When I was 4 years old, I had to attend an interview for the only available place at my parents’ first choice of school for me, as there was a waiting list. My dad took me. We had a conversation in the car that he recalls vividly and I don’t recall at all. In it he advised me never to pretend to be anything I am not. I’m not sure what prompted this advisory moment but my dad does, to this day, have a philosophical streak. Anyway, I apparently took in his wise words, thought about them a little and replied, “So, I should never pretend to be a hedgehog?” Not quite what he was driving at methinks.
Now, in this interview I was asked by the formidable headmistress, Miss Belton, a regular Oxford university bluestocking, sitting in her very neat, very formal office, nestled at the heart of a very high stickler kind of school what I wanted to be when I grew up. Possibly bearing in mind my dad’s wise words of a half hour before, I went with the truth in that moment. “I want to be a policewoman on rollerskates playing the violin.” (Yes, I got the place.)
Why am I regaling you with this whimsy in an article that purports to be about career longevity? So glad you asked. In my 15 years of coaching creatives I find that there are only a few things more internally destructive to sustaining a career or the will to endure the challenges of your profession when they arise than putting your heart and soul into creating music or an image that you don’t believe in.
Musicians questioned in the Can Music Make You Sick Research identify very strongly with their work. They are they work, their work is them. If it’s not really your truth or dream or vision you’re working on, if it’s not really you, it’s tiring at the best of times, forget getting through the tough parts. And there are always tough parts. I am willing to admit that some people do just fine, thanks, making music that’s not really their thing. Cher, for example, once said she wasn’t really into her own music. I just found that admission profoundly sad. But she’s made it work for her pretty spectacularly. Maybe her more-than-a-little-successful acting side-gig has helped, who knows?
But for the most part people struggle in the long term if they lack authenticity, full expression of their potential or even just clarity around who they are being in their career or public persona, or music style. This is as true for reluctant music organisation CEOs as it is for people performing pop when their heart is really in the blues, or are playing sex siren when they are truthfully a Riot Grrl, or just want to get to write some of the songs sometimes, please.
A book I refer to over and over again, and recommend to clients is The Big Leap by Gay Hendricks. In it he makes a strong distinction between working in your ‘Zone of Excellence’ and your ‘Zone of Genius’. Our ‘Zone of Genius’ is a very specific thing or way of working, often almost unique to an individual. Influenced by many very specific truths or realities within us. We can be excellent at many things. But the gift of working in our ‘Zone of Genius’ is that doing so puts us into flow. That liminal place in which time is immaterial we can work without tiring and emerge energised and inspired and joyful. The chances of you not being you Youest You and also enjoying your Zone of Genius are astonishingly small. You owe it to yourself to find your Zone of Genius and spend as much time in it as you possibly can. Wallow in it. Who wants a long but (slightly) wrong career? Where is the joy in that?
This is an issue that causes real heartache. And it can be so hard to speak about it out loud, especially when the thing you aren’t enjoying is a thing you’ve fought to get to do and is something thousands of other people would kill to get a chance at.
How Does this Situation Arise?
Sometimes it happens because the competitive nature of the music business makes people feel as if they need to follow the market or the current trend. This may make sense in the short term. Almost never in the long term.
It also happens because many people enter the industry young and malleable, be they performer or exec-in-the-making, and get guided on to a path that feels like (or even is) a lucky break when it happens. An opportunity full of so much potential to start with can start to feel more and more constrictive as time passes and the options available along that path narrow.
There is a whole other subset of people who like what they are doing just fine, but they have this whole other part of themselves going unexpressed. A high percentage of my client base is made up of these gorgeous souls, because so often a creative spirit is so much more than can be contained in one role, or style or, like Cher, one industry. And often these gifted beings tell me about the other thi. Or ling like it’s a dirty secretke it’s an impossible dream. Or they very pragmatically tell me that “people” don’t like it when you do more than one thing because it’s confusing and so they can’t do two things, they must pick. To which I say – sweet soul, I’m overjoyed to tell you that you are talking utter and total nonsense (only usually I use more colourful language than that). I have worked to fix this with so many clients now I actually have a name for it; The Art of Both. And yes for you overachievers, it works for people with more than two things! Just look at Rihanna.
So, what do you do if you wake up one morning and think – this thing I’m doing is nearly right but it’s not quite there and the longer I go on, the more I fear what is right is getting further away?
Or, this path I’m on isn’t really enough any more.
Or, what I’m doing now is just plain wrong, it’s not me. Maybe it never was?
What do you do when you aren’t being you and you know things have to change?
Well, first of all take a deep breath, it’s all going to be OK.
Next, take stock.
Where are you now?
Where do you want to get to?
Can you explain it clearly enough to start telling other people?
Does it need some clarification?
Who else needs to know?
And when is the right time to tell them? (Hint: when you’re ready and prepared not a minute before).
Because it can be a little scary when you start to consider how many people around you are invested in you being your current you and not a whole different version currently hidden from their view. But it is possible to get there. And for a joyful and sustainable career, get there you must.
The first time I ever coached a manager and artist partnership it was because the artist was in the process of maturing into a new sound and wanted to leave behind their most commercial (and successful) album to explore heartfelt pastures new. This was not an easy moment for the manager. It wasn’t any easier for the artist either. Especially as both cared deeply and respected how much work the other had put into getting where they had. But the manager could see how not being able to follow her heart was affecting the artist, so after finding the right words to talk about their fears and recast their dreams they went with it. Long and joyful careers are not built on forcing yourself to be someone you are not. The idea of making a new album in the “wrong” genre was leading to some serious writers block and wider stress for the artist. In the end, with a solid transition strategy agreed between them, the artist went on to a whole new level of success in their career, in their new genre, with their manager.
In the colourful world of money coaching, there is an adage that your income is the average of the 5 people you spend the most time with. So, the theory when applied in practical terms says, if you want to earn more, change that average… spend more time with people who have different or higher money energy, mindset or expectations. This idea also works when you want to tackle the issue of authenticity or the focus of your career or work. Spend time with people who are already where you want to be. Be that by role, sector, genre. Do you need a mentor, an opportunity to get hands on experience away from what you are usually doing or to spend more time with supportive friends with an in to where you want to go? Do you need to create a collaboration, or the opposite – and experiment alone for a while? Making these transitions can also trigger feelings of being beholden to certain folks who are happy staying where you can no longer remain. These feelings need to be dealt with – honestly. You need to find the right way to allow yourself to move on, let go. This can be hard. Not impossible.
Start with you though. Be clear. Who is the new you who is emerging? What do they want and need?
It’s easiest to get people’s buy in to these kinds of changes if you have words to describe it clearly, other words to describe what it has meant to you not to make the changes until now and if you have a plan of action to implement no matter what people’s reaction is. Whether it was coming out to the press and public, or following a dream that has nothing to do with what everyone expected them to do, it has always been easier for my clients to take courage when they have been sure that what they dream of is worth the risk of leaping.
That takes clarity.
My two favourite clarity strategies are:
- Follow your intuition. It won’t lie to you. It already knows what the world looks like when you are expressing your fullest potential and it wants you to get there. Get quiet, listen, ask it any questions or present it with any of your fears that arise and then listen to its replies.
- Water is a fabulous intuition conduit. Bath, shower, swim, marinate. In a pool, jacuzzi, hot tub, hot spring, the sea. Whatever works.
Use a guided visualisation for visioning. And then when you’re clear, go back to your intuition for inspired actions. (Anything intuition suggests to you in a clear and gentle way is an inspired action).
A great type of question for tapping your intuition’s well of inspired actions is – what is the first/smallest thing I need to do to start moving towards my vision? Who is the one/first person I need to tell about this? (I started my entire international speaking career by asking myself that last question. One name, one email. Boom!)
Know your Values.
This can be a long term and highly effective fix on your way to transitioning into the Youest You version of your career – but is also an excellent, and deep quick fix if you need one too.
Establish your Values (here’s a simple exercise to work through to do just that). Establish your top 5, in order – and then live by them. Creatively, professionally, personally.
I have a client for whom Love is her primary value. Love (in all its forms) is now an integral and unashamed part of her songwriting, and how she and her team promote her work.
Joy is one of mine. If I am invited to participate in a project and I don’t get a little rush of joy over it – I know this might not be the project for me. Or I have to find ways to finesse the project to build my kind of joy in. Usually throw in the opportunity to travel and the joy is instant for me. Or add warm water I can sit in. This may sound flippant but I collaborate with a water therapist in working with a number of my clients to do deep work. And I found out about my passion for combining coaching and warm (spa or sea) water by following my sense of effortlessness (another of my top 5 values) when in the water.
When clients have an aspect of their career, or a project or a collaboration that isn’t working, often a values check is enough to get much better energy into play. A client of mine had fun as her second highest value. It became very apparent why a particular project with some very serious and unfun clients wasn’t working for her. Armed with this insight she was able to gently let go of them. And in very short order replaced them with another project which was very much her idea of fun, and so was a perfect fit.
Check out my values exercise. It takes about 20 minutes to do, but you might find it transformational. People use their results to:
– check out if potential collaborative partners are a fit with their values (this can be as simple as using those words in a chat. You can easily see if someone responds to them or if they fall flat).
– help photographers they are working with understand the essence of them they want captured during a photoshoot.
– renegotiate or revive working relationships that have gone a little stale or pedestrian.
– work out why a project that on paper should be working, isn’t. (Usually one or more of their values is missing from the project)
Your core values are you. Your intuition is the direct line to your truth. Use either of these tools to set you on the path to being the Youest You you can be, or to course correct whenever needed throughout a career. A career in music can be a beautiful beautiful thing but you have to be true to yourself. And that won’t stay static over time. Nobody is unchanging. During a long career there will be moments of transition or change that are necessary to keep your career sustainable, to keep you growing and joyful. Don’t be afraid, there is no sustainable alternative to living and creating as the Youest You you can be.