Do you ever find yourself so focused and fixated on earning money to pay for your bills and to survive that you end up focusing on doing things that you would rather not be doing with your time, but feel you have to do in order to pay your bills? Do you ever feel like reaching your goals is almost impossible because you have to worry about this money issue? Do you feel like money is holding you back from living the life of your dreams?
My guess is that most of you reading this will answer yes to these questions, to one degree or another. The vast majority of us are probably spending at least some of our time doing things that probably isn’t our first choice, in order to meet the needs of the world we live in. Many of us are spending a lot of our time in ways we probably would rather not, in order to just get by.
We live in a world that requires money in order to survive. You could, theoretically, live off the grid somewhere in a cabin you built with your bare hands and grow and catch your own food. But even this option is becoming increasingly harder and harder to pull off, for those of us who would even dare try. Laws and regulations, especially in the USA and the “first world” make this sort of lifestyle close to impossible for most of us. Not many people are able to pull of a Henry David Thoreau style lifestyle in our modern times and spend time simply contemplating the nature of our existence. I doubt many of us would want to, even if we could.
In a sense, we’re all sort of forced to play the money game, at least to a certain extent. We’re forced to dance the dance that is making money, paying bills, saving money, spending money and so on. And hey, don’t get me wrong, it could be a lot worse. In fact, it could be much, much worse. We could be in parts of poverty-stricken Africa, or war town Yemen, or any number of God forsaken times and places in very recent history that were exponentially worse than the situation the majority of us reading this find ourselves in today.
But yet, if you’re anything like me, there’s a part of you that strives for something “better”, a part of you that isn’t content with just paying the bills and getting by. If you’re anything like me, you don’t want to just survive, you want to thrive. If you’re like me, you want to live your “best life” and live a life that’s in flow and oozes with meaning and self-actualization. This urge is what I suspect draws artists to making music and pursuing a career path that we know, full well, is harder and more challenging than the average career path, in the first place. I believe that it’s our innate desire to self-actualize that inspires us to pursue the path of an artist.
But, it’s easier said than done right?
After all, we have this money thing to contend with…
Two Types Of Money Stress
I think there are essentially two types of stress, related to money, that are possible, and that people typically experience. On one hand, there’s the stress of not having enough money. Maybe we have a lot of free time, but we lack the resources to do much with the time we have. Maybe we even have so few resources that we fall behind or struggle to pay our immediate bills. I’ve been in this situation, and it sucks.
On the other hand, there is the stress of working so much that we’re not really enjoying the fruits of our labor. Maybe we’re making sufficient money to meet our needs and then some, but we’re so busy and stressed by our crazy, fast paced lives, that we don’t have the time or energy to actually enjoy ourselves.
I’ve been in this situation as well and it also sucks, although I would argue it sucks a little less than simply not having sufficient resources or money. Sometimes we have to go through periods where we push ourselves and work harder than we would like in the short term, in order to reach our long-term goals. We work hard and push ourselves to our limits, so that one day we won’t have to. Or something like that.
As an entrepreneur/musician, who hasn’t had anything resembling a traditional career or boss for the last ten years, I’ve erred on both sides of the money/stress equation. There have been periods where I’ve erred on the side of not working hard enough and taking it a little too easy, and I eventually paid the price that came with that. There have also been periods where, in retrospect at least, I feel like I pushed myself too hard and became overly stressed and worried about making money. Both extremes are a sort of tactical error. There’s a more balanced approach.
The Middle Way
I think the Buddhists got it right when they came up with the idea of the “middle way”. The idea of the middle way is basically that we need to find a balance between the spiritual world and the material world. The concept isn’t specifically about making money per se, but it’s entirely relevant. In periods where I erred too much on the side of wanting to not work and simply relax and enjoy life, I inadvertently denied the material reality of the world we live in. On the other hand, when I erred on simply being consumed with business and making money and the pursuit of success, I denied my spiritual side. Both sides need to be in balance, hence the term, “The Middle Way”.
Finding the “middle way” in life is of course, easier said than done, but I think it’s entirely possible. Each and everyone one of us can develop a relationship with our lives, our vocation and our place in the world that is healthy and in balance.
How? Well, each of our paths will be entirely different and unique and what works for me might not necessarily work for you. But with that said, let me tell you a story about something I experienced recently that has led to one of my biggest breakthroughs in how I approach “working”, both when it comes to my business and making music.
Liberation Through “Work” And Art
I went through a period not too long ago, where to be entirely honest, I was feeling “burnt out”. I’ve had mini burnouts over the last decade or so of running my business. I think that's pretty normal among self employed entrepreneurs. But this was different. A part of me hates to admit that, because I pride myself on having a strong work ethic and working hard. This part of my personality has served me well over the years. But, I also have another side to my personality that wants…. more, and wants it now. A part of me wants more success, more money, more accolades, more achievement and so on. Although I’m a pretty positive person most of the time, I have a tendency to sort of beat myself up when things aren’t going how I think they should.
Early in 2018 I started to feel sort of stuck in terms of my business and making music. During this period I started to really question the path I was on and started to feel more stress than usual. I’ve spent ten years making money devoted to more or less one topic (music licensing) and twenty years making money related to playing, teaching and writing music. Although I love music and the music business, twenty years of doing anything can start to get boring and bit uninspiring. However, it wasn’t as if I could just stop and completely shift gears, and I wasn’t even sure if that’s what I wanted. I just knew I needed to make some sort of change. So instead of quitting anything or making any drastic changes, for a month or so, I sort of did just the bare minimum and delegated as much work as I could to my assistant, as I reflected on where I was in life and why I was feeling so discouraged and burnt out at this particular time.
During this period I would take long walks every evening and contemplate my situation. I think I was hoping that if I slowed down enough I would have some sort of light bulb, “aha” moment about my situation that would bring a renewed sense of clarity and purpose. I thought that if I slowed down and allowed some space in, it would allow new ideas to emerge. After about a month or so of walking and/or meditating pretty much every day, my aha moment never came.
Then, one day, during this period, I read an article that helped lift me out of my funk and was a turning point in getting back on track. You see, part of the reason I was feeling discouraged was that I felt sort of trapped by the business and lifestyle I’ve created. I wanted to feel more inspired and excited about things, as I had in the past. I felt like I had sort of lost my spark and my motivation for doing what I was doing. I started to feel like I was just going through the motions in order to pay the bills and maintain what I had created. Even making music, which I've always loved, started to sort of feel like a chore. Like something I had to do.
When I first created my business and started down the path of adding “entrepreneur” to my resume, it was truly an exhilarating time. I would spend hours and hours at my local library reading everything I could get my hands on about business and internet marketing. I devoured multiple books on marketing and how to create a business online. I was on fire and super motivated to figure out how to replace my income from teaching music with something new and more exciting. It was a period that was in many ways similar to when I first discovered the joy of making music. In the beginning, I made progress really fast and was able to create a viable business in less than a year that fit perfectly into my path of being a musician. I figured out how to create a business that supplemented the income I made from music and also fit perfectly into my overall trajectory as a musician. I was pretty damn stoked, to say the least, that I figured out how to pull this off and this sense of momentum I created carried me forward for many years.
But fast forward ten years into my journey and I started to feel a little stuck. I was feeling burnt out and uninspired and I couldn’t quite put my finger on the reason why. My instinct was to stop and rest for awhile and this did help recharge my batteries. But it didn’t occur to me then that ultimately, the long-term solution would be to actually push myself harder and immerse myself more in both my work and art; to go even deeper. But that’s exactly what ended up working.
Let me explain…
How To Escape Wage Slavery
The article I read that day was called “How To Escape Wage Slavery Through Work”, or something along those lines. The idea is basically that we can’t escape the economic system we’re a part of. Not fully at least. You can try, and I do think our economic system needs a major overhaul, although that’s another blog post for another time.
But, until our Utopian economic system arrives, since we can’t really escape it, what we can do is find liberation and meaning through the work that we do. Instead of trying to escape and run from work, we can instead find liberation and meaning through our work by going even deeper into the work we do and the parts of our vocation that bring us the most joy and growth. By pursuing work and projects that we find the most meaningful and by simply having a more positive mindset about whatever it is we’re already doing, we can create more meaning and joy and fulfillment in our lives, right now. In other words, instead of trying to escape “working”, we can embrace it. I put the word work in quotes, because I'm not even sure it's the right word. Maybe instead of referring to what we do as "work" we should replace it with "doing our passion", or "fulfilling our dreams", or something more eloquent.
When I read this article, something sort of clicked. I realized I wasn’t so much burnt out from “working”. I was burnt out from my own negative thinking and lack of perspective about the work that I’ve been doing. You see, I make a pretty good income, relatively speaking. I’m definitely not a “high roller”, by any means. I live a fairly modest, but comfortable life. I make a salary above the median income in the USA, one of the richest countries in the world, doing something that I love and am passionate about. I have a beautiful girlfriend. I have great friends all over the world. I have plenty to be grateful about.
But somewhere along the way, for a brief period of time, I lost perspective. And I think perspective is ultimately how you avoid the “money trap” in the first place. We live, in many ways, one of the most amazing times in human history. I truly believe that. But it’s easy to forget. There’s an expression that sums up our problem that I’ve always loved, which is, “It’s hard to see the spot you’re standing on”. We sometimes get so lost in the drama of our own lives, culture, politics and ultimately our own minds, that we fail to see the big picture. We fail to see just how great we actually have it. I think now is one of the greatest periods in human history to be a part of. We live in amazing times, strange times you could say, culturally, but an amazing period nonetheless that is filled with opportunity and abundance.
So, how I got back on track and found my own “middle way” was by simply realizing how great I had it all along. Yes, I sometimes have a bad month, business wise, and I occasionally get a little stressed about money. So what? And yes, sometimes I want more for myself and my loved ones. And that's ok too, but it's nothing to get down about. I think we can both appreciate where we are now in our lives and also strive for more. These two things don't have to be mutually exclusive.
What worked for me, ultimately, was simply changing my outlook on my situation. Instead of moaning about the fact that there I things I have to do to make money, I’m grateful for the fact that I’ve discovered a way to support myself doing things related to my passion of music. Instead of bitching about the fact that I don’t make more money, I’m grateful for the fact that I make more than many. Instead of stressing about not selling or licensing more music at times, I’m grateful for the hundreds of placements I have had over the last few years and the new opportunities that continue to come my way. Instead of running from my work and business, I’m choosing to work harder and enjoy it even more by continuing to look for and find new projects and new topics that I’m even more passionate about. Instead of trying to escape my life and my role in it, I’m embracing it.
As we head into another New Year, I’m excited for the new year that’s coming. I have a renewed sense of passion and purpose going into 2019. I have several new projects and goals related to music, that I’ll be sharing with you all soon, that are a direct result of the “soul searching” and reflection I did earlier this year.
My wish for all of you is continued success and happiness. If you’re a regular reader of my blog and listener of my podcast, I’m grateful for your support. To all those who have bought my courses and supported my work over the years, my sincere wish is that my work brings you as much value as your patronage has brought me. Your support has helped me to earn a living and stay connected to my passion for making music for over a decade now. And for that I’m forever in your debt.
Here’s to an amazing 2019. I don’t know about you, but I’m just getting started!
The blog of musician and thinker of deep thoughts, Aaron Davison.