I made a huge mistake. It wasn’t life-threatening, but it did disrupt my day-to-day in a way that I didn’t know I was actually prepared for. Here’s what happened; I was trolling one of my few Facebook groups and the topic of organization came up. I will preface this by saying that as far as “independent musician” standards go, I’m probably one of the most organized, productive and disciplined people most of my peers know (their words, and maybe mine, because I am middle-aged now and I’m allowed to pat myself on the back once in a while.).
Despite my ability to balance between my music career, family responsibilities, navigating persistent insomnia and my ever-invasive day job, I still don’t EVER feel like I’m getting enough done, and certainly not fast enough. Ok, so I jump into a thread where someone mentions this methodology that has “changed his life” and that’s all it takes. I’m in. I go to the library THAT afternoon, check out the book, and dive in head first.
Being a creative, I anticipated a touchy-feely, kitten-paws-stroking-my-face system as I worked through my emotional hurdles, and gently steered myself towards a clear mind and a cleaner desk. Wrong. This book was full-on, in your face accountability fueled by humiliation. I’m not joking.
There are so many unbelievable exercises and examples, but I’ll share one of my favorites, (and I’m paraphrasing); “Steve wanted to finish writing his manuscript, but was continually distracted. In order to create a sense of urgency with ramifications, he wrote a check for $5000 to his most hated political candidate. He gave the check to his assistant and instructed her to send the check if he hadn’t handed in a completed manuscript by ____ _____ _____ date. You can bet that he handed that manuscript in, in fact, he completed it a few days early! What scenario can you create that will force to complete your most important project?”
I was simultaneously appalled and aroused. Wow. This is the key. I need to psychologically flagellate myself into moving forward into the life I have always dreamed of! I mean here was the proof. It was in a book in the LIBRARY, written by doctors of psychology with research and studies to back it up. Onward I went tapping into my deepest fears and how to exploit them so I could finally feel a sense of forward motion.
My scenarios didn’t come easy. Mostly because now I was even more afraid of failing and having to follow through with my planned punishment if I didn’t complete projects, missions, tasks, etc. Deep breath. Push forward.
I went back and re-read some chapters and my answers to the questionnaires I had been asked to complete. I realized, it IS all on me. Life throws shit in our path all the time. It’s up to ME to decide to step around the shit. I had also forgotten a crucial element—It’s not only about the set-up that would keep me on track, but it was also about the reason I wanted to finish, to begin with. Without figuring out the “why” I could never figure out the “how.”
In my quest for the determining the why, I read that one of my favorite “Top Chef” contestants Fati who we all thought had beat her cancer, had about a year left to live. As it turns out, She probably won’t make it to 30. I was beyond saddened, I was shocked and angry. This was NOT the happy ending that all of us rooting for her anticipated.
She announced her news and what her plans were for her last year on this planet. Suddenly I felt like a true ass. I began to scroll backwards in my memory and realized all the time I had wasted. Not because I didn’t work hard, but because I didn’t stay on track. That was the truth. Now my job was to figure out the track, get on it and stay there until I felt truly worthy of the rewards—even if the only reward is knowing I got it done. I also felt a sense of responsibility now. I was going to finish this album because a young, talented, badass Chef wasn’t going to finish most of her dreams. It sucked, but it did put it all into focus for me.
That weekend I not only tracked ALL of the piano tracks for the new album, I also dug into our garage and unpacked about a hundred boxes of samples for my day job, found the proper place to store them, and organized all the expired samples and donated them to our local Food Not Bombs. Every weeknight after work, I went down into the studio, listened to all the piano tracks, chose the best ones, cleaned up any pedal squeaks, cat meows, cricket-interruptus and did a shit-ton of tasks on my to-do list.
The following weekend, Gian, my husband AND engineer, was going to be working the whole weekend. I gently asked if we could take one night prior to get levels for my vocals and he kindly agreed. That weekend I tracked all the lead vocals for all the piano tracks. I was on a roll.
The following Monday I checked in with my Facebook group to boast about my level of productivity on the original organization thread and thank the guy who got me on this jag. As I scrolled through the thread to leave a comment (and remember his name), there it was; I was reading the WRONG book!!! GAH!!!!
My first response was to literally say out loud, “Oh My God, I am SOOOO freaking exhausted!!!!” And I was. I had been working like a bat out of hell but pushing through because I had made a promise to myself and the universe. My second response was to question whether or not I had really been THAT productive? My third response was to collapse into laughter. Yes, I had been a productive maniac. Yes, I had tortured myself. Yes, I got shit done!
I immediately went online and got the right book and then went to the the authors website, signed up for the trial membership and took a deep breath. Here’s the best part, after an hour in, I knew that this entire “trial” was a pitch to get me to become a paid member AND nothing so far was anything I didn’t already inherently know. I decided to NOT waste any time and canceled my trial.
The irony does not escape me. What I find fascinating is that apparently anything will work if I perceive it to be a proven system. I have no misconception that the first book “was the way,” but it did change my perception of what I am capable of.
I decided to keep on pushing while also allowing myself a small amount of time to do nothing once in a while. Of course, I realize that “nothing” for me looks very different than most people’s nothing. I am still working like a mad-woman on the album, but allow myself the occasional digression. I really do feel more focused than ever, and strangely, more balanced too.
I still think of Chef Fati every single day. I say a nightly prayer for her in hopes that maybe there is some miracle that will reveal itself and she’ll beat cancer. I also know it’s selfish of me to co-opt her journey. I am choosing to reframe it as honoring her, even though she doesn’t know me and she’ll probably never even know that she was a source of inspiration and a giant impetus to a middle-aged indie musician.
My deepest hope is still to someday feel like “I got it done.” Maybe that’s the twist; that there will always be something to get done…until I am done. And then, just maybe I will know what rested feels like.
Here’s my most recent digression. The piano was mic’d tuned and sounding so sweet. I decided to do a live-take video just for the hell of it: