When Alan Turing and his team pioneered the very idea of the “computer”, it’s likely they had no idea that it could be used to create music from scratch.
But, one of the world’s first computer scientists, Christopher Strachey, managed to take the computer known as the “Manchester Mark II” and got some tunes out of it. Fittingly, these just so happened to be Christmas songs.
Take a listen:
While these sounded… pretty bad, they were only the beginning. Just 20 years later, every pop band on the planet was using some sort of synthesizer or drum machine in their music. And 30 years after that, these giant pieces of equipment were being condensed down to the soft synths we know and love.
In total, it took over 50 years to go from a christmas-song-playing-computer-that-sounded-worse-than-a-cat-with-a-steamroller-coming-out-of-its-mouth to the “can do anything” synths we have today.
And though that entire process took a long long time, we know that anything worthwhile does. Whether it be building synthesizers for the world to use, or building your career. We’re often told that we have to speed our lives up in order to gain success when in reality, slowing down leads to greater long-term results.
In this yuletide post, we’ll chat about:
Go Slow | Go Far
Making Sure Your Goals are Actually Yours
Avoid the Passion Trap
Considering it’s the holiday season And most people are taking stock of their lives and their goals, I figured this is as good a time as any for your disapproving Indian dad (that’s me, by the way) to help out. We’re not going to talk about how to set goals in this one (that’s for next week), but we are going to talk about the mindsets around them.
Note that I’m talking about what has worked well for me and many of the people you look up to in the industry. Pretty much everyone else tells you to do the opposite of what I recommend, so listen selfishly and do what works for you ❤
It’s easy to think that to achieve goals You need to be going all-in and as fast as you possibly can. That’s the message we’re sold non-stop. “Get abs in 3 weeks!” “2 weeks to your profitable business!” and on and on. In some cases, yes you can get some quick results, but they are almost universally unsustainable. I’m always impressed by the people who do only a small number of things, but do them well without stress or frazzle, as opposed to the typical creative type who bounces from thing to thing and never gets anywhere.
When you’re not killing yourself to achieve your goals, or chasing after shiny things (switching industries constantly, learning irrelevant skills, etc), you’ll get a remarkable amount done. Far more than the typical manic artist that you see everywhere.
Going slow means you’ll go far The people who take their time with their work make more money, have more time, and less stress in their lives. Sadly, too many people are running around endlessly, doing way more than everyone else, but getting next to no results.
This doesn’t mean that the slower, more focused people do the bare minimum or slack off. It means that they’re very purposeful about the few things that they choose to do, instead of just piling their plates full with endless tasks.
Most driven people don’t want to become “lazy” But it takes laziness to let extreme overwhelm creep into your life. You have to be very conscious and vigilant of taking projects, improving your skills, and choosing the right places to spend your time. It takes way more energy up front, but takes much less to sustain this sort of life.
So instead of setting 14 skills you need to improve on in the next year, you’d be far better off choosing just 1–3, getting those down, then moving on from there. In the short-term, you will absolutely see the “go-all-in” people surpass you. But, as they all quietly quit their pursuits over and over, you’ll build the habits that will give you a sustainable, profitable, and happy career. You just want to make sure the goals you pick are truly ones you want to pursue.
It’s easy to follow goals that are actually yours I know that sound silly, but goals can be an insidious beast. You could want to be an orchestral composer your whole life, watch a single documentary, and then decide to become a professional dancer. Your whole life gets upended in just one moment. We’ve all had those inspirational “wow” moments when a new goal supplants an older one in mere seconds. These goals usually aren’t what we actually want out of our lives and should be ignored most of the time.
While there’s nothing inherently wrong with changing your path, just make sure that the goals you choose are actually yours. It’s also common to see your peers winning awards and then decide to follow their “blueprint” so that you can win an award like them too. Not only will this lead to no recognition, but also a feeling of constant misery and comparison. And when we’re in that state, we start to fall into what I call the “Passion Trap.”
We all fall prey to “following our passion” And this can be a good thing when starting out. Following the energy of what we actually want to do with our lives is a great rudder. That’s where passion’s usefulness ends, however.
No matter what you do with your life, your “passion” will absolutely wax and wane — often for years at a time. Just a few years into your career, things get really, really hard and you start to wonder if you were “meant” for whatever it is you’re doing.
So then you quit and start over with something fresh. Things feel good for a while, get hard, and then you quit again.
This is a trap that most every artist falls into I certainly have many times. I know artists who are much older than me that are still figuring this out. It’s an incredibly common phenomenon. Steven Pressfield (author of the amazing book “The War of Art”) calls this waning passion and general feeling of dissatisfaction toward our craft “The Resistance” and recommends that it be fought at every turn.
It’s up to us to push through these tough feelings. And once you do, you’ll notice that very few people manage to get to the other side of it. But, that’s what pros do. They fight through it and deliver anyway.
“Sure, I could go slow, but I need gigs and money NOW” This I completely understand. For you, this may not be something you can adhere to right away. Sure, you’d love to slow down and focus on just a few key things, but you just have too much to do to provide for yourself and/or your family.
In that case, make slowing down a goal to work towards. Take baby steps. Gradually cut things out that are irrelevant to your path and double down on the aspects of your life that are most important to you. You don’t have to do a full 180 starting tomorrow.
Yes, “doing less” can count as a goal Most people, when setting goals, try to find ways they can add more stuff into their already totally-full lives. Getting more done on fewer tasks is almost always the antidote to the overwhelm that comes with normal goal setting.
Funnily, that’s what the best artists, authors, and game developers do when it comes to their work. People understand, generally, when the top people take their time with their work. Sure, I want the third Kingkiller Chronicles book to come out right now, but we also all know that the good stuff takes time.
So let’s take a moment and summarize
Taking your time and not overloading your plate will push you further than most every other artist out there.
Taking on a ton of stuff just because it’s in front of you isn’t admirable — it’s a form of laziness.
Your passion WILL disappear no matter how much you enjoy working on your craft. It’s up to you to fight through that.