Steven Blanton ~ Leaderocity

Read my blog on Leadership / Small Groups / Life @Leaderocity


Begin with a Backup/Ten Ways to Backup Your Life

On the last day of the year, that’d be New Years Eve, I experienced what some might call a “catastrophic failure” of a main hard drive. The description of catastrophic is such a mild term in light of the fact that my life flashed before my eyes. My unbridled shriek of pure terror still resonates around my sonically treated listening room. This wasn’t just any hard drive crash. It was the main hard drive of my studio computer which was residence to 320 Gigs of all manner of creative data. It included multi-track music, images, Photoshop and Dreamweaver CS4 edits, video and the adjacent edits, and every program that supported all of those with their various updates and freebies. Time is still giving up its secrets of what else I lost in those impinging moments. And this came just hours before I would have packed this computer to travel on an extended writing and editing trip.
It wasn’t the fault of the hard drive. It is or was a great hard drive. Fast and efficient, the HD did what it always did every time I called on it to deliver. But the unforeseen happened and I had not made any provision for the potential of such a ruinous occurrence. I had simply gone along as though there was no chance of failure. Fearing nothing, I had not backed up the data for months. Of course, after the fact I am very sensitive to the need to backup and backup often. It was reckless of me not to have done so all along.
That got me thinking about the creative world most of us live in. We love what we are gifted to do. We want it to be everything we are about. We cannot see ourselves doing anything else but be creative. This is a noble and honorable thing. We should do all we can to lean into our gifting and rise to its call. I have been writing about that idea for months. But it is often our view that any training or job we engage in must be either a stepping stone for our hope of being full time or it is simply a hindrance to it. In effect, we are saying that jobs and even college don’t really play any part in our quest to do what we see ourselves creatively doing. There is plenty of truth in that statement. But it isn’t the whole truth.
When I meet with musicians, especially young, enthusiastic and capable musicians, I often see the potential for a blind-sided catastrophe. I have borrowed the phrase, “unbridled exuberance” to describe their head-long plunge into an all-or-nothing partnership with music. It is a precarious position to be in when it comes to deciding how committed you must be to be successful in any creative field. Lacking the fortitude to survive is certain death for anyone trying to break in. But there must be balance to every choice we make. Lack of vision for the potential hazards can be crippling while living in a “do or die trying” mode. As Creatives, we simply want to be about our creativity. It is the view from the helicopter that gives perspective to the surrounding landscape. Sometimes we are just too close to the situation to perspective-take.
Whenever I am confronted by the eager “I’m going full-time in the music business” exchange of ideas, I immediately try to build a case for the what-if scenario. In an effort to protect against catastrophic failure, I point out the need to “backup” your life with some options. These are some of the questions I ask, "What happens if style changes and you are put out like yesterday’s news. What if you are unable to perform your music for whatever reasons? What is the plan in the event that you have overestimated your marketability and there is not enough demand for your music? What will you do to pay bills and live a rewarding life? How will you reconstruct the data of your skill set when you were bred to do just one thing?" Every creative person needs someone to ask such things and that someone should expect cogent answers.
Having coached musicians through full-on career changes, the challenge of being ill-prepared for another life is formidable. This is further compounded by time and age. As you move into marriage and household responsibilities the opportunities for changes greatly diminishes and choices are narrowed. Being less agile, you begin to react to circumstances rather than being able to plan your future. The college degree you abandoned for the dream of being a full-time musician is much more difficult to afford and make time for. The job you could have had has long been occupied by someone who trained for it. You are forced into menial jobs as you near the brink of catastrophic failure. Having few options is very painful for a brilliant and creative mind. It is tantamount to having a lobotomy forced upon you while you are still awake and then living with its unpleasant results.
The very successful career is rare and few survive more than a few years. Fame is fleeting and many lose the limelight and move into obscurity with little to show for their hard work. The answer to backing up your life is found in your ability to surround yourself with quality advisors who will say the tough things no one else will. Failure to “backup” will bring what it always brings; fear, frustration, and heartbreak. When it comes to hard drives, it isn’t a matter of if failure will come but when. A plan to deal with it is sweet compared to the option of being surprised by the hopeless bewilderment of “now what?”

Ten Things I Can Do to Backup My Life

1. Finish high school and college no matter what
2. Work some jobs that aren’t creative for the experience of it
3. Check yourself for areas of vulnerability in your field
4. Expand your friendships beyond your circle of Creatives
5. Become familiar with stories of failures as well as successes
6. Look for people who were in the biz and find out where they are now
7. Lean on people who know the ropes and have seen the cycles of the business
8. Become an expert in something everyone needs
9. Imagine yourself doing something else in life that still brings you meaning
10. Realize that being obstinate isn’t the same thing as being persistent

©WalkWay Group, all rights reserved. Steven Blanton


You Don't Know You Don't Know; Respect the Gray

There was a commercial for a cable company that used a young couple with a baby to say, “You know when people tell you that having a baby will change your life and you say, ‘I know’? You don’t know.” And, being a father, I can attest to that for sure. There are hundreds of assumptions, misunderstandings, beliefs and preferences that are shattered when you actually have the baby. It really doesn’t matter what set of skills you bring to the game, you still need some help and advice.

It has been my experience that I am completely unaware of the things I don’t know. I think that is a reasonable assumption. How can one know something before it is known? The Beatles had it right conversely speaking in All You Need is Love, “There's nothing you can know that isn't known.” So, what do we do about our oblivion? How does one gain knowledge about things of which he has no understanding? This may be an over simplification but it can’t be stated any more clearly; just ask. That is the short answer.

For most of us in the music and creative community being a self starter is something for which we may be proud. But there is also honor in seeking out someone who has walked a mile in our shoes before they were “our shoes.” It seems a redundant waste of time to reinvent the wheel when all we need do is simply inquire of the wheel maker. There is an incredible advantage to learning something in a conversation with someone more experienced and wise. This could save us a couple of year’s worth of head-banging during the learning process.

It is my humble philosophical opinion that I may grow and be a stronger, better human being because of the experiences of others. Isaac Newton said, “If I have seen a little further it is by standing on the shoulders of Giants.” We are in good company when we inquire about styles, gear, methods, history and a thousand other important topics. I say “respect the gray” and befriend someone who is years ahead of you in your career. There may be a gold nugget in the conversation you are about to have over a cup of coffee. The way I see it is that everyone has the potential to teach me something new and fresh. This is true in spite of the fact that I am creative, a musician, a self-starter, and strong headed.

I discovered maybe a little late but not too late, that I don’t know what I don’t know. I didn’t know that early on but I know now. So I make it a point to get exposure as often as possible, to those who have the wisdom and experience that I may not. They inspire me and prove that what I aspire to accomplish can be and indeed, has been done in some measure before. Their knowledge spares me the time-consuming encumbrance of mindlessly plowing a field that someone else has already plowed, to use an agrarian metaphor.

While we all want to take responsibility for the successes we build in our creative careers we must still do obeisance to those who have gone before. They have made what we are doing much easier. They may have learned how to do something before there was someone to ask but we now have them to ask. Thank God for a little wisdom in our lives.

There are a few very simple steps to knowing something you don’t know.

1. Realize that there is a wealth of knowledge in other people
2. Don’t make presumptions about people based on age or other imposed limiters. Some of the greatest lessons are learned from an eight year old and an eighty year old
3. Listen to what may seem to be “unrelated” stories for new insight
4. Open up your friendships to people outside of your area of expertise for a healthy cross-pollination of information
5. Be deliberate and purposeful in your quest to learn from others
6. Find innovative ways to inculcate your creative craft with the new wisdom you have acquired
7. Don’t forget about reading… all leaders are readers. Some of the most brilliant and wise have already left the earth
8. Find a mentor
9. Check back with your dad or a mentor at least once a quarter
10. Ask and keep on asking

©WalkWay Group, all rights reserved. Steven Blanton

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