Reframing Expectations

Lessons from a sold-out show

Image by Joe Chellman
“I’m not in this world to live up to your expectations and you’re not in this world to live up to mine.” –Bruce Lee

The Gregory Douglass Band recently helped break in the new “Second Stage” at the Hotel Cafe here in L.A. one fine Saturday evening. It was one of those magical nights where everything just came together in immaculate alignment. I had introduced some new, local members to my “LA ensemble” — Lauren Stockner on guitar, Phil Galitzine on bass, Phoenix Normand on backing vocals, and Amanda Ply on backing vocals (who also opened the show with an acoustic set of her own). Matt Bogdanow was a steady hand on the drums, and Monique Citro (Yo Yo Mo) on cello flew in from Vermont to perform, thanks to an extremely supportive fan who donated some of his frequent flier miles to get her here.

It was also a rare evening that everyone in L.A. happened to have free for some reason. When you live in a town full of creative professionals, it usually takes a miracle to draw a crowd because most people have gigs of their own. But this was not the case that Saturday evening.

This was my first local “hometown” show here with the band, and the final pre-release show for the new album My Hero, The Enemy, so I did as much outreach as I could to invite people to the show — even people I didn’t anticipate would be able to make it, like Grace Potter. I’ve noticed that folks are always quick to respond to personal emails when they can’t make it, so it’s always hard to gauge any true interest through the sea of declines, and still remain optimistic.

Enter expectations.

Expectations are always at the forefront of any creative endeavor, even if we wish our internal voice would shut the fuck up already. If we’re going to record an album, we expect it to be exceptional. If we’re going to share it with the world, we expect people to listen. And if we’re going to book a show, we expect people to attend — though so often they don’t, and we are faced with disappointment once again.

I’ve learned a thing or two about expectations over the years, so what I expected of my performance at The Hotel Cafe was this: the opportunity to perform with a band in a nice room with a great sound system to a respectful audience of any size, and maybe get a decent audio recording out of it. What I got was an incredibly fulfilling performance with amazing sound, a sold-out show, a highly-receptive audience, and a USB thumb drive that failed to record successfully because the drive I had provided because was full (oops!). My bad. All in all though, not a bad night. And I even walked away with some money that night.

You’ll note that I did not center my expectations around money or how many people would attend. This is a pattern that I’ve worked very hard to change, but it’s taken some time and some serious willpower to adjust these sort of expectations. In fact, I didn’t even inquire about advance ticket sales. I didn’t want to know, because it’s often a misrepresentation of the end count anyway when you factor in the last-minute nature of people’s decisions these days. The majority always comes from payment at the door, so why torture myself in anticipation with low numbers from advance ticket sales?

When I expect people to drop everything in their lives to attend my shows, I am seriously missing the point. When I consider how much everyone has going on in their lives and all the things they could be choosing to do instead of attending my shows, it puts things into perspective. It’s a commitment just to show up, and the act of showing up should always be celebrated and appreciated — no matter what the numbers yield. I’ve spent so much time being disappointed with low turnouts and low payouts in the past, and it never once served me or the folks who chose to show up and pay good money to see me.

Adjusting our expectations to simply reflect a fulfilling outcome will win every time.

The rest is gravy, and who doesn’t love exceeding expectations?

Did I mention it was a sold-out show? It was a star-studded event with creative professionals of all types in the audience — old friends and new ones. Granted, it was a small room — even smaller than the main room — but it was full of avid listeners, and fervent supporters. Packed shows used to keep the chip on my shoulder, my ego stroked, and my pride in tact, but I can’t tell you how much more rewarding it feels when big turnouts are simply a bonus to an already remarkable evening.

Here’s my mission

I want to change the dialogue on inner purpose. We all want a “life worth living for” before we die, so I think we need to start “living a life worth dying for” while we’re still alive. Too many people look back on their lives with heavy hearts full of regret when they could be living with radical inner purpose. So what are you dying to live for? Go ahead, get creative… Or click here for a little help from this handy creative action plan.

RIP (Radical Inner Purpose),

-Gregory Douglass

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