Over the past several weeks, we’ve generously acknowledged the up and down nature of the creative journey. There will be triumphant highs alongside disheartening lows and, as we well know, the key to enduring is to ride the waves, stay level-headed and focused, and keep pushing forward with patience and persistence.
Today, I’m here to throw another variable into the equation: the notion of control.
Along your journey, you are virtually guaranteed to encounter circumstances beyond your control, and they just might throw a wrench into your plan.
- Playing an outdoor gig? That gig – and many times, the number of people in attendance – is at the mercy of the weather.
- Have a co-write scheduled? Sometimes, life happens, and people need to reschedule. You might even run into an unavoidable conflict once in a while.
- Did you put your best foot forward when submitting to an opportunity? Well… it’s still up to somebody else to decide if you will receive that opportunity, and the music industry — much like life itself — offers us no guarantees.
- Even if you’re the kindest person on Earth, you will encounter people who are not kind in return. You will have conflicts, and you will run into criticism from time to time.
- Also, I would be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge that the early 2020s have presented industry-wide challenges that were, in many ways, completely out of our hands. (Lookin’ at you, ‘rona…)
Even despite our best efforts and wishes, the fact is that countless factors exist outside of our own influence, and some of them can lead to disappointment. However, the more we focus on that disappointment, the more powerful it becomes.
What’s an emerging musician to do, then? Simple.
Control your controllables.
No matter what the world throws your way, you still have an opportunity every day to re-center and focus on what is within your own individual sphere of influence. As you’ll see in this article, the list of your controllables is not especially long. Nonetheless, it’s important to know where to direct your attention when everything around you seems to be going haywire.
What are these “controllables,” you ask?
You can control your mindset.
When setbacks occur, you can choose to dwell on what went “wrong.” Or, you can look for the silver linings in each situation. Learning that an opportunity isn’t right for you – even if that’s only the case for now – is not a failure, nor does it have to be an ending. It can merely be a re-direction toward opportunities that are more aligned with you and your artistry.
You can control what you consume.
Consumption is an interesting concept with a multitude of meanings. Of course, there is physical consumption – the foods you eat, the beverages you drink, and the other substances you may or may not ingest. Most of these have a small, but ultimately cumulative impact on our physical well-being. It’s important to choose them wisely; by doing so, you will mitigate the damage that bad habits can cause down the line.
That’s only part of the consumption equation, though. We also consume content, thoughts, and perspectives that shape how we view the world and our place in it. While the things our bodies consume will have a long-term effect – positive or negative – on our physical health, the ideas we allow our minds to consume will ultimately impact our mental health, and the ability to make productive decisions that drive our creative progress.
You can control your approach to time management.
We’ve touched on time management a lot here in recent months, and that’s because it’s an incredibly important factor in our success. Of course, we’ve discussed this in the context of binging too much TV versus putting in the work toward your creative goals. However, it also applies to how we deal with setbacks.
Do you spend time dwelling on what didn’t go as planned, or what could have happened if only you had done something differently? Or, do you take the feedback and direct that energy toward finding a solution? What we do with our time in the face of adversity can make all the difference to ensure better results lie ahead.,
You can control which knowledge, skills, and attributes you develop.
There is always another level up from where you are, and recognizing the holes in your game takes a degree of humility and maturity. Once you do, you get to decide what to do about them. A few questions to consider in this process:
- In which areas would you like to improve first?
- Why are those areas important?
- What resources, if any, would you need to develop in these areas?
You can control your creative decisions.
Your artistic journey is your artistic journey. The benefit you have as an independent musician – especially at the beginning of your creative journey – is that there are no gatekeepers. You call the shots, as far as what you want to create, the messages you want to spread into the world, and the methods you employ to connect those messages to your intended audience.
Moreover, the digital age has made it easier than ever to find and engage that audience, as well as the fellow artists, individuals, and organizations who may become friends and collaborators.
But… speaking of friends and collaborators, it’s important to make sure you do some vetting, to make sure those folks mesh well with what makes you, you. In other words…
You can control who enters (and stays) within your circle.
PROTECT YOUR ENERGY, Y’ALL! You certainly cannot control other people’s thoughts, beliefs, actions, or behaviors – and I’m not about to suggest that you try. However, you can control how much (or how little) access certain individuals have to your life and creative journey.
Do your people lift you up, or do they drag you down? Do they help you to uncover solutions when problems arise, or do they stay focused on – or even obsessive about – the problem? Do they believe in and encourage your dreams, or are they there to inject pessimism disguised as realism into the conversation.
Are your collaborators easy to work with, or does every new idea and project feel like a challenge?
When in doubt, refer to this absolutely killer quote from Mel Robbins on an episode of Lewis Howes’ The School of Greatness podcast:
“Is somebody bringing positive, additive energy, or is somebody a gigantic distraction that amplifies your insecurity?”-Mel Robbins
Once you have your answer, adjust accordingly. And, if you’re looking to build yourself a supportive community of like-minded individuals, you can do that here on Muze. Sign up today!
You can control your response to criticism.
In lockstep with the previous point: sooner or later, you will encounter “distracting” energy on your creative journey in the form of non-constructive criticism. It might come from people you know, or it might simply come from trolls on the internet. In any case, you have a choice in how you respond.
Realize that feeding the trolls (i.e.; responding) takes time and energy away from other, more important matters — like working on your craft, building positive relationships, or literally anything else. You are in control of whether you respond at all.
If you feel as though you must respond, you have a choice in how you do that, as well. Combating negativity with more of the same will only stoke the flames higher. Responding with class, professionalism, and respect — in other words, taking the high road — is always the way to go.
Like our list? Is there anything you would add? Let us know in the comments!