Such a topic, isn’t it? Who stands in the way of our dreams?
I would argue that our dreams have a lot to do with our beliefs and our expectations—usually that our expectations for how quickly we can achieve certain dreams are ridiculously high, and if we would just take a step back, breathe, and allow time and consistent thought and action to take their course, we can shape our dreams with much more ease and accuracy.
This blog has everything to do with everything we will ever learn in life, ever. I'm talking learning to walk, sing, play an instrument, perform, overcome fear, develop new habits, let go of bad ones, start a new business, live a healthier lifestyle... just anything, ever.
Stories are the best illustrators though, and I’d like to share a true story about my amazing man, Marvin. He’s done so much to inspire me and help me let go of that wild perfectionism. And as all good things are meant to be shared, I naturally wanted to spread the goodness around a bit, you know?
My Man Marvin Plays Drums. He’s Really Good
So Marvin started out as a drummer. He was that little kid who banged on everything and made his parents crazy. After they bought him his first drum set, his mother took to wearing ear plugs around the house while he practiced for hours a day.
True love. Thanks mom!
So, Marvin worked it. He practiced like crazy. Hours and hours of practice, i.e. blood, sweat, and tears.
Now, for the record, practicing isn’t always pretty. Not even. Practicing can be... well, torture for anyone within ear shot. I mean, it’s repetitive, full of starts and stops, missed and cracked notes, dropped beats, and phrases repeated to the point of madness. Thus his mom and the earplugs...
Practicing can also be very physically demanding on the body. Think of the odd positions that a violinist, harpist, pianist, drummer, or any instrumentalist, must assume for hours at a time. Now think about what they would do to your body over time. Yeah. So practicing must be done with great attention so that repetitive stress injuries are minimized or never created to begin with.
Because Marvin has used his hands and arms so much for drumming, teaching drumming, playing piano, driving, working out, and typing, and because hands and arms are central to pretty much everything we do every day, especially when you’re a musician, he has to be very mindful of his use of himself.
So anyway, Marvin kept at it. And as with anything we keep working at, he got good. Really good. And he began doing it professionally by the time he was in high school.
Well, you may think this is the horse riding off into the sunset moment, but nope, it’s just the part where the villain shows up. In this story, the “villain” was the economy. Yep. The economy changed, and the money that was being doled out to bands suddenly dried up. Suddenly the whole band was being asked to split what each member of the band used to make. Yikes. Marvin knew he couldn’t make the same living as he was making before.
When Life Hands You Lemons... Play the Piano and Sing
Being the smart chap he is, Marvin knew he could make more money if he went out solo, instead of playing with bands. But who wants to sit around listening to a lone drummer all night? Yeah, not so much. So he decided to become a piano man, a la Billy Joel. Yes. In his late twenties. Marvin decided at that “late age” to learn to play the piano and sing. Professionally, no less!
Now remember that Marvin was a rhythm man. That’s very different from being a melody and harmony man. So let’s just say that, even though he had spent years doing music, at first, these were completely new skills and he wasn’t very good at all. But he did the most important thing of all—he kept at it.
Fast forward through many practices and months, and after a while, Marvin decided he was ready to try his burgeoning skills out at an open mic night. Up on stage he went to play and sing. Was he phenomenal? No. Did he know it? Yes. Did he do it anyway? Yes. Because he knew it would help him grow.
Well, the next day, a fellow musician came into the music store where Marvin worked. He walked in, looked around until he found Marvin, then bee-lined it right for him, and said, “Marvin, you just need to stop singing. You’re not a singer, and you should just go back to playing drums.” Then he turned around and walked out. He made a special trip to the music store just to tell Marvin that he really, really shouldn’t be singing.
Do you think that hurt Marvin’s feelings? Hell yes! It still stings. But do you know what? He didn’t let it stop him. He developed a tougher skin, used it as fuel for his fire, and kept going.
Marvin stuck with it, and it didn't happen overnight, but through taking daily action towards his dream, there came a time where he was making a living playing and singing, just as he had envisioned.
Life Philosophy 101... Every Master Was Once a Disaster
Marvin may have had an advantage to many people in that he was already a professional drummer, and he knew what it had taken for him to get there. He knew it required countless hours of practice, and eventually, countless hours of performing. He knew it wouldn’t always sound good. He knew there was a huge learning curve. He also knew that if he just kept with it, he could become an excellent piano player and singer, because that’s what he’d set his mind to doing.
The things worth doing take time to develop. Marvin wasn’t expecting be the best singer ever at his first open mic night. Or at his 5th or 6th. But you’d better believe that after two years of playing every single Friday and Saturday night at a regular gig (not to mention practicing eight hours a day), he was starting to feel a lot more skilled and confident. Sure, it took dedication and he made a lot of sacrifices and looked stupid and sounded bad plenty of times. But he also didn’t take no for an answer. He knew what he wanted and he found a way to create it.
This is where so many of us fail or get frustrated with the things we want in life. We aren’t good in the beginning, so we think we’ll never be good, and we quit. We never give it the time and attention, and yes, even the sacrifice, that it deserves. And so we never get to reap the rewards and satisfaction.
Moral of the story? Don’t let people tell you what you can and can’t do. You decide what you can and can’t do, or rather, what you will and won’t do. And if someone thinks they know better than you, it’s your choice whether you let it extinguish your fire, or choose to use it to fuel your fire. It’s Your life. You call the shots.
And be aware of that voice inside of your head that can be the worst critic of all. It will criticize your art, your attempts at shifting your life in a healthier direction, any movement toward your hopes and dreams. It will rip these precious beginnings to shreds. Why? Because it’s afraid. Terrified. Of failure. Of looking stupid. Of all the things that are necessary for you to get good at whatever you’re wanting to create. So trust me, you have to guard and coddle your baby skills like a mama bear caring for her cub.
Adjust Your Philosophy, Change Your Life
So who really does stand in the way of our dreams? What would you say in light of this story? Is it the outside “them” who block us from our dreams? Is it our own self-sabotage? Or is it our philosophy?
Well, it’s not “them.” If Marvin’s musician friend had his way, Marvin would never have sung another note. But we know that’s not what happened.
It’s not “you.” You have so many hopes and dreams for yourself, and you would absolutely love to achieve them. You would if you knew how, right? Or, as we've seen, if you just give them enough time and attention.
So if it’s not them, and it’s not you, what is it? Yep. It’s our philosophy, all the way. Without a doubt, if we can adjust our philosophy in the appropriate direction, we’re well on our way. There’s a quote from a great book called The Slight Edge that sums this up perfectly. “Your Philosophy Creates Your Attitude, Actions, and Results, Which Create Your Life.”
So it’s time to be like Marvin and refine our philosophies on life. When the dreaded outer and inner critics crop up, we get to respond to them differently, tell them we have a new way of looking at things. Have you seen those little “Be Like So-and-So” stick figure memes that were circulating on FB a while ago? Well, I made one for Marvin so we can easily remember how to improve our philosophy and get out of the way of our dreams.