The long and winding road

Every day, I work with music artists who have huge dreams and goals – of reaching the pinnacle of their field. Growing up as a musician and spending most of my life in the entertainment industry, I have a deep understanding of where they are coming from. It’s a calling that is sometimes hard to identify, but there is no doubt it is part of our DNA.

Focusing on doing what’s necessary, inside and out, to make those dreams a reality is the first big hurdle. Ignoring this has led many artists to follow the road of the hero of the German folk legend – the pied piper.

Many, if not most, people with a huge dream have the wrong mindset and a gross misunderstanding about what it takes, and this wrong mindset literally repels success.

If it’s celebrity you want, your self-interest is in the way. If the dream you want is all about YOU– getting validation, recognition, reward, becoming a celebrity for celebrity sake, getting rich – you won’t succeed.  (Trust me on this one.) If your using your dream as a way to heal your deep-seated feelings from the past of being disregarded, unappreciated and undervalued – it probably won’t work.

People who have reached the top in this world know how to hold and emanate vast amounts of energy, and to do so, hopefully, they have to have done the work to deal with that type of power.

Your big dream will only come to fruition when you stop needing to see yourself as the center of the Universe, and serving as the sole hero in your story.  You’ve got to focus on how to be of help to others, and come from a highly-engaged service mindset.  Only when it stops being all about you, will the pathway become clearer.

And yes, there are major celebrities in our society who are narcissistic and hyper self-focused but you can see where their lives ended up. We have seen the shipwrecks of their lives

It takes 10,000 times more effort than you realize. A while back, I heard from a would-be music composer had who fantastic dreams of scoring films, but he had yet to share his music with a soul.  I’ve heard these types of dreams for years from creatives who wish to make a huge splash.  I personally know people who’ve made it in a big way in the arts and in the music industry, and I can tell you, the road to that level of success requires 10,000 times more effort, time, work, commitment, perseverance, and stretching than you’d ever imagine.

If you want to reach the highest of heights, you have to do what’s required to be an energetic match to it.  That means you have to fearless, bold, assertive, tireless, a strong competitor, a great communicator, and also completely aware of what you have and what you don’t so you can close your “power gaps” and become the person you want to be.  If you’re afraid to share your music, or your blog, or your designs (whatever creative endeavor you’re involved in), you can’t have the success you want. Get out there and start sharing what you’ve created, and get in the cage with your fears about how others will receive it.

You need to get over yourself and take advantage of every positive opportunity that will lead you forward. So many big dreamers have a heightened, unrealistic sense of their own importance, and they continually say “no” to new opportunities that they feel are beneath them.  That’s a huge mistake of the ego.  Start saying “yes” to new opportunities that present themselves, that will help you learn, grow and put yourself out there in service to others in your special niche.  You simply can’t make a powerful contribution in the world if all you do is say to “no” to new ways to work your craft and refine your chops.

You’re focused on the wrong people. The people you’re interacting with will absolutely make or break your career.  Nothing is more important to your success than the quality of your relationships, and the nature of the people you surround yourself with.  Elevate yourself by elevating your circle. Go out and connect with people who are integrity-filled, service minded, highly skilled, brilliant, caring, compassionate and inspiring, and find a way to help them.  When you do, your world – and your pathway to success — will change overnight. Your desperation for quick success and recognition cuts you off from long-term growth.

Finally, your desperation to be at the top prevents you from getting to the top, because you’re focused on what you think the emotional (and financial) reward will be when you get there, rather than what you’re doing in the world that’s of value.

Get someone in your corner to hold you accountable.  Start sharing, working and contributing. Do the hard inner and outer work of becoming the person, contributor and creator you dream of.  Only then will your dream have a chance of coming true.

Jen Lee Koss started playing the cello when she was 10 years old.  She spent countless hours sitting on a chair doing finger gymnastics. she sacrificed every summer going to “band camp.” she spent every Saturday schlepping to New York City for an extra day of classes at Juilliard. She missed her senior prom to play in a concert. She performed solo, in chamber ensembles, and in orchestras all over the U.S., Europe, and Asia. she played with incredible musicians—many who are now world-renowned soloists or members of major orchestras.

But at the age of 26, she walked away from her musical career—with no regrets. While she no longer plays the cello, She has taken the lessons with her every step of the way—including her current endeavor as the co-founder of BRIKA, a curated shopping platform for emerging artisans and designers.

Looking back on those years, Jen said “I can say that although I was intensely passionate about playing, I always felt I somehow didn’t really belong. I always craved something more than just music, and I was someone who had always been interdisciplinary in my approach (who some might call unfocused).”

“Ultimately, I realized that perhaps a life playing my cello exclusively wasn’t really for me. What I did know, though, was that I would always harbor a creative thread in me, and that I would find a way to exercise that in some capacity professionally.”

“So, what has being a musician taught me about running a startup?  In short, everything. But more specifically, it taught me these three crucial lessons:”

Discipline and Focus, How do you get to Carnegie Hall? You know the saying! Practicing is the name of the game when you’re a musician. There is most definitely talent involved, but putting hours and hours into honing your skills is truly the only way to success.

Truly, the same goes for running a company. You can be smart, talented, ambitious, sure, but especially in the early days, much of your success depends on truly dedicating all of your time and energy into your company. Times can be intensely challenging, with shifting priorities pulling you in multiple directions and requiring you to push yourself physically and emotionally all in the name of pursuing your passion. I believe my drive and determination to keep going and to stay focused when times get tough stems from all those hours spent perfecting little tiny black notes on a page.

The Value of Preparation When I was 16, I was invited to play as a soloist with a major orchestra. I remember feeling anxious about this performance, and so I spent even more hours practicing for this concert than I had ever before. The result? It was my best performance yet.

Now, whether it’s an investor pitch, a major strategic partnership meeting, or a conference panel, I do the same thing. I put more time into preparing. I think through questions I might receive or issues I might face. I go in feeling, if possible, over-prepared. And I wholeheartedly believe that time (the quality, too, of course) spent preparing delivers direct results.

Trust in Others. Solo performances were always a thrill, but my most favorite way to play was via chamber ensembles—particularly in trios or quartets. In ensemble playing, it’s all about trusting the instincts and emotions of your fellow members—whether they are playing loud or soft, fast or slow, with emotion or flat. You just have to go with the flow and adjust accordingly.

As a startup founder, I find that one day I am doing things I know 80% about and 20% I have no clue about. On other days, it feels like the exact opposite. The only way I know how to survive is to trust someone’s judgement and then go on the journey together. I am insanely lucky to have a co-founder, Kena, and a small but mighty team, who I can do this with!

Many people ask me, “So you just quit? Cold turkey?” And I did. For me, I couldn’t just play my cello for the sake of playing. It felt all or nothing to me at the time. But today, I am applying all of my passion and dedication to BRIKA, in many of the same ways (countless hours, maniacal preparation, deep dedication, and placing my faith in others) that I did when I was growing up playing my cello. No matter what, I can look back and say that so much of who I am and how I do things today are inherently tied to my life experiences as a musician yesterday.”

I am crediting Kathy Caprino for her contribution to parts of this post.

I started out as a guitar player and ended up as a tour manager. As any of you know who have traveled this road, we have to keep at least ten balls in the air at any given time. The self-discipline and organizational skills are what holds it all together and of course a little luck or probably, to be a little more realistic – divine intervention.

So, is a music career just a pipe dream?  Of course not, it may just be a stepping stone to some other plan for your life or it could be your final calling, but you will never know until you take the first step.

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