Earlier this year I had one of the best single months financially I’ve had in my adult life. Multiple things were firing on all cylinders. I got a big fat licensing check. My business was rocking. I was making good money from performing live. Money from a few different endeavors I invested in started to come in. Things were going so well that I decided on a whim to take my girlfriend on vacation for a week in the Caribbean. We spent the week surfing, eating out, drinking beer, watching movies, reading and relaxing. It was a magical week. One of the best weeks I’ve had in a long time. Maybe ever. You ever have a week like that? Where everything just seems to line up.
The best thing about this week was I felt like it was well deserved since I had spent several months, and really several years, leading up to this and planting all the seeds that came to fruition. I didn’t just go drink beer on a beach. I worked really hard and then went and drank beer on a beach. There’s a distinct difference in feeling between the two. The latter being much more rewarding.
In contrast to earlier this year, last month was one of the slowest months I’ve had in a long time. By this point, I’m used to the ups and downs and the highs and lows of being a self-employed musician/entrepreneur. It comes with the territory. In fact, I’ve been through this cycle of things going up and down so long, that it no longer really fazes me the way it used to. Of course, I prefer it when things are going “well”. I’d prefer to have more money than less. I’d prefer to sell more songs than fewer songs. I prefer being up to being down. But these ups and downs no longer really stress me out anymore, at least not nearly as much. I don’t even look at “down” periods anymore as failing. It’s just part of the cycle of life.
I haven’t had a boss in ten years. I’m used to dealing with the stress and uncertainty of being a self-employed musician at this point. However, it used to really get to me. I used to sort of freak out and panic a little (ok, a lot) whenever things took a turn for the worse. It took me years to build up enough confidence in myself and my endeavors to be able to relax and ride out the down periods. I had to live through the periods of things going up and then down and then up again, enough times, to realize that it’s really just the nature of life. Especially for the self-employed among us. Things fluctuate.
So, I think one of the first steps to dealing with “failure” in life is to step back and really think about what it means to “fail”. Last month was really slow in terms of both licensing music and my businesses. Through some sort of strange confluence of cosmic events, everything just seemed to slow down last month. Interestingly, I went back and looked at my records, and last June more or less the same thing happened. So, this could just be a seasonal thing. Or perhaps the warmer weather makes me a bit less motivated. Either way, when things slow down, for whatever reason, it gets my attention. But I don’t panic anymore, and I don’t take it personally.
After all, did I “fail” because I had a month that was slower than previous months? Of course not, after all I didn’t make nothing. I still was able to pay my bills. I just wasn’t as successful as other periods. Both success and failure are relative.
The other thing to realize, is that even when you do “fail”, by your own standards, it’s still just a stepping stone to future success, if you keep moving forward. Like I said, the first part of the year was one of the best periods I’ve had in business and music, and just things in general, in a long time. But this “success” was really the result of having lived through a lot of periods of “failing”. I had to try a lot of different things and fail many times in the process, in order to arrive at what worked. You have to “fail”, in order to succeed. In fact, you could really just look at your temporary failures as a part of the larger process that leads to success.
None of us are hitting home runs 100 percent of the time. We all have ups and downs in life. Stay strong during the periods where you feel like you’re “failing” and stay humble and grateful during the periods you feel like you’re on top.
In the past, whenever things weren’t going the way I wanted and I would start to get stressed, I would imagine a time where I had the financial stability I craved and the external success I imagined I was working towards. Only then, I thought, would I be able to experience the sort of mental and emotional stability I thought having more money would bring me. And don’t get me wrong, having more money does bring a sense of relief and a sense of freedom, especially if you’ve been stressed about not having enough.
However, the real power, I would eventually learn, isn’t so much in trying to control the size of my bank account. The real power is in controlling my reaction to the events that occur on a day to day, week to week and month to month basis that are outside my control. After all, this is the only thing we can really control.
Because, at the end of the day, we can’t entirely control our external reality. Sometimes things just happen, things outside of our control that effect both our bottom line and our sense of how “successful” we feel. Sometimes we lose clients. Sometimes we lose partners. Sometimes opportunities come and go. Sometimes, despite our best efforts, things don’t go the way we want them to.
There are few things you can always count on in life. But you can always count on yourself.
Stay calm and keep hustling.
The blog of musician and thinker of deep thoughts, Aaron Davison.