An intentional life
There is nothing like the energy at a live concert. I give the audience everything I have, and on a good night, they give it back to me a thousand times over. A rock concert is the distilled essence of partying, and partying is the distilled and concentrated essence of life.
I gave in to my manager's request for back stage passes on a few of my larger tours; every revenue stream helps when you are a thousand miles away from home. I met some great people that way, but I put my foot down eventually. "Backstage passes are out."
Instead, I work the merch table before and after my sets1. I try to be present and give serious attention to everyone who approaches me. These interactions have become some of the most rewarding moments of my life.
A surprising number of the people who seek me out after shows are musicians themselves. Some have music careers or a healthy, regular outlet for their art. Others are still searching for their path.
Last week I met a kid after one of my shows who wanted to be a rock star. She asked for my advice, so I told her three things:
- it is just as much fun as you think it is
- it is a thousand times more work than you think it is
- talent and hard work are no guarantee of success
"You will have to put in buckets of blood, sweat, and tears," I told her. "And even then it will not turn out the way you expect or hope."
Move with intention
This may seem like the most obvious advice ever, but there is nothing more human than to ignore the obvious. Most people light up when you ask them about their dreams. Ask them what what they have done today to move toward that dream, and the smiles begin to falter.
Half of the kids I meet who want to be rock stars do not get any further than picking out the right pair of jeans. Most of the others stall out on local bands that barely practice, rarely get gigs, but always have time for another drink.
They are not bad people, or stupid. They are simply sleepwalking through their own lives.
Wake up and get deliberate
There is no time like the present to wake up and take the first intentional step. Long journeys do not get any shorter while you wait, and sleepwalking is the killer of dreams.
Progress is a lifelong journey, and that holds whether you want to be a famous musician or the best house painter in town. Mindfulness meditation is often referred to as a practice. I use the same term when I talk about my relationship with martial arts. There is never a point where you have meditated enough, stretched enough, exercised enough, or sparred enough.
Whatever your end game looks like, you will get there faster if you make it part of your daily practice.
Be an active prticipant
Taking the first step on a journey requires having a destination in mind. Research the life you are interested in, find mentors, coaches, and other resources, and determine the skills you need to develop. Then actually start developing them. Give yourself plenty of time before throwing in the towel. Expertise takes years and is built up over time.
Such efforts are rarely wasted. There are plenty of musicians who never "make it," but who lead far richer lives than they would have without the years they spent reaching for the stars.
When most people practice, they focus on the things they already know how to do. Deliberate practice is different. It entails considerable, specific, and sustained efforts to do something you can’t do well—or even at all. Research across domains shows that it is only by working at what you can’t do that you turn into the expert you want to become.
It is interesting to note that across a wide range of experts, including athletes, novelists, and musicians, very few appear to be able to engage in more than four or five hours of high concentration and deliberate practice at a time. In fact, most expert teachers and scientists set aside only a couple of hours a day, typically in the morning, for their most demanding mental activities, such as writing about new ideas. While this may seem like a relatively small investment, it is two hours a day more than most executives and managers devote to building their skills, since the majority of their time is consumed by meetings and day-to-day concerns. This difference adds up to some 700 hours more a year, or about 7,000 hours more a decade. Think about what you could accomplish if you devoted two hours a day to deliberate practice.
Learn something today
I stumbled across YouTuber Mike Boyd's channel while researching this post. His videos document how long it takes him to go from complete beginner with no experience to successfully executing a skill. He is living proof practice pays off, and many discrete skills can be picked up in a relatively short amount of time.
What would your life look like if you stopped hesitating today and started a lifelong deliberate practice? I cannot tell you any more than I could tell that kid last week whether or not her band will make it. No one knows the future.
The only certainty is you have to put in the work, and there is no better time to start than now.
If you are not living with intention, you are not living up to your potential.
Andrew Reeves is an entrepreneur, touring musician, and practitioner of eleven martial arts. He reached financial independence at age 28 and has dedicated his retirement to fighting crime and helping others.
Going out can be expensive; I get that. Do not worry about buying merch if you can not afford it.
But if the choice is between a beer or two or buying a t-shirt or a CD? Buy the merch. Those sales are the lifeblood of most artists.
Are you an expert in a field? How many hours each day do you spend in deliberate practice? What is your dream, and what are you doing to achieve it?
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