The most underestimated source of power is losing.
When it comes to winning or losing, winning is always the goal, while losing is to be avoided—at all costs. This stigmatizes losing and robs it of its power as a learning tool.
We live in a culture where there appear to be two options: win or lose. Because of this, we often fall into the trap of pursuing a hidden, insidious third option. We don’t chase the glory of the win. Instead, we set out to not lose. This is one of the most detrimental behaviors to achieving a desired goal. Not losing is not the same as winning.
The goal isn’t to avoid losing. The goal is learning how to lose well.
So get good at losing.
Losing thickens your skin. Losing exposes the dead ends. Losing teaches resilience. Losing the first time highlights a more viable path for your second pass. You have to learn to lose. You have to embrace the bomb. You have to follow the fear.
The key to getting ahead is losing, painfully, over and over again. Success requires hard work. But it also needs luck. The most successful people
are incredibly talented and relentlessly hard workers. They also got incredibly lucky. Never mistake luck for success, though they often go hand in hand. Luck is a random win. To handle unexpected luck, you need to first experience a proud legacy of losses that prepare you for newfound success. When you finally do win, an outside observer will never be able to understand that this out-of-the-blue success is, at heart, just an unexpected and pleasant positive outcome in the middle of a long pattern of failure you’ve been practicing for years.
Think of a train rumbling past you at full speed. Success is climbing onto it. To board the train, your muscles need to be strong, your senses need to be sharp, and your timing needs to be perfect. It is not realistic to think that the first time the train rolls by you’ll be able to do this. Hobos do it all the time. These people literally eat beans out of cans. If they can make it happen, you should be able to do it too. Eventually. The only way to learn how is to willingly fall down many times in the effort. This will bring you perilously close to getting ground up on the tracks. The more you fall, though, the less terrifying that idea becomes. When the fear of falling goes away and you begin to understand just what kind of bruises falling incurs, you will find that one day, seemingly out of nowhere, you wind up jumping on the train. Winning out of the gate isn’t realistic; in fact, it’s arrogant. Losing is the only thing you can do right now, the present practice that lets you achieve future success when the opportunity arises.
Every loss is a lesson. If you can adjust your mentality, where you no longer fear losing but start to embrace it, you will be a battle-scarred, weathered, ironclad machine ready to handle success once it arrives.
Losing makes our muscles strong.
But No One I Know Does This Stuff
If there’s no one in your sphere who can guide you, who can shine a light on the darkness of your dreams, take a deep breath, live in that fear, and know that the journey ahead of you will alternate between being exhilarating and the most dreadful path you ever walk. That’s just part of the deal.
But never forget who you are. Never forget where you come from. Think of the people who came before you who never had the chance to chase their dreams, because they were too busy living a real life. Make art that reflects them. Make art that they’d like. Make art that would make them proud. Embrace their values and trust the side-eye they cast at the fancy people. Go for it as hard as they had to in their nondreamer lives. Be the first to emerge on the other side. Remain true to them when you do.
The next kid from your neighborhood will now have you to look to, so do it the right way.
When Should I Quit?
You have to work under the premise that though success might feel far away, it’s possible and it’s potentially imminent. Setting goals can be healthy, especially if they’re used to track markers of your progress. “If x hasn’t happened by this date, I’m going to reevaluate.” That feels fair to me. It’s firm, it’s aimed at a goal, and it’s set as an evaluation point that’s built into your progress. That’s a lot different from “I’m still figuring out if this is even for me.”
You shouldn’t bang your head against a wall if it’s not for you. It’s for you. If it’s not, there’s no reason to put your life under the strain of attacking it. You are allowed to fail, as I always say. But you have to fail with firm intention, not because you aren’t willing to give it your all.
Go all in or get out of the way. Falling on your face while all in can be a zenlike experience that shows you things about your life and the state of your mind. Failing because you were too cool to try doesn’t give you or the world shit.
You can’t create anything good when you’re giving yourself the pressure release of a vague and hazy “I dunno about this. I might quit.”
If you might quit, you already have.
Never Let Them See the Scales
Classical singers sing some version of this tens of thousands of times throughout their careers. Violinists play the scales, saxophonists play the scales, whatever oboe players are called play the scales. Literally every master of every instrument you can imagine endlessly runs through scales.
Play your scales. Make them muscle memory. Turn them from something that needs thought to something that’s second nature and instinctive.
Never believe for a second, though, that that’s enough. The goal is to turn the basics into something extraordinary, unforgettable, and unique to you and you alone, a true expression of your talent and passion.
Anything someone else can teach you needs to be a plank in the foundation that supports your own creativity.
If you can’t explain why something is exciting, innovative, new, or mind-blowing, why would anyone else in their right mind think it’s any of those things?
Sniff out the unexpected. Fiend for it. The unexpected is where the magic lives. It’s how we blow minds.
Show respect for traditions, worship the old gods, do it with respect. But know that if they have truly empowered you, like all heroes on a journey you must at some point turn your back to them and walk away.
Always Be Terrified
If success does manage to come your way, congratulations. You are one of the lucky few. But then a funny thing happens: the challenges that seem insurmountable right now will come to feel easy. You’ll get to the mountaintop, put your dream into action . . . and then it will become a fact of your life. It will no longer seem hard.
If all your dreams come true, that’s the best-case scenario—that you manage to conquer the unconquerable until it becomes commonplace.
The duty of any creative soul is to avoid the sad fate of complacency. When you get to a point of proficiency, where your dreams don’t terrify you anymore, I highly encourage you to find that terror anew in some other area of life. You should make it a lifelong goal to always be terrified.
Find the next challenge. Seek out the environment where you’re in over your head. Remember—one of your main goals is to learn to coexist with the terror of failure. You’ll learn to love failure. Even when you’re not failing at your primary goal, find ways to share your life with failure so that it never seems daunting again.
Pushing Through Blocks
Say the following out loud: “Do I have it?”
If the answer is “Not right now,” follow it up with this question: “Is it because I’m fucking around?”
If the answer is yes, and you can admit to yourself that you’re spending too much time getting willingly distracted, tell yourself the following: “Well, cut that shit out.”
Then go get back to work.
But if the answer is an honest “No, I’m really not fucking around. I’m focused, I’ve got time carved out for this, my phone ringer is turned off, and my sister is watching the kids. I’ve done everything I can to position myself for productivity, the well has just run dry today,” at that point you need to flee the scene of the crime.
Go out into the real world. Experience stuff. Consider it research for the next day’s valiant effort. Maybe, just maybe, you’ll encounter something so worth singing about, drawing about, writing about that it will inspire you and obliterate the roadblocks.
Creative blocks happen when we get inside our own heads and point everything inward. Placing our focus outward, into the real world, can often help us survive.