What I Learned from John Mayer

tl;dr: don’t worry about personal recognition, focus on your craft, contribute to things that are meaningful and lasting — be part of a movement

I wasn’t planning on going to a Grateful Dead concert last night. When I showed up I felt like I had stumbled into another decade. I was surrounded by people who consider themselves part of a movement — one that started in the 60’s and will refuse to die. Ever.

There was very little fanfare in the lead up. The sun was out, there was no opening act, and they basically just started playing. The music and the fans were laid back. I sat and talked to the friend who had invited me and waited for the real show to start.

Fifteen minutes into our conversation I realized my friend was recording a video of the music. He was focused on the lead guitarist. I was a bit puzzled, until I realized that this was the act we’d come to see.

John Mayer was standing there with a huge grin on his face. He looked like a little kid on the stage. He was surrounded by Dead band members — well seasoned by decades of touring. He was wearing black shorts, a plain t-shirt, and neon Nike shoes. He seemed like he just felt lucky to be there.

John Mayer is one of the most talented musicians around. He has plenty of his own adoring fans and has sold millions and millions of records. He can sell out a stadium with or without an iconic band from yesteryear. He has won 8 Grammy awards and been nominated for 10 others. He stands alone as an impressive solo act. He stood on stage with Steve Jobs to introduce Garage Band:

I had a lot of thoughts about this, but here is a sampling:

  • You don’t need to have the spotlight to do great and important things. You can find great places to work surround yourself with great people and even make amazing personal contributions without the need for personal recognition.
  • Immersing yourself in your craft is rewarding. John Mayer just loves playing the guitar. My friend kept telling me that he knew of no better place for John than a summer stage, with a guitar in his hand, and the freedom to just riff for 8 straight minutes. There are things you’re good at — talents and gifts you have to offer — build that craft.
  • There are things that are bigger than you — finding them and giving yourself to the cause can be incredibly rewarding. The Grateful Dead are more than a band — they are a movement. Their fans are passionate and their legacy is durable. John knows that and has made a dent in history by recognizing it and giving himself to it.

For more on this, I found a great Rolling Stones article:

Shout out to: Gentry Davies for providing the tickets and helping me identify the lessons.