There’s going to be some point in your career where every sign says, “Turn around! You’re not cut out for this! Give up, stupid!” You’ve got to believe that you’re going to make it even when there’s no discernable reason for you to believe. Blind optimism is your best friend on those days.
When I first left home to make music, my mother said, “If you find yourself back down South playing ‘Sweet Home Alabama’ in an empty bar, pack up your gear, come on home and go to grad school.” Cut to a few years later in Augusta, Georgia; we’re playing some sad little bar for two of our friends, a bartender and one lonely drunk who kept calling out for that Skynyrd classic. Our guitar player dropped the riff, I followed up screaming on organ, and away we went. I thought pretty seriously about quitting that night; we’d been living on the kindness of strangers and playing songs for almost no one every night.
I was broke and exhausted; every show was thankless and every day felt like a miserable grind. Instead of giving up, I grabbed a sandwich, we hopped back in our Chevy Astrovan, and headed out to Murfreesboro or Charleston or whatever other thankless gig awaited us the next day. I had a lot of days and nights like that over the years.
Just after college, in the middle of a long New York winter, after hours of writing songs, I realized that 1. I hadn’t eaten since the night before and 2. I was out of food (and money). I went out into the snow and walked down the steps to the subway to play some tunes and make a couple bucks for a meal. I made my way to Penn Station but my usual spot on the 1 train platform was occupied. I finally found a spot on the platform of the A train which was never ideal because it got really cold down there in the winter. It got later and later, nobody came by to toss me the couple of bucks I needed to get some dinner, and I was getting really hungry. It was freezing down there that night and my teeth were chattering like a cartoon. After a while, the situation felt really dire and in spite of myself, I started crying. That was one of the lowest points in my life, basically just panhandling to get enough money to eat and failing at it.
I stopped crying, dried my eyes and said, “It can’t get any worse than this; if you don’t quit now, you never will.”
I played a few more tunes, thankfully some people stopped by to listen and left me three dollars. Away I ran towards the vendors. I have never eaten hot dogs that tasted that good in my life.
Without blind optimism, when those dark nights of the soul come up, it’s easy to pack your bags, call it a night and go home with your tail between your legs.
Most professional musicians have their versions of those stories, the times in their life when everything was telling them to turn around, but they kept on going. If you’re going to make it, odds are at some point you’re going to have to rely on blind optimism. Believe that you’re going to make it and don’t let anything shake that belief.
Reason To Ignore This Advice: You’re the next Justin Bieber. His trajectory has been primarily up-up-up since day one, God bless him.