Wind at Your Back

February 3, 2012

Last night I had a moment of recognition.

I was standing at a bus stop waiting for the slowpoke M15. A chilly and windy night, after just a few minutes I retreated from the open air to the shelter provided: in this case, two glass walls and a ceiling. Luckily the wind was coming from a direction that allowed those walls to block most of it. The relief was significant and I stopped shivering.

But then it occurred to me that it was still pretty frickin’ cold. A diligent breeze continued to creep in around my jacket. It was only the differential between my first, unprotected place and the relative calm of the shelter that enabled me to consciously recognize the reprieve.

It made me wonder just how often in life there must be factors working in my favor that I simply don’t notice.

I’ve had the thought before: bicycling along the Hudson, it’s painfully obvious when you’re riding into the wind. It happens about half the time. But in the dozens, perhaps hundreds, of outings I’ve had along that route, I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve actually realized the wind was at my back. Regardless of the direction I’m traveling, I generally know I’m riding into a headwind, or simply don’t think about wind at all.

Statistics and a some empirically-derived intuition about weather patterns indicate it’s pretty unlikely that the wind is actually almost never supporting my momentum. Instead, it’s my own brain that simply thinks I’m on a roll, and doesn’t want to share credit.

So again I find myself curious about how many characters, circumstances, and personal talents or proclivities are at my back from day to day, quietly helping me onward and upward.

My guess is a lot.

Our weaknesses (and those of our friends, colleagues, family, location, personal situations…) seem to generally be heartbreakingly apparent. Everyone on Earth can name many factors that have worked against them in their lives.

But maybe there are just as many — or more — variables working for us, pushing us toward success.


February 1, 2012

Recently I’ve found myself to be in an interestingly boring place.

Since deciding to return to life as an audio engineer last fall, I’ve felt reassuringly certain, focused, and stable.

Stability, however, is not the same as stasis, which is a differentiation I’ve worried about in the past (perhaps romanticizing my restless tendencies). My concern has been that once a person stops being actively haunted by their demons (creative, professional, personal, romantic, financial — they come in many forms), perhaps it means they’ve simply surrendered to complacency… a notion I find somewhat terrifying.

But my recent experience indicates it’s quite possible to work, grow, and learn, yet not be kept awake at night by whispers in the brain.

I’ve been working a lot. Freelancing and mixing films. I’m using my work as opportunity to be paid for experimenting and developing my skills, and challenging myself with each project to go a bit faster, do a bit more, be a little better. I walked to the train the other night at 1:30 in the morning after an intense day and evening in front of a rig, and couldn’t keep a smile off my face. I was absolutely exhausted, and certain moments had been maddening, but I was 12 hours closer to “making it.” I’d used my day well, and would much rather be tired than go to bed in the same state I woke up.

I’m also learning — reading online resources and books, watching tutorials, viewing films and recording my observations. I make sure to regularly assess where my most important weaknesses are, and then devote time to developing myself in those areas.

And… not much else. I’m not worrying so much about writing, or exercising, or socializing, or anything. Sound is my focus, and how I define the success of a day. Everything else is a second-tier concern… which is not to say they don’t get done, but that I let them happen when they happen.

Cal Newport recently quoted Steve Martin:

“But I told myself,” he continued, “just stick with this, just keep playing, and one day you’ll have been playing for 40 years, and at this point, you’ll know how to play.”

I wish I could say this in a way that didn’t make me sound as though I have such a big head as to compare myself to Mr. Martin, but… this is where I am. I’m 3.5 years into a journey that will take decades. And I’m working in a way that will be sustainable for that long haul.

I’m not in flux right now. I’m not experiencing existential angst, and I’m not making life-altering decisions. It’s not exciting, or particularly interesting to anyone but me. It’s really a little boring, especially relative to the situations of many of my friends and peers right now.

It’s also not always “fun.” But I don’t think a person has to be actively happy all the time in order to be pleased with an experience. Ultimately, I am getting better at my craft, and that’s what’s important.

So life is just… good. Sustainable. Purposeful. Stable.

It’s really all I can ask for.


Speaking of paths to success, this video knocked me back on my heels last night. I cannot recommend it enough.