A brief disclaimer:
After some back-and-forth, Levi and I decided to keep this chapter. It is harsh, to say the least, but after hearing about the way it also resonated with him, I was convinced that it might prove valuable for others, as well. This is a private letter I wrote to a friend who was stuck, and I didn’t pull any punches (but I did pull his name from the text).
That said — for him, now, and for you, reader — pay attention to the postscript.
I hated your forty-minute feelings message.
You asked for my feedback, and I’m going to give it to you. Just remember everything we learned about the Enneagram. This is coming from a 3 — The Achiever — and I know you’re a 4 — The Individualist/Romantic. I’ve written responses like this before to people who end up either loving me or hating me for it (it’s usually the latter, at least at first), but here it goes…
You are stuck.
You are distracted, you aren’t focused, and at the end of the day, you’re trying to work for yourself. At the risk of reducing Enneagram characteristics to a box in which to put people, I don’t know a single 4 who has been able to run an organization without someone else’s help.
Music is a hobby.
Or at least, it’s not a job until someone is paying you to make it, play it, and tour on it. No one is paying you to create or tour your music anymore.
Right now, you have to focus. You have two kids, a soon-to-be wife (so, maybe more kids on the way) and the number one thing you need to make all that happen is…
And I know that stings, but I’m not trying to be a feeler right now. I’m not trying to appeal to your emotions. I’m trying to pound a fact into your brain.
Remember learning about Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs in high school? It’s the pyramid, whose foundation is “Basic Needs,” followed by “Psychological” and “Self-Fulfillment” needs?
You want to be fulfilled, but there is very little fulfillment when you’re still stuck in and scrambling for even the most basic of needs — when you’re always worrying about whether or not you have enough to eat food and put a roof over your family’s head. And I know you want to be creative, too, but creativity doesn’t flow well from anxiety while you’re out Ubering people around, wondering whether tonight’s going to be a good enough night to make rent on time.
Right now, you’re broke, and your music is a hobby.
But broke people don’t have hobbies — they have two or three jobs. Broke people don’t do dinner parties — they’re at work, working on getting unbroke.
Find a job.
I don’t care about whether or not it’s a nine-to-five behind a desk in a cubicle, or whether you work remotely from home. Just get to work. You’re distracted, and the hard truth of the matter is that you need to take some of the dreams that you have, and the creative, this-could-be-so-cool distractions, and put them in a “later” jar for the time being.
You don’t have to throw them out forever, but you won’t ever get to any of them if you aren’t able to provide for your most basic needs, first. If you keep treating all of your fantasies like a golden ticket, they only haunt (and eventually crush) you.
Put all of the new product ideas and shows and albums and experiences into your later folder and file them away until you actually have a means of seeing them realized, and a stable enough foundation to function from. You need a platform to make all of those dreams come true, and right now, you simply don’t have one, let alone the money to build a new stage from scratch.
This sucks to hear, but you’re out of the game. You’ve been out of it for too long to leverage your old audience, and starting over isn’t an option. It’d be like if Nolan quit acting for forty years, then when back to his agent and told her, “I’m ready to be successful now.”
Now’s not the time for you to create a bunch of stuff that really only flows well out of excess. Now’s the time that you realize you’re unhappily functioning out of a deficit, and:
Stop trying to build your own projects and help someone else build theirs. It’s not like you’ll never be able to make your own, but your contributions to other people’s successes (already established enough to pay you for your participation) will create the opportunities that you need to garner attention and get noticed.
For starters: Don’t say “yes” to anything if there aren’t dollar bills attached to it, or you know — without a shadow of a doubt — that whoever you’re working with is someone capable of generating money for you.
“NO” NEEDS TO REPLACE YOUR “YES.”
When you say “yes” to everything you feel, you might end up working on the things that you love, but then the things you need to survive suffer. And how long can you really be in love with things that don’t contribute to your actual survival? You’ll end up hating what you loved, and spoiling all of those passions that used to bring you joy.
I know you love to be in front of people — that’s fine. You’re a people person. It’s a strength, and you’re good at it — in fact, when you’re in a good headspace, you’re the best at it. But that doesn’t mean you’re destined for a life behind a microphone as the vocalist of a band successful enough to provide for you (let alone your family, let alone whoever else is in the band, let alone their families).
Don’t come at me with that ethereal, the universe has no deadlines nonsense. Either that or figure out how to become a philosopher.
There are deadlines.
Rent is due.
Tuition is expensive.
Power companies will turn your electricity off.
People are evicted from their homes.
We all agree that the world could or should be something different, but this is what it is, and living in your head, outside of this reality, is paralyzing you. And I know the comparisons you make there — whether to me, or to whoever — is ceaselessly frustrating, but that’s not helpful either.
The only reason I can take on extracurricular projects is that I’ve had a job for eighteen years that I’ve been showing up for every day. And I’ve had a lot of help along the way. Business partnerships. People who fill my weaknesses with their strengths and help build whatever it is that we’re creating, collaboratively.
You know how to grind. You did it while you were with the band, and you did it after you traded your band for a camera. Your work is excellent — it’s worth getting paid for — but your business model sucks.
I know how to start, run, and scale businesses. I think I know how to spot talent, and I think I know how to help those talented people get off their feet in ways that they’d never be able to on their own.
I am often playing the role of visionary, but I excel in implementing. You are an incredible visionary, but you haven’t been able to implement your visions.
The way I see it, you only have two options when it comes to making your photography something that moves beyond “hobby,” as well, and becomes a viable business.
- Get signed on with a big company, show up, and shoot. They’ll handle all of the business management and get you bookings, and you can simply show up and do what you’re best at.
- Reestablish your own company, but bring on a partner at a 50/50 split. Bring on someone who knows how to implement, push forward, and scale. It doesn’t matter if this person knows how to shoot photos — that’s your job — but he or she needs to see your talent, and grow your business with you.
Personally, I like Option #1 for you because I know that, deep down, you don’t want to do photos — you want to do other things. I think photography could become your second job (maybe even a hobby job) someday, and you could use it for fun (or for diapers).
Make this decision first. Chart the path depending upon which one you chose, and do not go back to any studio, anywhere — until you do.
If you choose something completely unrelated to your photography, I say you should get a job with someone in the health food industry, or the coffee space, or in yoga, or at a creative or ad agency or event company.
Whatever you do — the crux remains the same — don’t build it yourself. Not right now. And don’t do it “on the side” to “help” someone. Get hired by someone who can pay you. It’s not about how much they can pay you. If you need 100k per year so survive with a wife and kids in Los Angeles, and they can only pay you 60k, then give them 60k’s worth of work while you prove to them that you’re worth more, and make the extra 40k elsewhere until they believe it.
Call everyone you know. Find companies and leads in the area you want to be in, and go crush it.
You’re chasing a high instead of chasing a job.
You want to be a spotlight solo on stage, but you need to share that stage with others, and play a background melody, somewhere.
I know you love music. Yes, you could get a break in music, but the chances are slim to none, and it is not going to come while your music is so attached to pain and frustration that you don’t know what to say, anyway.
Get in a better place, so you know what to say. Let it go. Give music your free time instead of treating it as an occupation. Besides, not to sound as though I’m manipulating Him, but the Lord seems to love fulfilling our desires the moment we lay them down. Who knows what He’ll do in your life if and when you’re able to unclench your fists, and lay them flat before His feet.
Someone will hire you. When they do, don’t gripe about employment — it’s a good thing. Besides, you can always treat it as a means to an end, and you still have Your fiancé to help create a structure for you, personally. Give her permission to tell you, “No, don’t do that… turn right here. Stop going left. Stop making u-turns.”
Use the differences between you to balance one another out. Defer to her strengths, and vice versa. Become a kick-ass team together. And right now? Let her drive and push you out the door and into action.
Create filters for yourself. If you have an idea or receive an offer or invitation from someone else, ask yourself:
- Is this a distraction?
- What will doing this take me away from?
- Do I have time to do this right now?
- Is this a “hell yes” or a “no?”
- WWJD? ;-)
- Am I in a financially secure enough place to do this or do I need to be working on what’s making me money?
- Can this wait?
- Do I love this?
Here’s another thing: you’re more than capable of working wherever you want, and doing whatever you want. That said, financially, you might very well have the option of making money doing whatever that is, or of making more money doing something that might not be as personally fulfilling.
Say you could make 50K and love it, or make 100K and…not enjoy it. I do not believe that everyone should pursue the starving artist’s life of love. Are your feelings worth a 50K pay cut? I don’t think so, because 100K would free you to do what you love — and keep it that way — outside of work, as opposed to taking on a second job to make up the difference.
If I were you, and you were Tom Hanks in the movie BIG, I would:
- Fold my photography business and pursue something else or bring my business to an agency, and provide them with excellent contract work for hire, at “X” amount.
- Either way, I would then go get a stable job that you know you can do well, and that will pay you the most.
- If I had to choose between multiple job options at a higher pay rate, I would do so in this order:
During these shifts and changes, I would say no to everything else besides what I need from you (and will pay you for). Get all of this dialed in, and use whatever extra time you have to pour into your kids, and your fiance.
It took me three years to finish college, three more to pay off my debt, and twelve years until I made decent money. I worked hard, and I worked consistently. It gave me the chance to build a few great things, and it now gives me the leverage and time to pursue new opportunities with other businesses and other people.
Call it a snowball effect.
Somehow, by the grace of God, I have also managed to keep my marriage and my family in order. Without them, no amount of personal fulfillment would transform into “success” the failure that my efforts would have actually become.
I want to help you. I assume this all sounds harsh and abrasive, but I believe in you, and if you want my help, I’d love to connect you to some of the people who I believe can help make these things happen.
I know you watch American Idol or America’s Got Talent, or one of those shows. Do you ever cry when all three judges give someone a “No?”
Well, I just gave your dreams a big fat, “NO.”
But it’s only temporary, and every single one of those auditions ends with the judges encouraging their contestants to “come back next year.”
Get this stuff in order, and I promise you: there will be a “next year.”
Postscript: In the year-or-so that has passed since I wrote this letter to my friend, much has changed. In what I can only call some sort of divine irony, he is hard at work on a job… helping my son pursue a career… in music (among other creative — and financially viable — endeavors).
This isn’t the kind of letter that you can write to just anyone, but it is the kind of letter that you can write to a friend of twenty-something years. It is the kind of letter that you can write to a friend who trusts you (and vice versa).
And he’s had much to teach me since then, as well. I’ve heard Levi say that wisdom is the collision of pendulums swinging, and leveled out in the middle. I think we’ve done that for one another throughout the years, and are walking forward with mutually beneficial wisdom to offer both through and because of our differences.
I know a good kick in the balls is needed, sometimes. I also know that “a soft word turns away wrath.” This is the former, but I’ve also learned a lot about the latter, and I’m thankful for the help he’s given me in that regard.
To my friend — and you know who you are — thanks for every “Craig, What The Hell?” you’ve given back to me. I need it every bit as much as you said you needed this, and I look forward to what the future holds beyond the paralysis we’ve both been working through.