The roar won’t stop. Neither will the humming. It starts in my fingers, running all the way through my body, to the amplifiers and out into the sea of faces before me. The air was electric, buzzing with an energy aching to explode.
It’s the cheering, that happy roar like the approving screams of a hundred-headed god.
Even if the cheering wasn’t for me specifically, it didn’t matter. It was for something that I was a part of. We all believe in the primacy of the individual, but there is no feeling like connecting with hundreds of others through one of the greatest forces at humanity’s disposal.
The lights, the movement, the energy, the synergy, it’s more powerful than any drug. The best part about it is that it’s free and it’s legal. It builds you up and it doesn’t break you down. But it’s not any less addictive.
The thing about adulation and attention is that the feeling it gives you cannot be found anywhere else. And when you have that taken from you, either through the your own actions or those of somebody else, you’ll do whatever you can to reclaim it.
Or so one would think.
The comedown is harsh, the stink of failure obliterating the good memories, one moment of pain obscuring those interminable days of magic. But that’s how human beings are: we fixate on the negatives as if the positives never happened.
I still remember those city nights. They’ve never left me. Scrounging enough money to get a bite to eat after the show. Handing out flyers, sacrificing all my other relationships for this one cause. I was young. I was hot. I was hungry. And I thought there was no way to go but up.
What I did not understand was business.
Business and mindset and the need for self-improvement. Business and resilience. Everything is a business, even the arts. If your goal is to go from town to town, city to city, making the art of your choosing and share it with the world, you damn well better know how to run that. Sometimes it means finding the right people . . . which might not be you.
Learn your art, and learn business. We don’t live in a world of government grants for every little thing you think matters. You have to force the world to listen, and to give you money. In order to do that, you need to be good.
I thought I was good. And I was. But I stopped improving myself. I stopped paying attention. I didn’t stay paranoid. I stopped seeking feedback, and none was given; a sure-fire recipe for a swollen head.
You need to be your own harshest critic.
When the decision was made by forces outside of my control, the project that I had help shepherd to the edge of success decided I was no longer a good fit. Bye-bye.
I shouldn’t have taken it so personally. It was a business decision.
It didn’t matter. I fell. Hard. But I did not bounce back up. I stayed there with my cheeks pressed down against the streets that I used to consider my playground and I could not see a way out of the darkness. This was supposed to be my hope, my way out of an unfulfilling career in the law, the only thing I knew I wanted to do with the rest of my life since the time I knew what an electric guitar was it what it sounded like.
But in the depths of despondency, all of the hard work that had gone into practice, study, composition, voice training, ear training, evaporated, leaving only a sticky pool of self-pity.
Self-pity is like another kind of drug, but unlike music which uplifts your soul, self-pity is more conventional. It feels good while you’re in the depths of it, but it does little more than eat you from the inside out. Moping around, ignoring those around you, lashing out at the world . . . it’s what a child does. A child or a drug addict.
It’s cliche for a reason that, as Henry Ford put it, “Failure is simply the opportunity to begin again, this time more intelligently.” Or to quote Thomas Edison, “I have not failed. I’ve just found ten-thousand ways that won’t work.”
All of that corny stuff is true. All of it. The kind of stuff we scoff at as know-it-all twenty-somethings is the kind of stuff that people like Ford and Edison put into practice. And look where it got them.
Now look where our ironic detachment and disdain for the wisdom of the past has gotten us.
Failing only makes you a failure if you don’t learn from it.
People: Get tough. Get anti-fragile.
I didn’t bounce back and I sure as hell didn’t dust myself off and get back up. The very first thing I should’ve done after getting the boot was call all of my musician friends–the drummers, the guitarists, the piano players, the singers–and create something new. There. That day. Instead, I almost didn’t even get my gear from the old practice space.
Why? Because I was depressed that the world didn’t care.
Since then, the most liberating thing I have learned, or should I say rediscovered, is that the world owes you nothing. And even then, it’s a long-shot. So stop caring what others think and plow ahead. That’s the best way to get tough. That’s the best way to be resilient.
Now, I’m in a place where I can see people I know succeed and feel happy for them. But it took me almost ten years to get here.
Don’t wait ten years. Start adjusting your mind today, find what you were born to do, and ride that horse until it takes you somewhere good. You might fail along the way, but build on those failures and you’ll end up somewhere great. I know it.
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