We have so many choices that it can be overwhelming. We have endless choices for our careers or companies to work for. We have choices for hobbies and activities. And anyone who has had cable TV recently knows there are endless choices for entertainment. We also have the ability to leverage technology and connect with people with similar interests almost anywhere.
As you may have noticed, I have a strong interest in bass guitars. In the city I live in, there are numerous bands and churches I could play with. But additionally, there is also a local and online cultural of bass enthusiasts who love to talk, write, and share information about the bass. I could endlessly shop in the classifieds section and see the unbelievable options for custom instruments, amps, cabinets, and pedals. I could browse the learning forums, seeking the latest and greatest technique tips to improve my finger funk just a little more.
All of these things are wonderful choices and sources of opportunity and information, but did you notice that very few of them actually involved me just sitting down and playing the bass? I have been distracted by many of these things in the past, to the point where it has negatively impacted learning the instrument. It has also distracted me from my enjoyment of the instrument. For a long time, I kept wanting a new pedal, bass, amp, or technique. The want never ended.
When I made some hard decisions, and learned to start saying no to certain gig opportunities, to searching and contributing to online forums, and to the various opportunities to buy new gear, a funny thing happened. My growth in the instrument blossomed while my overall time invested in it went down.
So by learning when and how to say no to others, be it people or outside distractions, I flourished. My enjoyment and progress went up.
Saying yes, when you’re young and growing makes sense as long as it is strategic. I learned a lot from playing last minute gigs and having to learn songs quickly. This forced me to site read music, learn by ear on the fly, and be able to assess gear that fit my playing style and tone. I learned a lot from playing with a variety of different musicians, styles, and venues. But I also reached a point where I needed to learn more by doing less variety and say no to others and the opportunities they presented.
I needed to go deep into my work on the instrument and say no to anything that distracted me from that.
Saying no is not easy and comes with some fear. What if they don’t ask me to play ever again? What if I don’t keep up with the current trends or technologies? What if I miss out on the opportunity of lifetime to buy a unique instrument or play in the ultimate gig?
We all have an innate desire to connect with others, and music for me was a really fun artistic way to do that. But sometimes, my tendency to want to make people happy distracted me from what I was really trying to accomplish. It lead me to say yes more than I probably should have.
I would commit to gigs or bands out of this desire for human connection. I never really took into consideration all of the impacts it had and if it really was helping me achieve the goals I really was chasing. I wanted to be an incredible bass player, specifically in jazz and funk styles. I ended up playing a lot of indie and singer-song writer gigs for a handful of years instead. Sure, I was getting experience playing in front of different crowds with different musicians. But I look back and I think to myself, what if I spent half the time I did moving gear around for those rehearsals and just practiced and mastered 15-20 incredible Motown masterpieces.
I needed to learn how saying yes would impact other areas of my life. When I would accept some of these gigs, I would end up without enough time to exercise, prepare healthy food, and get enough sleep. Staying up until 1 A.M at a bar on a Friday night after getting up at 6:30 A.M for the day job would start my weekend off on the wrong foot. I often wouldn’t recover until Sunday when it was almost time to go back to work again.
Todd Henry in his book, The Accidental Creative, talks about the importance of pruning in your life. Sometimes you need to remove some good things in your life so that you can make room for more great things. I look back on that period of my life musically and I was playing a lot of good music, but not enough great music defined by my musical preferences. Pruning one or two things would have benefited many areas of my life, not just my musical progress.
So what are some things or people in your life where that you need to say no to more? Or even to get started, what are some things that if you removed from your life would give you more time and energy to do something potentially great?