When I got to Columbia University I realized that a lot of the people who've moved to NYC to pursue something were the absolute best at it wherever they came from. They stood out back home. Then you get here and it's like you can throw a rock and hit an excellent person. Someone with a Pulitzer or an incredible voice or who at age 5 helped negotiate a peace treaty between two warring nations or who invented some new form of math. My friends in the picture below are Exhibit A. One's been on the front lines fighting human trafficking in NYC, one works for Boeing as an engineer and the other attends Harvard dental school.
Last night at 2am I found myself up (as per usual), discovering new music on YouTube. I stumbled upon a video of a gorgeous girl who's the star of a Nickelodeon tween-y kind of show, singing spot-on impersonations of other singers. My immediate thought? "I definitely can't do that. Ut oh. I'm doomed." And then I thought, "wait ... no I'm not. I'm not doomed at all. She does her thing and I do mine ... and I should probably go to bed now."
Essentially (I'm about to try to do what my dad does when he magically sums all of life up into one sentence) there's a way to position yourself each day so that you find yourself inspired by the excellence of others, instead of just insecure about what you do. Here are 5 tips I came up with:
1. Time it right. Without fail, if I'm up super late clicking from video to interview to video of genius artists who are genre-similar to my music and getting lots of shine, I'll start questioning whether I'm booking enough shows or making the right moves, or making the right contacts or good enough on guitar. And if it's 3am, the answer will always be "no." I've found that starting my day (while there's actually time to act on what inspires me) with a beautiful song or meaty interview by an artist I respect is infinitely more constructive for me.
2. When you find someone who inspires you, focus on learning about their craft and process, rather than just their accomplishments. Almost everyone who I think is genius pours time and heart and dedicated effort into their craft. Learn what they do, what steps they took, what failed and what works for them. It'll put the accomplishments in context and inspire you to work hard, not just dream hard.
3. Fall in love with your own work again. Whatever it is you do, take some time every once in a while to appreciate it. Look at your paintings. Read your poetry. Admire the robot you invented. It's easy to get so caught up in the work of people who inspire you, that you forget to love your own.
4. Stay in your lane. I love what Steph said in her "a coffee with" interview. I'll quote her: "I think that to be great you don’t have to be the best at a skill, you have to be the best at a category that you create. Bob Dylan is not the best singer or the greatest guitar player. He wasn’t a genius at those things – he did something that only he could. He wrote poetry inside of chords. The greats of the world aren’t usually the most brilliant at a skill. It’s all about the spirit behind the art and how that works in their medium …" Fight the temptation of thinking that you always have to add your inspiration's strength or specialty to your repertoire. Focus that energy instead on becoming great at what you've already got going on.
5. Ted Talks. If you need a quality inspirational talk, spend some time with these people: http://www.ted.com/talks
Here's one that I really enjoyed lately - An interview with Indie Arie. Although I don't agree with everything she says, there's still so much about songwriting and the craft that I totally appreciate.
Hope these tips help! Leave me your thoughts!
To read my absolute favorite posts about life in the city, love and relationships, being a singer/songwriter ... for a living, living well, and community, head over to "The Best of Long City Walks."
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