What does it take? As a musician, what fuels your best work?
You probably heard the sad news that the world lost the talented actor / director Chadwick Boseman to cancer a week ago. The star of the groundbreaking film “Black Panther,” Boseman was just 43 years old and had so much more to do, and be, and give.
His death is a poignant reminder that none of us has an endless string of tomorrows ahead. The truth is if we’re waiting to put our best work out into the world, we may lose our opportunity. What we know for sure is that we have NOW. So urgency itself can help fuel your work: seize the day.
As for what else helps, Boseman offers an answer in the inspiring commencement address he gave at Howard University in 2018 (when he was already half way through his battle with cancer). I find his message just as meaningful for those of us long out of school. Chadwick’s address included this advice for all of us:
“Purpose is an essential element of you. It is the reason you are on the planet at this particular time in history. Your very existence is wrapped up in the things you are here to fulfill. Whatever you choose for a career path, remember, the struggles along the way are only meant to shape you for your purpose.
I don’t know what your future is, but if you are willing to take the harder way, the more complicated one, the one with more failures at first than successes, the one that has ultimately proven to have more meaning, more victory, more glory then you will not regret it.”
Purpose is ultimately what fuels your best work. It’s the specific quest behind your hero’s journey. And the struggles that shape you for your purpose are the challenges and the dragons you encounter in the journey to become who we are meant to be.
Have you found your purpose?
Let’s be clear. Your purpose isn’t your motivation to be a successful musician. It’s not your wanting to be considered a “winner” and respected by your peers. And it’s not your desire to win an orchestral job or your dream to land a college teaching position. Those are all fine career and job goals.
But your purpose is something deeper. It’s a higher calling.
If music is something you love, something that you can’t live without, then your purpose is worth clarifying and articulating.
Purpose is what sustains you emotionally when your work isn’t available to you and when times are tough. A calling is about a lifetime commitment to something bigger than your own career.
In a terrific recent post reflecting on Chadwick’s passing, Brené Brown clarified what’s behind her own work, writing, “I am here for my purpose.“
You can follow suit. To get your purpose . . .
Clarify your WHY
In the past weeks I’ve been working with several clients on their teaching and performance bios. So we’ve been delving into what fuels their best work. In coaching sessions I’ll ask them to tell me why they love making music and why they love teaching.
Then I get to hear accomplished musicians tell their stories of peak creativity in their work. And then we unpack these stories to find specific clues to help articulate their purpose.
For many musicians, they’ve never articulated their purpose, so this takes some digging. But it’s worth it because knowing your ‘WHY’ is not only essential for compelling promotional materials. It’s also essential to maintain motivation and commitment for the long haul.
Get clear about WHY you make music, about WHY you teach, and about WHY you launched your latest project. This matters now more than ever. Because on your deathbed (and we’re all getting there sooner than we think), you’re going to look back over your life. And you’ll want to feel proud of the impact you made.
This week think of Chadwick Boseman who made a real impact as an artist and as a role model. May he rest in peace.
If you’d like to join a group of other musicians leaning in to getting more of their best work out into the world, join our Free MusiciansMakingIt Facebook group. And participate in our weekly FB Lives on Tuesdays at 12 noon ET — we’d love to see you there!
If you’d like to find out how getting expert coaching can help you bring more of your best work into the world, let’s talk.
Dream Big, Plan Smart, Live Well