Passion, Not Talent, Is The True Gift

Have you ever watched a musical prodigy on YouTube and concluded that bug-catching, rather than music, was your true calling after all? Yeah, me too.  I mean, I’ve got tee shirts that are older than some of these little ones.  Where does this otherworldly skill come from?

In my early days as a player, I remember feeling utterly discouraged. After all, in spite of their ages, these  musical wonders play at an  expert level.  In my jealousy, I cast around for reasons to explain their exceptional skill. They must have musical parents, I groused to myself. It’s their environment. They’ve gotten more encouragement than the rest of us.  They get excellent instruction.

I don’t know. Maybe it’s a combination of all of the above. Maybe, as so many through the ages have believed, these unique youngsters have been touched by a divine force.  Because the questions seem so utterly unanswerable, my thoughts turned to something that I believe all of us share.  And thankfully, it doesn’t matter if you’re a three year-old golf champ, a ten year-old gourmet chef, or a sixty year-old student drummer.  We all have this miraculous life force.


I guess right about now I should be inserting links to some of the research I’ve found, but I’m not going to do that. What I’m writing here is purely subjective, my opinion only.  It’s a view I’ve developed after  being humbled by prodigies, talking to fellow musicians, and reading everything I can on talent and learning.

It’s a cyclical thing, talent.  It seems that if you love or have a keen interest in something, you’ll engage in it every chance you get. The practice, in turn, builds skill. As your ability improves, your skill might draw attention from others. Any compliments you get encourage you to keep on going, which in turn, continues to ferment your talent even further.

But it’s a bit like considering the chicken and the egg: which comes first-passion or talent?  Are we attracted to things that we do well, or does a fire ignite that causes us to chase that dream, regardless of whether that skill comes naturally?

My heart tells me that passion comes first. Passion will see you through all manner of hardships. If you love something enough, it won’t matter if it doesn’t come naturally. You’ll do it anyway. And the more you try, the longer you stay in the game, the more likely your skills will improve.

I will never reach the heights of a child prodigy. I don’t have a bright drumming future in front of me.  But I keep playing.  I’m not “gifted,” but if I have anything in my favor, it’s that I just keep chasing. Maybe that’s enough.

Please share your thoughts and comments.








The Moon Was Once My Friend

My body was trying to give me a hint of what was to come. I guess I just wasn’t listening, or  wanted to deny it. First it was the extra girth. Then came the bursts of body heat so intense I swear I could feel flames coming through my skin.

But try as I might, I couldn’t ignore the fickleness and then total absence of my lunar friend. Since the age of eleven, she was a faithful, though very reckless visitor.  Every month, like the rising of the tides, she came bounding into my life.

When I was very young, she turned me into a raging banshee. But once I hit middle age, something beautiful happened. She became my pitchfork in the back, my wonderful instigator. She was the friend who comes over, grabs the book out of your hand, and takes you out to watch the most exquisite sunset you could possibly hope to see.

Everything became heightened. My senses became keener. My emotions changed from gentle pastels to brilliant bits of red, orange and blue glass. All bright, brazen and stiletto-sharp.

I listened to music endlessly. From the music came the stories, the characters so real that I could see them in my mind’s eye, so close I could almost touch them. That’s when I wrote. And played. And wrote much more.

At first I thought I was imagining this, but I began to see a pattern. I truly believe that my creativity heightened during the period leading up to my friend’s visit.

Is it really true? Is creativity enhanced, or even sparked, by a woman’s menstrual cycle?

Well, turns out I’m picking up on this about 2,000 years after the fact.

In her piece for Broadly, writer Gabby Bess chronicled an interesting project. Sculptor Lara Mossler took her own 28-day challenge. Using her own style of meditation to harness the power of her hormones, Mossler created art each day during her cycle and noted the changes in what she created.

Mossler  said she was inspired by research on cultures and societies where, since time itself, menstruating women separated themselves from the community and went off to create.

Many  female artists find that the period before ovulation helps them to produce their best work.

But what about those of us who are no longer graced by our lunar friends? It’s really strange-what I once dreaded I now miss. Terribly.

Now, it’s all about night sweats, feeling frumpy and grumpy, fatigued. But I’ll be really honest, it’s the loss of creativity that hurts the most. Or maybe it’s the loss of words. With the moods and colors came the words. The words still come, but are harder to pick out of the air. They’re just flying by, and I’m missing them. And I’m not feeling them.

Wait. I’m not giving up yet. There’s hope.

In her article in High 50, Celia Dodd makes the case for a fabulous phenomenon known as “Post-Menopausal Zest,” or PMZ. Unlike its evil step-sister, PMS, it doesn’t feature the crazy emotional swings. Depression reportedly decreases significantly.  And as estrogen levels drop and testosterone increases, so do drive, motivation, sexual energy and,well, zest.

Most encouraging was Dodd’s mention of a British Psychological Society study, which found that memory and overall cognitive function improved once the symptoms of menopause disappeared. Many of the women reported that, overall, they felt better at 60 than they ever did at 40.

But what about those moods? What about those intense highs and lows? What will I harness now? The words? The music?

I’m writing almost every day, so the quantity of my output has increased. But what about the quality?

I’ve no idea, but the words of the Menopause Goddess Blog give me a glint of light in the darkness. Maybe this is a new iteration of my creativity.

My favorite part of her article is her mention of how, at our stage of life, many women just don’t give a damn what anyone thinks. We chase our creative imps anyway. Just for the hell of it. Because we’re driven to do it. Yes.

I’m going to leave this with a little prayer and a hopeful question, once posed by the poet Mary Oliver : ” Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”





“If You Like Sex, Don’t Be A Hooker”: Don’t Turn Your Passion Into Work

Motivational speaker and author, Barbara Sher, uttered this memorable line at one of her seminars in 2010.  If you love something, she said, don’t feel you have to make it into a career in order to legitimize it.  It doesn’t need to make you money in order for it to be a true passion.  The secret to finding this balance, she says, is to find work that’s “good enough”, that won’t sap your energy and allows you to pursue your bliss at least part of the time.

Cal Newport agrees that turning your passion into work isn’t a good idea. Allison Jones of Idealist Careers cites his 99U Vimeo talk in her article. Jones stresses the need for developing marketable skills that center around your area of interest. Newton argues that it’s the development of those skill that can ignite passion, and not the other way around. Newport asks a crucial question: What skills are you willing to work hard to develop?

I was once asked a very pointed question: if you had to play music you hated with people you didn’t care for, would music still be a passion, or would it become work?    Excellent point. In the fullness of time, everything becomes a “job.” But is that a bad thing? Maybe it isn’t, if you’re willing to take the rough with the smooth. This was discussed in a recent post by fellow blogger Cristian Mahai.

I could go on about this, but I’d rather hear from readers out there. Have you tried to make your passion into a profession? If so, what were the results? Do you agree with Cal Newton and Barbara Sher?  Please feel free to post below.






The Dark Side of Passion-My Love Affair (With Music)

Sheesh! What a title. It sounds like the name of a lousy romance novel. Don’t worry. It’s not. It is a love story, though, and like lots of those dime store novels, it has a happy ending. But the road to that ending was anything but smooth.

I was a child when Cupid’s bow did its number on me. To this day, I can’t explain what it was that attracted me to the drums.  I’d played other instruments. Dabbling in them was like palling around with the boys, joining them in their kickball games. We were just buddies. But drums were different. They were the most popular boy in the class, the one with the longest hair and the coolest jeans (this was the seventies, after all). They were the object of desire but felt unattainable. I have distinct memories of sitting on the floor, gazing google-eyed at the drum kits in the Sears catalog. But somehow, I sensed that it wasn’t my time.  Not yet.  Someday. Maybe.

It wasn’t until middle age, when I truly began drumming, that I felt free enough to sing my love openly. I’d shyly but eagerly give impromptu performances for select family members, always choosing those who I felt would be most supportive.  I wore drum tee shirts. I proudly carried a tuning key in my purse (because you just never know when a drummer will run up to you in the middle of the street, needing help with tuning his drums).  And when I began to gig and needed to buy gear, I did my best to contain my utter joy when people at Guitar Center asked if I was in a band. I responded ever-so nonchalantly, but what I really wanted to do was scream: yes, I am! I’m a drummer!

It got hot and heavy really fast.  I didn’t take things slowly, the way I should’ve. I started entertaining the idea of taking my drumming far more seriously than I ever imagined. I began investigating the possibility of returning to school for a second Bachelors in Music Performance or Music Education. I toyed with the idea of changing my work schedule in order to allow me to study and practice for several hours per day. At one point, I fantasized about quitting work and briefly living off of savings.  And instead of enjoying the gigs that came my way,  I began to see them as mere stepping-stones to those higher-profile corporate or casino gigs, the ones offered to highly-skilled players or professionals. I read articles and books about establishing and meeting goals, and how to experience success in the music business. Taking my cue from them, I scheduled my practices down to the detail. I was to follow this schedule and if I didn’t, I would castigate myself. The little voice inside told me that hey, maybe I didn’t have what it took to realize my dream of being a top-notch player.  Ironically, all of this effort, this meticulous preparation, made me feel even further from my hopes.  The psychological  pressure I placed on myself was immense.

And it sure took its toll.  Drums and I sometimes had a falling out, to the point where I backed off of playing. I wouldn’t touch the kit for days or even weeks at a time.  Band politics, late-night gigs at empty bars or halls, performing the same music over and over, playing to people who were drunk, or turned their backs to the band in order to watch TV, getting stiffed by venue owners. The darker side of being a working musician came crashing down.  I didn’t expect it to be all roses at the door. Not at all. But I did have some preconceived notions of how it would all feel inside of me, and these ideas had absolutely no basis in reality whatsoever.  Maybe it’s no surprise, then, that my love object turned into an anchor.  I didn’t hate him-I could never do that. Let’s say that, when he called, I let the phone ring.

Drums and I were locked into a deep groove, but it was pulling us apart.  In order to keep the romance alive, I had to realize that it was okay not to have the passion machine running at a burning “ten” all of the time. There will  be push and pull, ebb and flow. Intense love can lighten to a more breezy “like”; it can easily devolve into indifference and even further afield. But it all swings back.  With no passion lost. None at all.  It’s okay sometimes to sit at the drums without any enthusiasm. It’s alright to be setting up at a gig and wish I was at home watching Netflix.  It’s understandable to be sick of those exercises that leave me feeling like the Energizer Bunny.  And I don’t have to sit and plot my next step up the musical food chain.  I’ll just play anyway. I’ll form the habit. I’ll show up. I’m no less a musician than I was before.

I do my best to practice gratefulness. Instead of looking at gigs and seeing them as a gateway to greater things, I try to remind myself to be happy in the moment, and feel privileged to play. I still long to play different venues. I hope it’s for the right reasons, not for the sake of doing them because they’re so highly-prized and pay more.  I truly am lucky to be doing this at all, in any capacity.

So, really, I can’t say that my affair with drumming has ended. Rather,  it feels like it’s matured and mellowed into a deep, loving bond that’s real and permanent.  There’s no more of the crazy, windswept “highs”, and best of all,  no more of that questioning as to whether or not I give it the love it needs. I do. I’ve granted myself permission to call it my “passion.” I just don’t need to prove it anymore. I don’t have to validate it by turning it into a career. But it’s not a “hobby.”  It’s part of who I am.  And that’s enough.

In honor of Valentine’s Day, I’ll take another look at passion in the next post.

Please feel free to leave comments below. I’d love to hear about what you’re passionate about.








See It, Then “Be” It: The Power of Visualization

I’m going to be a lot kinder to myself from now on. For a long time, I’ve lamented the fact that I haven’t practiced my drums every day.  How on earth did I think I was going to improve? Well, I’m finished beating myself up, because although I never knew it, I’ve been  rehearsing on a daily basis for many, many years. In fact, well before I began drumming.

In my mind’s eye, I see my twelve year-old self sitting in my room. I spent hours there, listening to music and imagining myself playing along. Little did I know, I was actually practicing. So  even though I didn’t own a drum set in those days, I was unknowingly tapping into the power of visualization in order to set in motion a “blueprint” for drumming that was not fully realized until decades later.

This comes as no surprise to world-class athletes and trainers. Since the 1970s, Russian competitors have effectively used visualization to improve athletic performance.  In her 2009 article in Psychology Today, AJ Adams cites studies that have shown that imagining yourself doing an activity is nearly as effective as actually motoring through it. Intense mental practice involves engaging all five senses. Guang Yue, an exercise psychologist, found that those who actually went to the gym to work out experienced a 30% muscle increase. Surprisingly, those who performed virtual practice also improved-nearly half the amount of muscle increase as those who actually exercised.

Why does it work?  Visualization engages mental processes that are crucial to successfully completing an activity. These include motor control, attention, perception, planning and memory.  You might be sitting in your favorite recliner or driving in the car, but your brain is training itself to perform the activity.

As it turns out, however, simple visualization may not be enough. According to Srinvasan Pillay, seeing yourself in the “first person”  is a very important part of the process; breaking the task into smaller bits of information will further enhance the experience. If I want to learn that soul-stirring drum break, then, it’s not enough to  just “watch” myself playing it, as if I were viewing myself in a movie. I  have to be in the moment. I need to see the drum kit in front of me, and listen to the song while “feeling” my arms and legs go through the movements.

It’s tempting at this point to pat myself on the back. After all, if ten thousand hours of practice makes one a “master”, haven’t all of those years spent in rapture in front of the stereo brought me  that much closer?

Well, not really.  Researchers remind us that while visualization alone is incredibly useful, it becomes a potent force when paired with real-world physical practice.

When has visualization worked for you? Please leave some comments and thoughts below.



“Embrace the Suck” and Celebrate Your Screw-Ups

Miles Davis famously said that there is no such thing as wrong notes. Well, if Mr. Davis genuinely believed that, then he missed his true calling in life.  He should’ve been a teacher  or a motivational speaker instead of one of the most celebrated musicians of the 20th century. Heaven knows, we as a society could’ve really used his fresh approach to making mistakes.

“Embrace the suck.”  Online drum educator Mike Johnston hands out bracelets emblazoned with this motto to his students. Members of the Mandarins Drum and Bugle Corps live by this creed.  It assures them that it’s alright and even expected to sound lousy when learning something new. Mistakes are acknowledged and analyzed. If these drummers can accept and even welcome mistakes, why can’t the rest of us?

A quick review of articles on mistake-making reveal a plethora of reasons. Perfectionism. The belief and fear of looking incompetent, amidst a society that demands high performance in nearly all areas of life. And something author Alina Tugend refers to as “hindsight bias.”  This phenomenon was discussed in Margarita Tartikovsky’s review of Tugend’s book, “Better by Mistake: the Unexpected Benefits of Being Wrong”. Once we mess up, it’s a lot easier to see where we went wrong than it is when we’re in the thick of a situation.  This hindsight tends to turn the incident into a “no duh” moment. We forget to show compassion toward ourselves and fail to realize that, in some cases, the mistake was unavoidable.

Well, where does this leave us fearful perfectionists who are terrified of letting our guard down?  Psychology professor Martin Antony and his co-author, Richard Swinson, have a solution.  We don’t fear mistakes, but rather what we believe about them; it’s these beliefs that fuel our anxiety and fears. It’s best, then, to confront the erroneous beliefs head on.

Antony and Swinson recommend “practicing” the act of screwing up. That is, make small mistakes that have only mild consequences, rather then avoiding them. Identify those negative beliefs about mistakes and substitute them with alternative thoughts and beliefs.

Teacher Diane Hanel uses what she calls the “experiential learning cycle”.  Once you make a mistake, use hindsight to answer these three questions:  what happened, what was the result/what did it mean to you, and how will you do things differently based on this outcome? These three very simple questions can help analyze the situation without embarrassment, shame or other emotional baggage.

So let’s all embrace the suck, show our humanity by  screwing up badly sometimes. Let’s make errors and then forgive ourselves. Learn. Grow.




Practicing Practice, or Creating New Habits

Please wish me luck. I’m about to perhaps foolishly drop a great deal of money on an online drumming course that promises to improve your technique in 26 weeks-which translates into six months.  This isn’t an impulse. I’ve given it a great deal of thought, and although I’m not a fan of online lessons, I think this program is exactly what I need.

Each Monday, I’ll receive a new video lesson that touches on some aspect of technique, along with direct instruction of what and how to practice, and how to know when that skill is accomplished. Very specific, with nothing left to question. I won’t be casting around wondering which book or exercises to use. According to the company who created this system, if I follow the directions and put in at least twenty minutes each day, I will see results.

I  don’t believe for one moment that it’ll give me great hands or nimble feet by the time the summer breezes come wafting through the window.  What it will do, however, is establish something that has eluded me for a long time: the drumming “habit.”

If I’ve learned something over these past few years, it’s that I need to practice practicing. That is, I need to incorporate drumming into my everyday routine and make it a part of daily life.  I wish I could say why I haven’t. Am I just a late-blooming, lazy drummer who lacks motivation?  Some things in life really are that black and white. But I’ve reached a point where the reasons don’t matter. They become excuses. The only definite cause I can point to is that I haven’t yet molded the practice of drumming and music into a “good” habit.

Will six months be enough time to establish this new habit? According to some studies, twenty-one days is all you need in order to form and habituate a new behavior.  Others calculate the time to be around two months, or sixty-six days.

Psychologists like Ian Newby-Clark, however, are reluctant to give us a number. In his 2009 Psychology Today article, he noted that the time it takes to create new habits will vary, based on a number of factors. “Tweaking” behaviors, rather than starting from scratch with brand new ones, will make for easier change. Most crucial, perhaps, is the concept of “payoff.” If a habit is instantly rewarding and automatic, it will be harder to extinguish and replace.

Hmmm. I had to think about that one. Have I been rewarded for not practicing daily? In the logical sense, no. While I can still go out and play with bands in public, I can say with definition that my lack of a daily drumming practice has kept me from realizing my full potential as a musician. I still can’t play jazz with any credibility. I watch drummers execute very interesting and complex grooves and fills and still haven’t reached the level of being able to do them. My hands and feet still get tangled up.  My drumming speed isn’t where I’d like it to be.

But in a twisted way,  avoiding daily practice has, in itself, been the reward. After all, if I don’t play everyday and challenge myself, I never have to feel the pain of coming up against my inadequacies. Avoidance removed the discomfort of making mistakes, of striving and falling short.  As I’ve learned recently, our brains crave pleasure and try to avoid discomfort. Improvement takes patience, time and courage. It’s not easy. It’s not supposed to be.  So while I hope to further understand more about those complex emotions that hold me back, I’m not going to dwell on them. Not now.  I’m going to start that course. I’ll just take it day by day.

Please wish me luck.

Happy New Year, everyone!


Jealousy: Turning Your “Green-Eyed Monster” into Motivation

I’m going to share with you one of my dark little secrets: I’m a chronically jealous person. Writing this is scary, but liberating. Jealousy is just another color on the rainbow spectrum of complex human emotion, but it’s gotten some mighty bad press. Deservedly so. Let’s be honest. When we’re jealous, we’re hit with the reality that we lack something, and that hurts. If our brains are hard-wired to avoid pain, envy ranks right down there with having a root canal, minus the anesthetic.

Early  in my drumming journey,  I read a wonderful book called “Baby Plays Around”, written by writer Helene Stapinski. It’s a memorable snapshot of  her time spent as the drummer of an up-and-coming indie band in 1990’s New York.  Her story offered me a glimpse into the life of an ordinary working musician. But that’s not all.  It made me insanely jealous.  My green-eyed monster suddenly ramped into overdrive, and was soon followed by its nasty little cousins, discouragement and inadequacy.   Why?

Lucky for me, the answer came quickly. I was envious because I  wanted very badly to join a band and play in front of an audience.  Odd as it sounds, this realization shocked me.   My performing ambitions went as far as drumming for the furniture in my living room. Or so I thought.  Jealousy forced me to dig deeper, and admit to myself that I’d always wanted to gig. I was just too afraid to consider it. The pitfalls were considerable.  What if I made an utter fool of myself?   What if I played so badly the band decided to replace me?

As awful as those emotions were, it was a lot easier to hold onto them than to move forward and take action.  The choice was clear.  Take steps to realize that wish, or continue to feel  unworthy of the  very drumsticks I held in my hand. I’m so very glad I chose the first option.  It was the first move toward a secret but very heartfelt dream I’d harbored for years.

Heaven knows, it’s been tough at times. My shortcomings as a drummer crop up as often as I hit the snare drum, and just as hard.  And the green-eyed monster never disappears, it just takes a rest now and then. Maybe that’s true for most of us.

So, if that ornery little beast can’t be banished,  how can it be tamed  in order to keep us moving forward? Here are some thoughts:

Become a Student who “Steals” from the Best

According to Susan Harrow in her article in Psychology Today, go from jealous “lurker” to earnest learner by looking at the person you envy and identifying those skills or qualities you wish you had. Learn their techniques. Ask questions and take notes. Most importantly, act on what you’ve learned. That can be the hardest to put into motion.  Practice more. Take steps toward starting that new business. Dust off that resume and work toward finding a higher-paying job. Go back to school or attend a seminar.

Pinpoint What You Really Want

In a recent blog post, ” The Tiny Buddha’s” Lori Deschene makes the case for defining specific goals. “Wanting” can be a very tricky thing. It’s easy to assume that those you envy are completely happy with their own lot in life.   Jealousy can be a powerful tool to help us clarify our values, priorities and true desires, and can show us the actual work that goes into reaching them.

I’m reminded of an illuminating conversation with one of my drumming mentors, Jeff Olson. Jeff has played with the likes of jazz great David Benoit and ex-Monkee Peter Tork.  He shared with me how he once envied the life of another well-known drummer.  “But,” he said,” then I think about how this guy got divorced several times and is constantly on the road. I wouldn’t want to be away that much. I’d rather be at home more ( with his wife and their beloved pets) than have that kind of career.”

See Yourself as an Object of Envy

This is a good way to take stock of  strengths and positives. Instead of being a serial “envy-er”, realize that there are characteristics and skills in you that others wish they had.


For me, this has been the most powerful way of keeping that little green-eyed creature at bay. Jealousy can become destructive when we believe that our hopes and wishes are unattainable.  Good things don’t happen only to others. If we plan and take baby steps forward, they can come to us as well.

Please feel free to share your thoughts in the comment section below.













The Best-Laid Plans: How Goal Setting Can Keep You From Realizing Your Dreams

As the end of another year approaches, many of us are hit with the reality of  yet more time slipping away. I try to spin this in a more positive light as best I can.  The end of one year can mark the beginning of another-a blank slate on which new possibilities can be written.

The new year is as good a time as any to bring on change. The prevailing wisdom tells us that if we want to lose weight, start that new business, change jobs, or master an art, we need to establish goals and stick with them.  Why, then, do so many of us ditch our efforts soon after we start?

Here’s something that sounded counter-intuitive. After reading it,  though, it made sense and explained why I’ve been my own worst enemy when it came to meeting my drumming goals.

In his 2014 Psychology Today article,  Ray Williams says the failure to meet goals lies not with us, but with the way we’re taught to create them. He outlined the particulars of goals setting: goals should be written down, be very specific, and have timelines and dates for meeting them.  It always feels good to have a “plan”, doesn’t it? It’s a way for us to have clear and tangible steps, the stepping stones that bring us to our desired destination.

Not so, says Williams. Blame it on our brains.  While philosophers and self-help mavens encourage us to embrace the challenge and thrill  of change, our brains are hard-wired to protect us by resisting the new and strange.  We are programmed to seek pleasure and avoid pain.  Altering thought or behavior patterns can be a huge undertaking, one that induces tremendous fear. And fear is pain.  What if we can’t get our weight down in time for the summer? Or meet the holiday sales quotas? Or master that set list in time for that career-defining gig? It’s the fear of failure, says Williams, that causes us to back off and lose our motivation.

So, how do we cajole our stubborn, fearful psyches to keep moving forward? Take little bites of the elephant, says Julliard-trained psychologist Noa Kageyama. Before my fellow vegetarians get too upset, I’ll explain.

In a recent blog post on his website, The Bullet-Proof Musician, Dr. Kageyama suggests that we divide large tasks into small bits. Fellow psychologist Karl Weick agrees. The “small wins” we attain when reaching goals that are well within our means can spur us on and keep us on the path.

Laying down those easy-to-reach markers can seem an overwhelming task. Dr. Kageyama discusses the merits of working backwards. Start from the desired achievement and work back to the steps needed to reach it. He cited a study where students were asked to create a study plan for an upcoming exam. Possible tasks that they would undertake included things like reviewing lecture notes, memorizing terms and reading specific chapters.  They were divided into two groups: those who “forward-planned” and started setting goals from the present to the future( the day of the exam), and those who used the “backward-planning” strategy; they began from the last task they’d attempt  just before the test and worked backwards to the first task.  Results showed that those who planned backwards were more motivated to attempt their goals and tended to follow through to reach them.

When forward-planning, it can feel like there are a billion possible first steps to take.  Backward planning, it seems, helps you to not only set up a clear-cut final goal, but adds clarity to the steps needed to reach it.

What goals do you hope to reach this new year? What do you think of goal-setting as a practice? Feel free to comment below.  And many blessings to you and yours for the coming new year.






The Art of Being “Bad-ass”

There are some people you’re meant to meet.  Out of nowhere, you run into them. Or, as in my case, your nosey side gets the better of you and you overhear things. Their words carve into you like a stonemason’s  tool, and help shape you into what you are and hope to be.  I’m glad I have big ears, because I got to hear Chad talk a little about his life.

Before meeting him last year at one of the local music jams that he runs, he was a complete mystery. Like me, he’s middle-aged.  Judging by the song list the house band played, it was clear that music to him is an ocean, rather than a narrow, meandering brook.  He’s another local, gigging musician . Or is he?

Chad is more than that. In that timeless seventies parlance that we grew up with, he’s bad-ass. Period.  A few years ago, he decided to devote himself to music full-time. His courage and determination are part of the reason I created this blog.  I wanted this post to be a Q&A-style interview with him, but after reading one of his recent emails, I said “forget it, I already have my interview.” Because in a few short sentences, he describes exactly what it takes to be a bad-ass, to live your passion and make it work. In utterly uncompromising fashion, he gets down and speaks his truth.

Here are Chad’s Rules for Making Your Dreams a Reality:

  1. Pruning—as with dead leaves and branches from a tree, it’s wise to let go of things that might tie us down and keep us from reaching up.  ” I’ve learned as I swim and wander through this remarkable thing called life that so much of what I thought was soooo damn important, doesn’t matter much to me anymore…I have learned/am learning to sluff it off as I go.” This includes “relationships that don’t grow or seem to work, as that is the greatest burden of all, and the most difficult to let go.”

2. Discipline— I can vouch for Chad’s work ethic. Just days after an operation, he was back in action at the jam, and although people often offer to buy him drinks, he doesn’t touch a drop. He provides the PA and comes early to set up and make sure everything is in working order. In all the time I’ve been a jam participant, he has never missed a Saturday or Sunday.   Chad also runs his own online business ,The Little Shop of Fantasy and Horror, a nod to his love of the  genre. Any business owner who reads this can appreciate far more than I the work that goes into creating and running a viable business.

3.  Love/Grit/Determination–they seem  inseparable.  Like many musicians, Chad is in love with music and is completely devoted to it as one would be another human being. He lives simply now, in an apartment along with his cat, surrounded by hundreds of books on art, film and music.  It’s this love of playing  that drives him.  When one of his mic stands went missing, he talked about how he never replaced it. He couldn’t. A good chunk of his earnings came right out of pocket to buy an abdominal brace, something he absolutely needed in order to continue singing at the gigs. He performs when he’s sick or in pain, lest the venue decide to replace him. And in this town, there are bands standing in line waiting to do so. An “impregnable deflection shield” is crucial for survival, even when making music at the local level. Chad didn’t elaborate or give examples from his own experience, but given that this is the music business, the reader is invited to fill in the blanks. I can say this from experience ( and thank you for reminding me, Mark). Sometimes you play to an empty house. Sometimes people talk over your music. You put in countless hours  learning the tunes, and then preparing, arranging and working out the song list so that your audience will stay interested. Maybe, if you’re lucky, they’ll like you and want to come back to see you again.  A larger audience correlates to more food and drinks sold. If you can’t draw a crowd, you’re out of a job.

As Chad so eloquently puts it: “believe me, there is sacrifice. The music gods demand sacrifice, and they will pull your world inside out and upside down, and twist you every which way to make sure you’re not gonna break. It’s a bitch and you better really, really love it, and love a different kind of reward that only the truly passionate can understand. Or the truly insane, perhaps. Because otherwise, you will run (or crawl) screaming into the embrace of the first safety net you come across, and that will be the end of it. ”

Everyone should meet a bad-ass at least once in their lives.