Annual Life Crisis

Next week I turn 28. Time for my annual life crisis.

Every year around this time, I melt into a pool of worry, regret, dissatisfaction and depression. I’m sure this isn’t the way you’re supposed to feel around your birthday, but for over-optimistic and under-achieving perfectionists like myself, I guess it should come as no surprise.

Maybe I enjoy summer so much that I don’t make much progress on my goals and it leaves me feeling blue. Or maybe reflecting upon another year gone by has left me feeling underwhelmed by how far (or not) I’ve come.

Gratefulness

I’m trying to fight it this year with gratefulness. I made a list in of things I’m grateful for in Evernote, and I’m aiming to look at it and add to it daily…

  • A beautiful, loving, silly fiancé (a love of 7 years) who I’ll be marrying on a beach in Playa del Carmen a year from now
  • A large, loving, supportive and awesome family (and everyone’s health and success)
  • My own health (fairly ideal weight, good habits, average seeing a doctor about once per decade)
  • Owning my own business – most people work their entire lives and never experience the freedom I have
  • Musical ability – most people neglect to develop their talents
  • Many hobbies (mainly fishing this year) – most people don’t have (or make) time to pursue hobbies

When I start sinking into depression, either my blood sugar has plummeted and I need a Twizzler or two (I’m a crazed hypoglycemic) or I need to practice gratefulness. Because it’s hard to be sad when you’re grateful.

Hiring Help

The next thing I’m doing is hiring help. I tried to write, record, produce, mix, and master a new song every week. I failed after 8 weeks because A) I wasn’t happy with the results, and B) I was doing way too much and was on the verge of a nervous breakdown.

So I’m looking into a few companies that offer mixing & mastering services. If I could limit what I do to writing, recording, and creating the layers of the song, I’d be a happy songwriter. Sure, I’d have to give up some control. And perfectionists suck at this. But frankly, I feel like a subpar mixing engineer. And you can’t be perfect (or even good) at anything if you try to be perfect at everything.

Turning On Comments

I tried the Seth Godin approach of disabling comments on my blog over the years. It was nice to not have to deal with the clutter (removing spam, moderating idiots, etc), but I miss the community. I miss interacting with the readers and listeners. You can always email me, but comments let you interact with each other. And I think that matters.

So please, if you’d like, leave a comment. And maybe go back to some of my previous posts and leave comments there too. I’d love this place to not feel so lonely.

More Shows

I have to be honest here. I hate playing shows. Not for any good reason. Honestly, I’m just afraid. I’m afraid I’ll forget the words. I’m afraid I’ll screw something up. I get nervous that people won’t show up — or worse — that no one will care. I think every artist feels this way. There’s something about being naked that is downright terrifying. But hiding in your room isn’t the answer. That’s what resistance wants you to do. It bullies you into shutting up and wants you to give up.

So I’m going to start playing more shows. I don’t know where or when. I’d like to play more house concerts. But for now, I guess I’ll go back to some of the venues I’ve played before and try some new coffeehouses, restaurants, and churches. It’d be refreshing to meet some new listeners.

A Songwriting Blog?

I’m thinking about starting a songwriting blog. A place to write some things I’ve learned about songwriting over the years. I’m no guru, but I have written a few thousand songs and published over 70. So that must count for something.

What do you think? Would you be interested in reading my songwriting tips? Should I create a new blog site and post those things there or should I just lump them in here on this blog?

Leave a comment and let me know.

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Last Words…

Do you ever get depressed around your birthday, or is it just me? I’d love to hear your thoughts. Thanks for sticking with me all these years. I’m especially grateful for you.

Did you love Robin Williams?

Last night, I found out Robin Williams died in an apparent suicide.

Williams suffered from depression. Some say it was due to tough times financially. Others say it was because he wasn’t able to land the kind of jobs in feature films he was used to. He had to settle for TV shows, indie films, and sequels just to get a paycheck.

But everyone agrees that Robin Williams was a genius. A once-in-a-generation talent that will be sorely missed and never truly replaced.

This afternoon, I checked Amazon and noticed a handful of his movies are selling towards the top of the bestsellers list. Even Instagram is full of Robin Williams photos with heartfelt cries of love and support. But why do we wait until the people we love die to show them how much we care?

If we all bought his movies yesterday morning or posted photos and articles telling how much we loved him, would Robin Williams still be alive? I think it’s possible.

Never forget that famous people are famous people. They have their share of fears and problems. Different fears and different problems, but real ones nonetheless. No amount of fame or wealth can eliminate the price that comes with being human.

So tonight, show the people you love how you feel. Speak the words and do the deeds. It doesn’t matter if you think they know it or don’t think they need to hear it. They’re probably afraid, and they probably do. Write a letter to someone “unreachable” if you appreciate them. Buy a piece of art and then tell the creator how much you love it and how it has changed you.

You won’t be sorry if you do. And you might be sorry if you don’t.

Punching In

Artists go through tides of triumph and defeat. Genius and confusion. Flood and drought. We all want to be on the mountain top and we all want to avoid the dip. But that’s not how art works.

No artist is always brilliant. We struggle with procrastination and failure. We wake up feeling uninspired and weak. What really matters is showing up. The greatest artists show up every day. They do the work. If I can get out my guitar and a notebook and a pen, and if I can hum to a melody, I’ve already been victorious for the day. I’ve already done what 90% of songwriters won’t do.

Great artists aren’t all that special. They aren’t endowed with some dip-proof gift of genius-on-demand. They simply do what all the wanna-be’s won’t. They show up and they punch resistence in the face.

Day by day, punch by punch, they conquer resistence and bleed their art into the world.

You can do this. Will you?

Redefining Art

Art - Loving unconditionally through whatever medium you choose.

When you think of art, you probably immediately think of watercolor on canvas. If you’re really observant, you might also recognize art as a perfectly composed photograph, or a song that pulls violently on your heartstrings. You’re on the right track.

What do all these forms of art have in common? They’re creative, passionate, thoughtful, and generous. They create emotional experiences that transcend our otherwise mundane lives. So perhaps there are other forms of art we don’t recognize so easily.

- A chef whose food looks as delicious as it tastes
- A mother who whispers words of love to her wailing infant
- A waitress serving hungry patrons with her infectious smile
- A shop owner who leaves every browsing customer feeling happier than when they walked in the door

… And the list goes on, and on, and on.

The Truth About Art

This doesn’t mean that everything is art. It just goes to show that everything can be done artfully. And if everything can be done artfully, than we are all artists. Or at least we all can be.

What is it that you can bring to the world that no one else can? More importantly, what can you change about how you do what you do in a way that makes it more artful?

A Bit About This Blog

I’m trying to live my life more artfully. I’m learning all I can through reading and observation, and I’m going to be sharing it all with you.

My goal is to bring more art into the world. Better yet, to recognize the art all around us that so often goes unnoticed. But most importantly, I’m hoping to inspire you to find the artist within yourself and to give you the courage to share it honestly with the world.

Too Much Content? (How to Know When Less is More)

In May, I started a challenge with myself to write, record, and release a new song every Friday for three months. The 12 songs would make up my 8th album, “Void of Gray.” After eight weeks, I’m calling it quits! I’m throttling back my releases to monthly instead of weekly. Why?

The Stats Don’t Lie

The first week of my song-a-week challenge, my open rate was 27% and click-through-rate was 8.5%. Pretty good!

But week by week, both of these metrics gradually dropped off. Last week (week 8), the open rate was 17%, and click-through rate was 3.2%.

(My overall list averages a 26.4% open rate and 6.2% click-through rate.)

There are a number of factors…

Overload. I assume most of the drop-off can be attributed to inbox overload. Even the best newsletters get lost in my inbox, and I regularly purge my subscriptions. The flip side is that only 0.8% of my subscribers unsubscribed over the 8 weeks. So my audience seems okay with the weekly update.

Song choice. Last week’s song was a re-release of an earlier demo my list had heard before. Maybe a lot of them just didn’t care to hear the new version. But the two prior weeks had been brand new songs (two of the best I’ve ever written), and the open and click-through rates of those songs had still dropped compared to previous weeks.

Summer. I started my challenge at the beginning of May and it’s now the beginning of July. Maybe people are just on vacation and have checked out for a while. Could be.

But the biggest problem…

My list wasn’t growing. I had been hoping to generate buzz by releasing a new song every Friday. But it didn’t feel like I was. Perhaps I needed to go a few more weeks or months for the challenge to gain momentum. But I doubt it.

The Marketing Factor.

When you release great content with great frequency, something has to give. For me, I found I didn’t have any time to market my content. I just didn’t have time to write, record, mix, master, publish, and promote my music. And so my audience was barely growing.

Not only that, but other areas of my life fell out of balance.

  • I started an awesome new morning routine, but I wasn’t getting enough sleep.
  • I relieved stress by getting outside and going fishing, but then I fell behind on other projects.
  • I couldn’t devote as much time as I’d like to my health or personal development.

Focus vs Balance

If you try to focus on everything, it’s impossible to focus on anything. But if you spend all of your time and energy on just one thing, your life is going to fall out of balance.

I want to be effective, not just efficient. I want to focus on quality, not just quantity. I want to reach Level 10 success in every area of my life, not just one.

Odds & Ends

Outsourcing. You could argue that I could have just hired someone else to do the mixing and mastering of my music. That would have saved me about 10 hours a week that I could have devoted to keeping the rest of my life in balance.

There are two problems though… 1) I’m sort of a control freak when it comes to how my songs sound. I probably need to let go of this anyways. But 2) Paying someone to mix & master 4-5 songs a month would be insanely expensive. ($1,500 x 52 weeks in the year = $78,000/year).

I’m doing the best I can with what I have, and trying to do better every day. If I can get better in any area of my life every day, I call that success.

The Morning Crescendo

If you wake up early enough, you’ll catch it.

This morning it was 4:30am. I was up just in time to hear the earliest bird go through vocal warmups. Just one single bird doing lip rolls.

As you sit quietly in the dark, meditate on one single phrase to purge the excess clutter from your mind. Mine was “Be still and know that I am God.”

Once you’ve got that down, drop the phrase and focus on nothing but your breathing. It should shortly feel natural and effortless.

Now, let go even further, roll your mind forward and simply listen. You should notice the dull hum of electricity or the breath of water in pipes.

Occasionally the fridge will kick on for a few minutes, but don’t lose focus on the overall noise level.

As the fridge drops back out again, take note as more birds join the dawn.

I’ve noticed the most fascinating thing… As the dim glow of dawn grows ever brighter, the noise of life grows louder. This is what I call the Morning Crescendo.

The birds steadily grow louder and their songs bolder. They start singing rounds and canons, and slowly add additional parts. Then neighbors begin stirring. More cars hit the road now, and however distant, you can hear the buzz of traffic grow louder and more noticeable.

In an apartment, you can hear neighbors brushing teeth and scurrying off to work. Slamming doors. Footsteps down stairs and alleys. The shutting of trucks and car doors. Engines that rev and then trail off. Then busses and trash trucks and planes.

And then maybe members of your own family. Stirring in bed, pacing the floor above your heard, getting dressed and making breakfast before carrying out groggy smalltalk. Morning is here and on a scale of 10, the noise level of life is set somewhere between 9 and 11 until close to midnight.

It’s no wonder why many of the worlds most celebrated writers, thinkers, and inventors rose early and accomplished their best work before the crescendo begins.

A New Routine

Today, I set in motion a change in routine and habits I hope will cement itself as part of my life in perpetuity. It started in the bathtub last night as I listened to a podcast with Erik Fisher about breakthroughs, setting goals, and creating time boundaries. As history will testify, I’ve never been good with schedules. But I do have big goals, like living a life independent of time and money. And to become independent of time, I will first learn to submit to time and structure my day more efficiently.

I set the alarm for 7:30am and made a schedule as follows…

7:30am – Bible
7:45am – Workout
8:15am – Shower
8:30am – Breakfast
9:00am – Write
9:30am – Work
10:30am – Practice
11:30am – Create
12:30pm – Lunch
1:00pm – Nap
1:30pm – Work
3:30pm – Breathe
5:30pm – Dinner
6:30pm – Free
10:30pm – Bed

I want to start my day with energy and inspiration, so the Bible and a workout where I listen to an inspirational podcast or audio book are essential. Then, I need to shower and eat breakfast… these are necessary burdens of living life. But some of my best ideas come in the shower. And I’ve never felt quite right throughout my day without taking a shower first.

I’ve scheduled 30 minutes to write. I want to spend this writing in my journal (this) and freewriting. If I stimulate my creative-side first, it should journey with me the rest of the day.

I then have an hour set aside for work. You wouldn’t think an hour is sufficient for doing work, but I envision that if I’m able to focus on some important task for one hour, I will get more done racing against the clock and working distraction-free.

At the end of this hour, I want to practice my music for an hour, and then spend an hour creating. Maybe songwriting or recording or shooting video. In reality, I’d prefer to do all of this before any sort of work. But every time I’ve tried, I’m distracted by a feeling of guilt that prevents me from reaching peak creativity. That’s why I’ve scheduled a one-hour blitz for work prior to this creative time.

I’m not good at waking up early, so I imagine rising nearly 3 hours earlier than usual will be a challenge. To refresh my mind midday, I’ve scheduled a nap after lunch. This should be no longer than 20 minutes (according to psychological studies I’ve read) but I’ve scheduled a half hour because I am terrible at falling asleep.

After waking from my nap, I want to spend another 2 hours working without distraction. This will likely be set to a pomodoro timer (25-minute intervals with 5 minutes of rest in between) to keep me working with a sense of urgency. If you can’t accomplish all your day’s work in 3 hours or less, you’re working harder than you should be, and not as smart as you could be.

After I’ve finished my work, I’ve scheduled two hours labeled “Breathe.” I hope to spend this time meditating, reading if the weather is crappy, or otherwise getting outside and walking, exploring or fishing. This is a time to decompress from all my efforts and rejuvenate my mind.

My evening will be spent preparing and eating dinner with my fiancé for an hour and then the next 4 hours with her either dating, relaxing, or doing something fun with friends.

Knowing myself, I require 7-8 hours of sleep per night (the more, the better). I find this crucial to my health, wellbeing, and to ensuring I have a fresh mind able to create each day. I’ve scheduled to get in bed by 10:30. It bears repeating, I’m terrible at falling asleep. So I’ll spend some time in bed reading something light, preferably fiction, although I rarely read anything but nonfiction. But I’m currently enjoying “Roughing It” by Mark Twain, and this sort of reading puts my mind at ease and has been helping me to fall asleep faster. I’ve found nonfiction in bed get my wheels turning, and once turning, they’re very hard to stop.

This is all fine and fancy, but now I’m in my first day of implementing this routine. I woke at 7:25 but fell back to sleep before I could even sit up and woke again at 8:25. I know, disappointing, but it’s still progress. Aside from that, my morning routine went well. Everything is slightly delayed because of waking up late and also spending a half hour vacuuming the apartment (which before today, I’ve rarely found the time to do).

So although my new routine is already off-schedule, I’m planning to right my wrongs and start again tomorrow, and the next day, and the day after that. In truth, starting isn’t starting. A baby step is only walking if you continue to take additional baby steps. And even then, you’re still a long way from running.

Most my journal entries will be private (on my iPad), but I felt this entry had some useful points and that by posting it publicly, I might be more inclined to stick with this new routine.

The Problem With Numbers

The problem with numbers is they feel so good. It feels good to have 6 retweets or 3,000 followers or 20,000 emails on your list. It even feels good to have numbers in your bank account. But feeling good is dangerous.

Feeling good doesn’t create anything. It doesn’t encourage us to risk or explore. Sadly, feeling good sedates us. It lures us into a sad state of complacency.

Stop looking at numbers and start creating true art. Art that tells a story, art that resonates. Naturally, the numbers will be there. They’ll probably even grow exponentially. But numbers aren’t the goal. Making something that matters is.

Tides of Success

I get so tired of trying to be “better,” dream “bigger,” and do more. Some days, all I crave is peace and rest.

Is it normal to feel this way?

Maybe success comes in like a tide. Highs and lows that wash some of the shore away while uncovering new and beautiful treasures.

Belief Bashing

We all have our beliefs. And we all enjoy sharing our beliefs, especially those we feel strongly about. But sometimes, we go too far.

Beliefs are meant to be shared, but they aren’t meant to be dictated.

I’m happy to listen to your beliefs. We’re even likely to find some common ground if we try. But as soon as you tell me my beliefs are wrong and yours are right, you’ve already lost any chance of changing my mind.

Believe, share, and live your beliefs. Show me proof of concept by living out the thing you believe. When I see it change you is when I’ll start to believe it can change me.