As I was sitting in the Shaimus tour van in the middle of an all-day drive, I was tired both physically and mentally. I felt like a human blob–motionless all day and wondering if I was watching a small part of my young life slip away, a casualty of the road. Touring, I should mention, is often a time of extremes: the highs are incredible, and the lows can be pretty rough. I love being on the road and the tour was going quite well, but having all that time to think sometimes leads to a little nagging sensation that you may be wasting precious minutes.
This feeling is dead wrong, by the way. The fact is that almost nobody has a life that’s action-packed all the time, so it’s ludicrous to expect mine to be that way. Also, bands make great progress by touring–it’s essential to the process of building and expanding a fan base. Even when I’m sitting around doing nothing in a van, I’m still moving somewhere… it’s better than sitting around and doing nothing at home. And down the road (no pun intended), that’s the key distinction to your success. I’ll explain with a little football analogy.
Put Me In Coach, I'm Ready
The HBO series Hard Knocks takes a look at the preseason training camp of a different NFL team each year (this year it’s the Jets, I’m still waiting for my Eagles). I always find it fascinating to get a glimpse into the lives of people who are among the best at what they do, and since I’ve never played football outside a backyard, the show is particularly interesting to me; I don’t know much about what goes into putting together a pro football team. Athletes at the professional level are incredibly competitive and dedicated. And much like creative pursuits, it’s extremely difficult to make it to the pro level… The odds are slim for “making it” in sports.
It’s tough to watch players get cut from the team. Most seem thankful for the opportunity and rightfully disappointed by the decision (they’re probably mostly disappointed in themselves). They often ask, “So what now?” Although the standard answer involves processing paperwork and returning play books, I can’t help but get a sense that they’re asking it less as an inquiry to the coach about the immediate future and more as a rhetorical reflection to themselves.
I’m sure most of these guys have known nothing but football for the better part of their lives. From high school through college they’ve spent most of their time and energy working toward the dream of playing in the NFL, and now that dream (at least for the moment) has been taken away from them. It must be a pretty tough pill to swallow when you’re forced to wonder what else you could possibly do with yourself besides the thing you’ve been single-mindedly pursuing for half your life.
Failure Is In The Eye Of The Beholder
Have these athletes truly failed? The fact is that for a period of time, short as it may have been, that person put on a Jets uniform and played as a part of a pro team. They stood on the sideline during preseason games and maybe even made a play or two in front of thousands of fans on national television. From now on, any time they meet someone new they’ll be able to say, “I tried out for the NFL and I played for the Jets a few times, but I didn’t end up making the team.”
And you know what people will say when they hear that? “Whoa, that’s so cool! You went for it and lived the dream!” The ex-Jet will probably get nothing but admiration. Not only had he gone further than most people ever will, he followed his passion with the balls and focus that a lot of us can only dream of. The same goes for musicians, writers, artists, travelers, business owners, anyone who is trying to take life by the balls. I know from experience that to an outsider’s perspective, giving a creative, risky or unconventional career path your all is enough to constitute “living the dream.”
I may have been feeling a little sedentary in the tour van, but my life was moving along with the vehicle. It doesn’t matter if I “make the team” as a professional musician. Years from now, no matter where I am, I will tell someone about being in a band and going on many tours. And that person won’t be thinking about the moment I gazed sullenly out the window at passing landscapes. All they’ll say to me is:
“Oh, that is so cool! You lived the dream, man.”
I certainly did. And I still am.