The obstacle is the way
Today’s post isn’t directly related to music licensing or the music business, but yet I think it’s completely relevant to all of us as musicians. The topic I want to discuss, is the importance of being positive in both your approach to making music, the music business and life in general.
A few days ago, I hosted the first in a series of live monthly webinars that I’m offering via my new website, How To License Your Music Premium. This webinar featured TV composer Eddie Grey and music producer Gary Gray. As Gary was introducing Eddie and I at the start of the webinar he highlighted how, in his estimation, Eddie and I are positive, optimistic people that others want to be around and how our optimism, in his opinion, is at least part of why we’ve been able to carve out successful niches for ourselves in the music industry.
Later in the webinar, during Eddie’s presentation, Eddie told the story about closing a recent, lucrative deal for one of his tracks, and suggested that one of the main reasons he was able to close this particular deal was that the person he signed the deal with simply likes working with him. He said that obviously his music was good as well, but that in his opinion his attitude and positivity had as much to do with his success in this particular instance as the quality of the music he makes.
Later that day, I skyped with one of my publishers in LA for about an hour and our conversation drifted to the topic of my producer, Gary Gray, who we both know and work with. We both talked about how positive and upbeat Gary is and how nice it is to work with people like this. Then my publisher spent several minutes talking about how, in her own career and life, being a positive person has been a big part of her success and has served her well.
This theme of being positive, kept coming up over the course of this day and it inspired me to reflect on my own life and how positivity, and the lack of it at times, has impacted my life.
I consider myself a “glass half full” sort of person. I think most people that know me would describe me as an upbeat and optimistic person. I always look for the positive in situations and do my best to stay optimistic, regardless of what’s happening in my life at the moment. I can’t say that I succeed at staying 100 percent positive, all the time, but I definitely lean in that direction.
Endeavors like running a business and working in the music industry, are both pursuits that can knock the strongest of us off our centers, if we’re not diligent about maintaining a positive perspective. To be honest, this is something I have to work at on a daily basis, despite my own generally positive demeanor. Sometimes, in life, things happen that challenge our disposition. It happens to the best of us, which is why it’s so important that we actively work on developing and maintaining a positive outlook.
I think the more we’re striving for in life, the greater the chances of things happening that we perceive as negative and the greater potential for losing a positive perspective. If you’re the kind of person who has no goals or ambition and are generally content just coasting through life, well, it’s pretty easy to stay upbeat if that’s your outlook on life. If, however, you care about where you’re going, the progress you’re making and desire to advance in life, it can be easier to get thrown off course when we face the inevitable setbacks, rejection and so on that are part and parcel with a life well lived.
If you’re aiming for success and growth, you’re going to face setbacks. It’s unavoidable. I don’t know anyone who hits 100 percent of the shots they take. Do you? I could mention several of the cliché quotes about success and failure that I’m sure you’ve all heard a thousand times. You know, like, you miss 100 percent of the shots you don’t take, and so on. But, just hearing these sorts of ideas does little to comfort us when we’re in the thick of life, dealing with the ups and downs we all deal with. It’s easy to just tell people they should be positive, but what about when things aren’t going our way and we're feeling really discouraged?
As I mentioned in a couple previous blog posts, I went through a break up recently. And by the way, I don’t mention things like this to evoke sympathy, I ‘m just sharing the experiences of my own life, in the hopes that my own realizations and insights will be helpful to you. I went from seeing and living with someone every day for two and a half years, to simply not having them be a part of my life. It’s pretty intense, and as anyone who has gone through an experience like this can attest to, it’s something you have to really experience to understand.
Platitudes like “it’s better to have loved and lost than never have loved at all”, are of little comfort when you’re dealing with the immediate aftermath of a break up. Advice like “don’t worry man, there’s plenty of fish in the sea”, do little to comfort a broken heart, at least initially. Although with time, they start to make a whole lot more sense!
When we face challenges in our careers and personal lives, we’re presented with an opportunity for growth and an opportunity to truly flex our positivity muscle. It’s how we deal with these inevitable challenges and setbacks that define who we are as people and inform and shape our character. It’s easy to be positive when things are going well, but it’s when the proverbial “shit” hits the fan that we find out what we’re really made of.
Here are a couple strategies I use on a regular basis to maintain a positive perspective. Both of these philosophies have served me well and have helped me stay upbeat and optimistic in the face of challenges in business, music and in my personal life.
The Obstacle Is The Way
One of the ways I’ve trained myself to stay positive, in the face of challenges and adversity, is to adopt a sort of stoic philosophy to challenges in my life. There’s an idea in stoic philosophy, that any challenge we face in life is an opportunity to advance to even greater heights and move closer to our goals. As the great Stoic, Marcus Aurelius, wrote: "Our actions may be impeded, but there can be no impeding our intentions or dispositions. Because we can accommodate and adapt. The mind adapts and converts to its own purposes the obstacle to our acting. The impediment to action advances action. What stands in the way becomes the way." In other words, like author Ryan Holiday declares, in his book about stoicism, “The Obstacle Is The Way”.
The idea, and it’s a beautiful idea really, is that any event we initially perceive as “negative” or “bad”, can be turned into a positive and actually help us get closer to our goals. It’s a matter of perspective and how we choose to look at the situation.
How can we apply this philosophy to our lives? Let’s take something most of us our probably familiar with, breakups, to start with. When my girlfriend and I broke up recently, I was pretty shaken. I wasn’t really devastated, because to be honest I saw it coming months in advance and had contemplated how I would react if and when it happened. I had even considered ending the relationship myself for a variety of reasons that ultimately contributed to the demise of the relationship. It was more or less an amicable decision. But, I was still pretty upset when it finally happened, as can be expected.
However, with time, I’ve come to see what happened as a positive event. It’s been an opportunity to grow in many ways that I wouldn’t have, had the relationship continued. It’s given me an opportunity to really reflect deeply on the kind of people I want to allow into my life on an intimate level. It’s forced me to grow in ways that I don’t think I was really capable of within the context of the relationship. It’s motivated to step up my “game” in different areas of my life. I’ve embraced things like going to the gym, working harder on my business and socializing more. Part of these changes are simply a result of the extra time I have by not being in committed relationship, but most of the changes have been positive and are leading me to an even better place in life. The breakup has been a catalyst to move in the direction of my desires.
How can you apply this philosophy to something like music and the music business? Pretty much the same way. When you have setbacks as your pursuing a career in music, these setbacks will generally point you towards what you actually need to focus on to reach your goals. Are you trying to license your tracks over and over, but they keep getting rejected for the same reasons? Maybe you keep hearing that your tracks are strong but that the vocals are not on point. Or maybe you keep getting feedback that your production is not up to speed. Whatever the case may be, whatever setbacks you’re facing will most likely point to what it is you actually need to focus on in order to succeed. In other words, the obstacle is the way!
As I’ve gotten older, I’ve trained myself to look at life this way and it’s helped me stay positive and upbeat, almost irrespective of whatever temporary setbacks I’m confronting. I’ve faced a lot of challenges and continue to, but I no longer see setbacks as some sort of permanent state or a reflection of my worthiness as a person. I see setbacks and challenges as feedback. Our setbacks either point us in the direction of areas we need to focus on and improve, or they indicate we’re simply on the wrong path and need to try something different. Either way, our challenges can be seen as guideposts, pointing us in the direction of our goals and dreams.
Another strategy I utilize in order to remain positive, is good old-fashioned gratitude. So often in life, we’re so focused on things that don’t work out, or don’t go the way we’d like them to, that we lose sight of all the things that are going well. It’s easy to get bogged down in a sea of negativity if all we’re focusing on are the things that aren’t working out the way we’d like. But, I think if you’re honest with yourself, it’s pretty easy to find plenty of things to be grateful for.
Start with simple things. Are you alive? Check. Are you breathing? Check. Do you have internet access? Check. Do you have goals and dreams? Check. Do you have at least one friend or someone you’re close to? Check ( I hope, if not go make some friends!).
It’s so easy to lose sight of things that we should be grateful for. As I mentioned in a previous blog post I wrote about gratitude, half of the world’s population lives on less than $2.50 a day. If you’re reading this, then most likely you’re in the other half of the population. Be grateful for that. Be grateful for the many things you most likely already have going for you in life and let that gratitude carry you forward to even greater heights.
I make a list of things, on a daily basis, that happen that I’m grateful for. This could be a positive interaction with a friend, having a good day in terms of business, having a good date, maybe licensing one of my songs and so on. I look for things to be grateful for and I take note of them throughout the day. I find that by doing this, I’m training myself to look for the good in the world and in my life. It becomes sort of addictive, the more you look for things to be grateful for, the more you’ll find. The opposite is also true, it’s pretty easy to find things to bitch about. But, why would you do that?
Focus on the things that motivate and inspire you. You’ll find plenty if you look.
Check out highlights from our recent webinar on writing instrumental cues for Television, available exclusively for How To License Your Music Premium members.
3/23/2018 10:15:29 am
Thanks so much! Glad you enjoyed it.
3/23/2018 10:15:56 am
3/21/2018 05:41:54 pm
Great advice for anyone, not just fellow musicians and producers! Thx for sharing 😊 We could be twins due to our similar life experiences!
3/23/2018 10:16:24 am
Thanks for reading :)
3/22/2018 05:36:22 am
Aaron, this was a rewarding read. Thank you for taking the time to write this.
3/23/2018 10:17:40 am
Hi Jesse, absolutely, I agree, we all need time with friends and down time to relax and recharge!
3/22/2018 12:48:04 pm
Yeah, I think through trials and tribulations, there's been reasons to quit, but I don't feel that way. that's because I thought hard about wanting this to be apart of my life. Idiotic band members, bad deals, etc. are all part and parcel of the trip. The other reason to go on is your own success in the face of others who wanted you to quit or they themselves have failed and do not want anyone to surpass them. for that spite, I continue on. I have something to offer and I know that and I don't have to have an ego for it. and those obstacles do make you stronger and give you more informed decisions when moving forward.
3/23/2018 10:18:22 am
Keep fighting the good fight!
3/23/2018 10:18:44 am
3/24/2018 08:08:05 am
Love it sounds like me
3/24/2018 06:56:59 pm
Thanks for reading Susanna!
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