on making shit + sucking at stuff

image via instagram

I am a recovering perfectionist.

I’m also historically impatient, and for the first quarter century of my life, these two factors combined to generate a mess of abandoned passions, tortured projects and creative roadblocks.

I gravitated towards the things I was naturally good at because I couldn’t stand the feeling of sucking, but would eventually hit a moment of suckiness with my natural talents, get cripplingly discouraged, and quit.

I also wanted to do everything.

By age 17 I had a burgeoning painting career, was leaving school early every day to dance with a pre-professional company, sang with the jazz band, was slaying it academically and fancied myself a writer.

But then 18 rolled around and shit got real. I’d moved to New York and went from the top of the creative pack in my hometown to being crushed under the weight of the few million New Yorkers actually making it here.

Because I was split between so many mediums, I didn’t give enough time to any of my crafts to take them to the next level. And anyway, taking it to the next level would have meant getting my hands dirty, trying out a bunch of new shit, and sucking for a while.

Fast forward a few years (because those are stories for another time) — to the moment I realized that dance was more important to me than anything (that’s another post too), and we were in a recession and I was waiting tables and quickly realizing my days in the service industry were limited.

I didn’t know what the fuck else to do, so I started throwing dance parties.

And it was painful. 10 people showed up to the first one. Then 20 and 30, and eventually a community of people started coming. But I had a grand vision in my mind of hundreds — even thousands of bodies moving together, unified to one giant jumping dancing sexy sweaty beat. And this wasn’t that.

Also, it didn’t pay. And I had to feed myself.

I kept trying — different strategies, event structures, partnerships, venues. After 3 years, I took a break and I decided to learn how to DJ.

I’d always wanted to do it. In elementary school, my best friend and I had a radio show where we’d tape songs off the radio and then record ourselves doing interludes. I was always completely obsessed with music, developing relationships with albums and songs as if they were intimate lovers.

But for all those years, I never became a DJ.

Wanna know why?

Because I didn’t know how.

I shit you not.

My reason for not learning how to do something was that I didn’t know how to do it.

But there I was, between the rock of my unsustainable dance parties and the hard place of needing to survive. So I took some deep breaths and embarked on the journey of sucking for a while.

It was uncomfortable, learning to navigate new hardware and software and all these buttons and switches and waveforms, learning about tempo and phrasing and pacing and harmony. Playing lots and lots of sets until I figured out how sound moves bodies, and how to build the kind of journey I wanted to create for people.

I still wanted it all at once.

But I surrendered to the fact that I wasn’t going to get it.

And that’s when my life started to change.

Things started to move. New opportunities started to come in. I started this little dance party called The Get Down. And I was happier through all of it, because I wasn’t fighting the process.

Here are some of the myths I broke through that first year of learning to wield turntables.

Myth #1 — Your work says something about you + your worth.

If you take your art personally, you will suffer. Getting attached to the good and afraid of the bad will only clog up your channel. The creative process is wild and weird and magic and mysterious. And ultimately, it’s not up to us. All we can do it keep showing up for it so it can do its thing.

That’s the work. To keep showing up.

One of my fave musings on this topic is Elizabeth Gilbert’s TED talk. Her book Big Magic is also fucking rad.

Myth #2 — Some people are just good at things and others aren’t.

In the book The Originals, Adam Grant writes,

“….On average geniuses weren’t qualitatively better in their fields than their peers. They simply produced a greater volume of work, which gave them more variation and a higher chance of originality.”

That is all.

Myth #3 — We can do everything all at once.

We live in Internet times. Everything is possible and at our fingertips. We have no attention spans.

All of this is the enemy of greatness.

When I finally decided to stop dabbling in a bunch of mediums, focus on DJing / creating the best dance party ever, and waded through the discomfort of not being where I wanted to be, everything changed.

And here’s the kicker:

After years of following through on that one commitment, my writing is read by thousands of people, I get to sing and dance on stage in front of the best crowds ever, I write songs + poetry and make drawings on the train in between gigs and meetings, and I’m making original music, with my very own lyrics and vocals.

I’m doing all the things I always wanted to do. And it’s happening because I committed to something. And stuck with it. And figured it out.

Myth #4 — Things happen the way you think they’re supposed to.

Start where you are. Identify what you love most — where the fire burns brightest. Pour your whole heart into it. The rest will fall into place.