating disadvantage. Oh well, I have other advantages, and I just keep reminding myself to focus on the right things and be happy with that. Trust me, I get really frustrated about forgetting your name, even after asking you 3 times. But things would be a lot worse if my livelihood depended on it.

As I mentioned in a previous post, I played trumpet for 8 or 9 years, but the time came when I realized that I felt more comfortable behind a drum set. I was able to learn at a quicker rate than the trumpet, and it felt good to be able to keep up with my fellow musicians. So, I finally made the switch.

Similarly, I’ve experienced some decent anxiety in my software career. There can be a lot of pressure, and a lot of competition. I think the worst anxiety I’ve experienced in the past was in tough meetings or when giving presentations. For me, the more I prepare the less anxiety I feel. But one of the things I did recently was switch to a position where I’d experience less anxiety. It’s been great. I’m going to try to continue down this new path.

I think I put up with it for a while because I thought it was to be expected. But I’ve come to realize that it doesn’t need to be expected. I don’t have put up with it simply because that’s the environment I’m in. In fact, I can just choose not to engage in those situations that are the most troubling. And I can engage in ways to reduce stress and anxiety. Being nervous is normal. But heck, why submit myself to those situations over and over if I don’t have to? Luckily, I rarely get nervous playing drums. Musical performance actually recharges me, and that feeling really puts the rest of my life in perspective.

But here’s something tough to think about. If you suffer from performance anxiety, then consider the physiological ramifications down the road. Perhaps it’s time to take a moment to think about what makes you nervous, how nervous you get, and if there are ways to reduce anxiety. Or even stop doing the things that cause it. Everyone feels a little nervous on stage, but maybe it’s not right to be really nervous night after night. Maybe there are alternative ways to engage in your art.

A robot walks into a bar…

Hey musicians,

How’s that day job? Well, it looks like the job market is going to continually get scarcer out there. Most musicians have a day job, and so this is not good news. It seems music isn’t the only thing going digital–so is everything else:  Robots are taking all the jobs.

This is a thought provoking article about how most jobs are becoming obsolete, due to automation.  They predict that income disparity will continue to spread, as blue collar jobs are replaced by machines and software, and white collar jobs will get whittled away. And the article describes how we will eventually move into a post-job economy, where there are almost no jobs where you are working for someone. But in the current economic system, the only way to patch up the problem is by continually expanding welfare–or change the economic system.

But, the only jobs that aren’t going away right now are tech jobs. So consider going into tech. You can be a system administrator, or you can be an A/V expert, or perhaps go into development or data warehousing or web development. Or you can go into marketing, or sales. Tech doesn’t mean you have to know how to code. And as a vendor, as opposed to a “permanent” employee, you still have a certain amount of freedom to pursue music. But beware: you still have to stay current in all the latest technologies. But you can do it. Go to IT Tech or something. I know you already geek out over instrument specs, and you may even geek out about the music business. And you will practice the same riff over and over, and you may even be able to read music. So you have it in you to geek out, learn new things, and understand abstract logical and mathematical theory–if you want to.

Then you can keep playing music, because it may not pay much but it does involve real breathing living feeling people.

And help me with a punchline to the joke in the title. :)

Trying to find a mentor

Just as important as having a muse, you gotta have a mentor. I cannot stress this enough. This is more than having a role model, where you emulate them from afar. This about finding someone who will take an active role in your life, pointing you in the right direction for self improvement.

We’re all wandering around. It’s not dark, so we think we can navigate. But really, we can’t guess very well. We need a scout who’s been there. We have to learn by making so many mistakes, you really owe it to yourself to find a mentor who can help you avoid pitfalls. We’re lazy and take the easy route, so you owe it to yourself to have a sensei who will show you the value of thinking long term. We overestimate the size of hurdles, and so you owe it to yourself to have a coach who will show you that it’s easier than you thought.

You have permission to ask for help. You have no excuse for not knowing what to do, because you can find a mentor. There was a time that I didn’t know this, and so I wasted a lot of time and made pointless mistakes.

A few tips:

  1. Usually the mentor doesn’t need to know that’s how you view them. They probably don’t need that kind of pressure anyway.
  2. You don’t need any formal agreement because you are actually helping them, too.
  3. You can help a mentor by giving information, because you are likely more on the front lines.

There are a ton of articles on getting mentors, but the Forbes one is fine.

I can brag because I was a self-taught drummer for a long time, but now it’s kind of embarrassing for me. I wasted a lot of time without a percussion expert as a mentor, and so now I’m trying to catch up. Don’t make the same mistake as I did. Identify who wants to help you, and then ask them for it. Sometimes they are just waiting to be asked for help. Or do you already have mentors, and have they helped you?

Trying to find a muse

I have a few strengths and a lot of flaws. I try to work on some of those flaws. It seems like even strengths can be flaws 20% of the time. “Attention to detail” is probably one of the best strengths someone can have, but then maybe you sometimes forget the forest for the trees. Maybe you’re a great leader, but then do you work well with others when you need to?

The interview question “what’s your biggest flaw?” becomes turned on its head, because flaws can become strengths. So, I like to reinterpret the question and answer with “Well, what I am working on now is X, because there was a time when that didn’t go so well for me. So now I am working on overcoming that by doing A, B, and C, and I’m tracking my progress.” I think any other answer would be a bunch of unhelpful BS. Why do they ask that question? To see how you deal with stress? Maybe, but I have interviewed a lot of candidates throughout my career, and I have better ways to tell how people deal with stress. The question should be more about self-awareness.

But, as usual I digress (one of my flaws, but also a strength when brainstorming). What I was thinking about this week was about muses. A muse is an external input that can help us overcome our flaws, and bring out the best part of ourselves in a way that allows us to do our best work. A muse makes us more creative, and we can communicate our message more clearly. Sometimes a muse might not be a person, but the most famous muses are people.

Take a look at this list of famous duos. It’s irritating that they included so many fictional characters in the list, but that’s the nature of the internet. So, ignoring the fictional characters, there’s still quite a long list. And they are missing Matt Stone and Trey Parker! It’s hard to keep up. One could also argue that Scott Walker was David Bowie’s muse. In fact, I’ll bet most successful individuals likely have a muse that we just don’t know about. Going back to Matt and Trey, I highly recommend watching the South Park documentary to understand how muses work. Matt is Trey’s muse. There’d be no Trey without Matt.

Are you okay without a muse? Sure, but it’s better to have a muse, right? A muse makes the creative process go more quickly with a more inspired outcome.

So, I’m trying to find a muse for music. Do you have a muse? Find your muse.

Update: After writing this, I talked to my writing muse, Susan. We chatted about this for a while, and we realized that a muse can be one sided. There are other relationship types–roll model, influence, mentor, and others??? What are we leaving out?

Update 2: In the comments, Walter pointed out that I’m probably not talking about a muse as much as I’m talking about an artistic partner. I have to agree with him. A muse is probably better described as an emotional conduit for artistic output. Thanks Walter, I stand corrected!