Giving up the day job, yeah!(?)

One of my followers asked me recently if I have any wisdom to pass along about giving up full-time work as a ‘wage slave’ so they would have more time to pursue their passion. A rosy future writing music for a living is the dream, huh?

Simplify your life.
We live in a climate of instant gratification and lustful consumerism. We have too much stuff. We need to downsize, organize, clear out, sort. Find simple (and cheap) ways to entertain, to play. Get rid of the junk, tidy the closets, set-up your office/studio. A great resource for this is David Allen’s “Getting Things Done”. Also look at where you live, how much you are paying in rent/mortgage, and assess whether you could live more simply and cheaply elsewhere.

Get serious about your finances.
-pay off your debts: One of the biggest mistakes I made in my journey from full-time to part-time to fully self-employed was… I didn’t pay off my debts first. Don’t even think of resigning your job until you’ve paid off (and cut up) all your credit cards, paid back any family members, sorted out that bank loan, etc. If you have more than one credit card, save the one with the lowest interest rate, only use it for travel or business expenses, and pay it off monthly.

-set up and maintain a monthly budget: you need to set yourself up to win. That means getting control of your spending, paying off debts, and saving for business trips, music conferences, new instruments, repairs, vacations, etc. As a self-employed person you are not going to be getting a bi-weekly paycheque. If you don’t know how to manage your cash flow effectively, you’re going to run into trouble, fast.

-don’t forget insurance. You’ll need home insurance, business insurance (if folks are coming to your studio), can you access some sort of health insurance. You might also think of life insurance and/or crisis insurance. Who will pay your bills if you get ill and can’t work for any length of time? You get no sick pay or holiday pay as a self-employed person.

-save. Include savings as part of your budget, not just for yearly expenses like vacation or attending a music conference, but, they say, we all need to have a minimum of 3 months wages in the bank to support us should something go wrong. Put this in a separate account that you don’t touch.

-think about what you need to support your business. Business cards? Computer? Recording equipment? External back-up? Get yourself set-up with the basics before you lose the paycheque. Remember to keep it simple, though.

Plan your transition.
Unless you have another sources of income that can sustain you, my best suggestion is to move slowly from full-time to half-time to part-time to occasional contract work. I went from 40 hours to 20 hours, then dropped to about 12 hours a week, over the course of 6 years. The part-time jobs paid my rent while I grew my studio.

Get educated.
You’ll be running a business. It’s not a corporation, but you will need to keep your books, file your taxes, market yourself effectively. Write yourself up a business plan with goals, read the books, attend the classes – whatever you need to do to get yourself ready to manage your studio.

Flex your marketing gene.
Sign up for the newsletters put out by folks like Ariel Hyatt & Bob Baker. Figure out who you are, what your niche market is, how you are going to attract clients.

Grow your network.
This is part of marketing, I suppose, but for me it’s more about community, about having a ‘tribe’. I enjoy meeting and connecting with other creative people on the same path. We share intel, we commiserate about things that don’t go well, and celebrate each other’s successes.

Get real.
Don’t assume that not working a ‘day job’ is going to be easy. You are going to have to be chief cook and bottlewasher. You are going to have to organize your own schedule, manage your own time, plan your financial life around intermittent income, buy the groceries, cook the food, clean the place, get the business cards, answer the emails. You will be head composer and CEO of housekeeping and general dogsbody. You will have days with little do followed by til-three-in-the-morning franticness.

You will go from working 40 hours a week with a steady paycheque for someone else, to working 24 hours a day, seven days a week, for an income that ebbs & flows, and for the most disorganized, irritating but talented boss you’ve ever had: you.

Going beyond the safety barrier

Positivity. Do you get 'more' if you are ‘up’ and 'less' if you are 'down'? Dunno. I think so. I think when we are down, when we are negative, we send out vibes that are closed, dark, dreary. Yet, at the same time, I think it’s natural that there is an ebb and flow of light and dark in our lives. It’s all about balance, I think. Finding things to be grateful for. Feeling that we have a purpose in what we do or who we are. At least that’s how I feel as an artist/teacher/composer/human.

If what I do or say or share is the catalyst for someone else’s hope or inspiration, then my purpose is fulfilled in that moment. If I can witness to the process of someone else’s journey, then my purpose is fulfilled in that moment. As I watch my students struggle with their doubts and programming, I see myself reflected in them. And that has been one of the greatest foundations to my healing from shyness. As I began to work with my first students, I began to see that I was not alone. That I was not an alien. That a great many people struggle with self-esteem and stage fright. That many people have had their voices silenced in profound ways.

One gentleman, when 7 or 8, was singing with his class in school. In front of everyone, the teacher told him that he couldn’t sing and he should just mouth the words. Shamed in front of his peers, snickered at, sitting on the sidelines while everyone else participated in music… he grew up to be someone who could not even sing happy birthday in a group of friends, or sing a hymn at church. And he is not alone. At seven years old, when the brain is still developing and vocal chords are not fully developed, some of my students were told they should not and could not sing.

Others experience silencing without direct application to singing. Perhaps they were consistently criticized at home. They were told that they were flawed. They were told, if they couldn’t be perfect at something, they should not attempt it. They were not allowed to start and grow through a process of learning. Adult competency was expected of inaccurate, growing, innocent children.

I don’t know where this harsh view of others came from, really. But we integrate all these messages and repeat them to ourselves on a daily basis. Who am I kidding, I can’t learn to do this, I am too old, etc etc. Dr Wayne Dyer [ ] has a new book out, called ‘Excuses Begone’ where he talks about this issue. Julia Cameron, in “The Artist’s Way” talks about identifying the ‘blurts’ we tell ourselves, and turning them around.

All I know is… if you stick to it, if you are willing to keep going even when everything in you screams that you are useless, it’s hopeless, you’re too old, etc etc etc… then you will come out the other side. You will rise above your programming. You will become the architect of your own life. You will learn to sing on key. You will write that book, that album, take that trip.

It will only be one step on a journey of thousands of steps. But every step forward you take, shines a light for others. Gives hope to those struggling with the same things. Your positive forward motion creates a path for others to follow. Even if you never know you’ve been one of the catalysts for their evolution. And perhaps that is your purpose. To grow beyond what is safe and what is known. To challenge and explore your own ‘final frontier’. And find there is more in you and of you than you ever dreamed could be possible.

Dealing with rejection

I have a very good songwriting friend from the States. Whenever he’s angry because one of his tracks was turned down… I sympathize with him. Of course. As he sympathizes with me. We all know how it feels. But sometimes I’ll remind him that, in the grand scheme of things, having a track rejected isn’t the end of the world. I’ll remind him of his wife and kids, of what he has that’s good, the things that really matter.

Not that our creations aren’t important. But one rejection really doesn’t add up to a tragedy. It’s one blimp on the road to getting better, or submitting more effectively, or understanding what it is that we are pitching ('that sounds more country than rock'). It’s one more hearing from someone with a discerning ear who felt it wasn’t a fit in some way.

Hard to take, but part of the reality of life. We send out resumes, we never get a call. We go for an interview, they don’t call us back. We audition the very best we can, we don’t get the part. We enter our visual art in a juried show and we don’t make it. We send our query letters to magazines and get rejection letters. We submit our book proposals and manuscripts, and wait for the letter that says we’ve been turned down.

No one said it would be easy to be an artist, eh? The key is, I think, to separate your ‘product’ from yourself. If your work needs work, then it needs work. That doesn’t take any value away from the Self. It just means your art is, at present, or in this instance, not what was required. Perhaps another gatekeeper will feel a different way. Perhaps you need to target a different market. Perhaps you have something you need to learn.

The problem comes when we take all those rejections and put them in a pile. We keep building up our resentment, we keep fanning the flames of our anger. We feel hard done by. We get bitter. Our reaction to one rejection is then accompanied by all the baggage. Our negative attitude shuts us down, or shuts us out. We stop being willing to listen or to admit that we might need to move on from where we are. Not that it isn’t hard, when we have years of experience, to feel that our work isn’t being given the recognition we would wish.

Really, we are all on a journey. Not one of us, even if we have gold records or published books or signed deals or pictures that have sold – not one of us has “arrived”. We are simply one step further down the path of artistry and human development. Our art reflects our current stage of evolution. In that respect, it has to be done for art’s sake first.

I don’t write to make money. I write to express. I write to illustrate a story with sound or with words, or both. I write to communicate something within me to others, hoping they might understand my language. Even when I am specifically writing for a particular opportunity that has guidelines and ‘something that sounds like blank’ – I’m always interpreting that as Vikki Flawith. I submit what I have created, and, in a way, it’s saying, to whoever listens to it, ‘here’s where I am right now’.

I’m trusting that if I listen to what I’m being told, if I’m willing to learn, if I acquire new skills, if I am constantly practicing, then every piece of music I create is founded upon the past experiences I have built to support it. Every performance I sing has a foundation in past practice, rehearsal and lessons. Therefore, the track I create today should be superior to the track I created 6 months ago. If it isn’t, I haven’t been moving forward.

If we work, day by day, with deliberation, then success is knowing that we are better today than we were yesterday. If we continue to work in this way, I believe that recognition, and money, will come to us.

Perhaps not the way we have envisioned though. Perhaps we won’t have a hit song recorded by a major artist. But perhaps we will have credits on local artists’ CDs. Perhaps we won’t have a song in a major movie, but we will have underscore in an indie film. There are a myriad of ways the universe can lead us if we are willing to be open.

I never expected, it never occurred to me, I never even dreamed that I would one day be teaching shy singers how to find their voice, and I certainly never dreamed that I would be composing music for film/tv, or gigging regularly at local restaurants. Or writing & producing my own CD. I just followed the path… wanting to be in the music… and here I am, doing my thing. So, yeah, I get tracks turned down. I get songs rejected. I audition and don’t make the cut. But it is all grist for the mill.

“The essence of life is finding something you really love and then making the daily experience worthwhile.” - Denis Waitley

Life isn't 'over there' or 'after this'

"Don't ask yourself what the world needs, ask yourself what makes you come alive. And then go and do that. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive." - Howard Washington Thurman

For some reason this reminds me of an episode of Star Trek the Next Generation. The Enterprise finds an alien and gives them assistance because the alien’s ship is in trouble. They begin a relationship with this new friend. Then a battle ship shows up, demanding the return of the alien. Apparently there’s a huge taboo being broken. The society has made it a rule that no member can search for or attain a new level of being. But the Enterprise gives the alien sanctuary, and watches as the alien evolves from physical being into a beautiful shimmering light. Not dangerous, not blasphemous, but a natural function of growth and emancipation. All the energy that society put into fighting against this change had been wasted.

And so, it seems, it is with us. I wonder what it is within me that resists the light, resists the aliveness that comes from doing the thing that makes me feel that I vibrate with life. What is the weight inside that pulls me down, feeds me negative thoughts, distracts me from my purpose, encourages procrastination. It feels dark. It feels dark and heavy and despondent. It feels nagging and contrary. It feels trapped, airless, devoid of movement.

I think it’s there for me to struggle against. I think it’s there for me to recognize. I think it’s there for me to look at and resist so that I grow into the light.

The strange thing is, when you do the thing that makes you feel alive, that darkness is held at bay. When you are actively engaged in playing an instrument, singing a song, painting a picture, writing your novel, composing music, devising a recipe, reorganizing your house, decorating your living room, planting your garden, penning a poem, learning your lines, filming your short, taking photographs, designing a house…. you are in the light.

My students feel this. It takes time to understand. It takes time to really get it. But when everything is working right, when one is singing freely, easily, on pitch and totally present with the voice… it feels light and easy. It feels like nothing. But it’s everything. It’s you, in the moment, alive and vibrating with your own beautiful sound. It’s stunning.

We need these moments in our lives, daily if we can. Because we are not meant to live in the dark. Because we need to do the things that make us feel life is worthwhile. And the consciousness that is willing to do the work to find this place is the catalyst for change, both within and without.

Life isn't 'over there' or 'after this' or 'when I get that'. It's shimmering in the moment as we do the thing that makes us feel beautifully alive.

[Recommended reading: “The New Earth” by Eckhart Tolle]