February 24, 2013

There’s a moment in my creative process when I get so excited about what’s emerging that it becomes a little alarming.

Or a lot…

(It’s good though. Exploring new domains, growing, developing new skills. Being freaked out. Et cetera, et cetera.)

10% Rule

February 18, 2013

A couple of weeks ago I traveled abroad for the first time ever. On Monday I realized I didn’t have any work for the week. I’d already had a slow several weeks prior, during which I caught up on all the mundane Life Things (laundry, taxes, sweeping the floor, sleep, etc.) that I’d let slide while being absolutely crazed from September through December, and by that point was getting antsy.

So I started pricing plane tickets. Why the hell not.

After an hour on every travel site I could think of, I decided on Berlin. Cheap airfare, I’d been hearing of its awesomeness for some time, and somewhere — anywhere — is better than nowhere. My flight was to leave about 48 hours later.

On Wednesday I sat near my departure gate at Newark (side note: not nearly the pain in the ass to get to that I expected) and started to get nervous.

Honestly, this doesn’t happen often. I have solid faith in my ability to figure out how to pretty much anything I need to, and a somewhat realistic perspective that the risk of most things I could do in life is pretty damn low. The whole world isn’t waiting to laugh at my failures, money is just money, time is just time, and I don’t do that many things that could realistically physically incapacitate me. So nervousness is not part of my general state of being.

But there I sat, getting a little scared. Going to a new place, taking the longest plane ride I’d ever been on, embarking on a trip I hadn’t really planned beyond the flight and hostel reservation, venturing into a land that uses a language I did not speak or understand. I knew it would be fine. Worst case scenario, I’d hang out at the hostel and walk around aimlessly for three days, maybe embarrass myself a few times in front of people I would never see again in an attempt to obtain nourishment without a word of German. While that’s not exactly the greatest vacation anyone’s ever had, it would also not hurt me in any way. So the nervousness was quite arguably irrational, but kept gnawing at me no matter how much I tried to argue it away.

And it made me start to think… it’s kind of cool to be a little freaked out. If I look back at any of the really Big Moments I’ve had in my life (moving to New York, biking a century, submitting my application for the internship that got me started in sound, any of the most important or ambitious projects I’ve embarked on as a freelancer…), they were all preceded by me wondering if (and sometimes being absolutely positive that) I was in over my head.

Which is… kind of awesome. What nervousness really seems to be then is an indication of an expansion of limits. I think about it exactly the same way I do about exercise: honestly, I kind of like being sore in the days following a hard workout. It’s painful as hell, but it means I pushed myself hard enough to go beyond where I’d been before — I’m getting stronger. I’m getting better.
Perhaps nervousness is an indication of stepping it up in life — choosing to rise to the next level of a career, a relationship, a hobby, just about anything. You don’t really get better (and you never get great) if you’re sitting comfortably, a safe distance from your boundaries of ability.

So what if being freaked out itself became a value? I don’t think it’s right, or even possible, for it to be true all the time. Or most of the time. Or even close to most of the time. In order to maintain a solid sense of self, as well as my relationships, my ability to keep paying all those cumbersome bills, and possibly my life, most of my time probably needs to be spent in a non-freaked-out state. But how about 10%? What if, one moment out of ten, I was scared? Not 100% positive what the outcome of my activity would be? Not 100% certain of my ability to succeed? What would the artistic, physical, social, emotional, or financial ramifications be?

History indicates the rewards are massive and the risks are not negligible, but far from life-threatening. So I’m going to try it — see if I can spend 10% of my life freaked out.

Which both excites and scares me. Just the way it should, I suppose.


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.