I can’t tell you how often I get that dreaded, sinking feeling. It’s all too familiar. My internal dialog starts sound like this:
“You’re not working hard enough. You haven’t booked those gigs you’ve been meaning to book.”
“You really should be farther along. You’re not a success. You’re not doing this right.”
Or my least favorite,
“Maybe you should give up and go home.”
I hate that. I hate, hate, hate that.
For me, this career-related stinkin’ thinkin’ is cylical. It’s a roller coaster that consists of euphoric highs and desperate lows. During the up’s, I’m getting work done, I’m writing, I’m sticking to my self-imposed schedule, and I’m playing really great shows. During the bad times, I hate what I’m writing, my performances are terrible, I feel overwhelmed, and I just want to crawl into a little hole of self loathing and never come out again.
I can almost count on it like clockwork.
One of the worst parts about the low’s is that I feel like no matter how hard I work, I’m just not getting anywhere. I’m spinning my wheels. Working and working and working but never getting anything done.
There always seems to about fifty gazillion items I need to cross off an always growing list of accomplishments I need to complete before I can call myself a “success.”
The other day, one of my best girlfriends (who is also a singer/songwriter) confided in me that she felt this way too. This friend is one of the most determined, driven, hard working musicians I know. If anyone can make it, she can. I was stunned to find that she was starting to consider moving back home and taking a break from music for a while. You can also imagine my sadness at hearing that.
I think all motivated creatives feel like this from time to time. And usually, it’s because of a few specific reasons.
The thing about being a songwriter or indie musician is that, until you have your team behind you, you’re doing everything on your own. And when you’re doing the jobs of 10 different people, you get burned out very, very quickly.
So the next time you start to feel like the world is falling apart around you, stop. Inhale. Remember these things:
1. Take a deep breath, and think about what it is you really want. What will make you happy?
Really, what in this moment is the one thing you really want to do? What will make you the happiest? Do you really want to book that tour later this year, even though you have like, 90 other commitments between now and then? Focus on booking that tour. That one thing. Redesigning your website, spending hours replying to people on social media, and playing local shows can wait.
You aren’t committing a mortal sin and damning your music career, I promise. You’re not doing your career any favors by trying to accomplish everything all at once. You’re spread too thin. Pick the one thing that will make you happiest and go for it. You will start moving forward.
2. Set realistic goals.
Just like you can’t do everything all at once, you also can’t make everything happen quickly. Write out some realistic, stepped goals that will get you to where you want to be. Using the tour example, some goals could be:
- This week: Research and call 5 venues. Nail down dates for tour.
- Next week: Research and call 5 more venues. Follow up with the 5 from last week.
- Third week: Follow up with venues. Secure anchor dates.
- Fourth week: Secure more anchor dates. Follow up.
- Fifth week: Reach out to fans for house shows to fill in dates… etc.
3. Do one thing for your career every day, no matter how small.
I’ve heard this time and time again from friends at all levels of their careers. Do just one thing every day. Even if that’s all you get to do. Even if it’s small. Even if it seems insignificant. Just one thing. You’re contributing to your own progress, even if it’s just. One. Thing.
It could be returning an email. It could be a cold call. It could be perusing RowFax to see who you can pitch to. It can be recording vocals for your album. It can be writing a list of what you need to get done this week.
Do just one thing everyday.
4. Don’t switch lanes.
Stay focused! Don’t shift your goals. Remember your answer from number 1? The one thing that you want so badly right now? Don’t lose sight of it. The key to avoiding collapsing on your feet is to make sure you stay doggedly determined to make that one thing happen.
You may get distracted by other things. Friends may tell you that you need to be doing xyz right now, or invite you to fun events that clash with your plans to reach your goals. Tell them, “Sorry guys, I’m really working toward something else right now.” Stick to it! You are not wrong for running hard and fast toward a single goal.
5. Call a friend!
Remember my friend from the beginning of this article? The one who was feeling overwhelmed and ready to give up? Because we talked about it, we both left the conversation feeling encouraged and ready to dive back in. When all else fails, call a friend who gets you. Maybe she’s an artist, too. Maybe she’s struggling to swim straight in her own crazy career path.
Reaching out to friends who will listen to you and not belittle you can be so valuable. These friends get it, and they have your back. I don’t know what I would do if I didn’t have my small circle of songwriter friends to rely on. We are each other’s life vests.
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