Musicians, Will you be a Victim or Hero: it's your choice

It’s Martin Luther King day. Time to remember the man, his dream, and the hero’s journey he took on. It’s time to be inspired—and to reflect on where you are with our own dream—your own hero’s journey. Because in the end, there are just two ways to go in life: you can be a . . . Victim or Hero: it’s your choice.

As a role model, as a hero, MLK exemplified a mission-driven life and the belief that each of us has the power to change the world.

Of course, you may say to yourself something like . . .

“I’m no hero. I don’t have a grand purpose: I’m just a musician.”

You may think, “What I do falls into the category of ‘entertainment.’ My work, my life doesn’t make much impact on others.”

I run into this kind of thinking a lot. It’s an example of how musicians undermine their own value, their own power. It means they end up playing small in their careers. Not daring to start or advance the projects they dream of leading.

This kind of thinking manifests in self-limiting beliefs. In waiting to be “picked” or chosen—believing that someone (or something) else is needed before they can get started and make a difference in the world.

Do you ever find yourself saying things like, “I want to be performing more but in order to do that I need an agent.”

Or, “I’d love to record an album but I don’t have the money and don’t know any rich people—there’s no way I could raise the money I need on my own.”

We’ve all, at times, sung that “poor me” refrain.

Perhaps you say, “I’d love to launch my next project, but with all my teaching, I just don’t have the time.”

Or else, “I have an amazing project idea, but I’m just not good with . . . ” [Fill in the blank: social media, computers, self-promotion, fundraising, etc.]

I get it. We’re all busy—too many tasks, too little time, not enough support.

But in the end, these are excuses. They’re the ‘white lies’ we tell ourselves to avoid taking responsibility for our future. We avoid the scary unknown of pursuing our ambitious projects—the creative challenges needed to become the artists we are meant to be).

How and when to start

The truth is that every ambitious project that we’ve ever heard of was started by someone who didn’t have the time, money, or support they needed.

So how did they start? They started small. Before they were “ready.” They created beta versions to test the concept and they learned as they went.

You can, too.

And when you feel beat up by the work load, and discouraged about a setback, you regroup, lick your wounds, and then get back in the arena. Because otherwise you aren’t doing the work.

You don’t expect it to be easy. Or for it to go well the first time.

You expect to be scared and for it to be hard.

And you expect to learn by doing. By making mistakes.

Because heroes are committed to the cause, committed to doing the scary work—come what may.

The challenge—the ‘all is lost’ moments

Over the weekend I led a workshop on the Hero’s Journey at the Chamber Music America conference. An exercise I asked everyone to do was to think of a project they’d completed, one that was a real challenge and stretched them creatively and personally.

And then to think about what they gained from doing the project.

One of the musicians there told the story of how he’d been a participant in a composer’s workshop program and had struggled with the piece he was to complete (that would be part of a culminating competition). He’d hit a real road block with the piece and couldn’t figure out a solution.

It got down to the final weekend before the deadline and he was quite the piece. Out of the blue he was offered a lucrative performance gig. It was a tempting distraction.

The composer had gotten so frustrated and rattled that he thought, why not take the gig and just not complete the piece? He figured it wasn’t working out anyway, he might as well make some money.

The composer was all set to give up on the piece but at the last minute turned down the gig and forced himself to complete the work. He said he just wanted to “send it in and be done with it.”

He did. And it was selected as the winning composition.

What’s the real reward for pushing past the fear?

From my perspective the competition wasn’t the most important thing that the composer won.

The real prize was his winning the battle with his own Resistance. He proved to himself that he could finish the project despite all the fear, discouragement, self-doubt, and frustration.

That knowledge has kept him going, and spurred him on to compose even more daring music.

And that’s not all. An unexpected thing happened in our conference session after he told his story.

A young woman spoke up. They’d never met but she explained that she’d heard the piece he’d written for the competition online and that ever since she’d been following his work on social media. That it had been a huge inspiration for her and that he’d become a musical role model. And he’d inspired her to write her own large scale jazz works.

This revelation was a complete surprise to the composer and to the rest of us in the room. As she told him all this the look of incredulity on his face was wonderful.

Because there it was—the actual evidence that when we step outside our comfort zone, when we push past our fear and dare to get our work out, that YES, WE CAN make real impact.

Why am I telling you this? Because the work is difficult. Because we all reach those points when we’re ready to give up. When the sacrifice and the challenge seem more than we can handle.

The Hero’s Journey isn’t easy. It’s not supposed to be.

But life is challenging for a reason—the universe presents us with these challenges, these opportunities to grow into the artists we are meant to be.

When we choose to pursue those opportunities, to get past our comfort zones, to move through the fear and do the scary work—then we can learn, grow, and inspire others. We can make impact and make the world a better place than we found it.

What’s it going to be . . . Victim or Hero: it’s your choice.

And to see where you are now and advance in your own journey, take the Musician Hero’s Journey Career Assessment.

For more career insights and inspiration, join our supportive community, our FREE Musicians Making It Facebook group. We’d love to have you!

Here’s to your forward motion,

Dream Big, Plan Smart, Live Well

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