A few weeks ago I was on a family vacation in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. One night we went to a cabaret show featuring the Canadian singer Kim Kuzma. Kim is in her fifties, is a very good singer and the instrumentals behind her were phenomenal. But it wasn’t really my thing — it was more for an older crowd. Regardless, it was clear this woman had a lot of talent and knew how to belt a tune.
But do you really think this cabaret show on a Wednesday night in a dinnertime spot in a Mexican town was this woman’s dream? Maybe. It’s a pretty ignorant thing for me to assume that couldn’t be someone’s dream. We’re all very different and define success in varying ways.
But for the sake of this article, lets say she didn’t dream of one day performing in a cabaret show in an overly air-conditioned locale to a bunch of old tourists in Mexico.
So this got me thinking…
I’m sure when this woman started performing white-haired geriatrics and disinterested twentysomethings were not in her forecast. I’m guessing as a little girl, or burgeoning singer in the industry, she had dreams of “making it” and becoming the next big thing.
I think about my own career so far, and feel fearful with the realization that I might not get what I want. I might be at forty years old, living on a mattress in a rundown apartment, eating Kraft dinner and attending my friends kids’ birthday parties as the single, old, broke guy (or whatever the writing equivalent to performing in a Mexican cabaret show is). Rather than the picture perfect image of massive success I have in my head. I realize that you have to chase a dream, prepare yourself and be okay with the fact that where you end up might be different than what you envision for yourself — it might be far less spectacular than what you had hoped for. In fact, it’s almost certain that it will. Which is why every artist or entrepreneur needs to be in love with the process of what they’re doing, not the potential result or payoff of what they’re doing.
In other words, if no one were to ever see or read the things you create, if you knew beforehand that you would never receive any sort of recognition for what you create, would you still do it?
This made me think of other artists and entrepreneurs — anyone who’s trying to create a job, rather than find a job.
When you’re an artist or an entrepreneur, your whole life is a gamble. You forfeit security for passion. You bypass reality for the chance you’ll reach your dreams. You pass up the solid and the good, for the hopes that you can achieve the great.
The thing is avoiding this “worst case scenario” fear is unavoidable. You have to silence and diminish its potency. Every artist and entrepreneur must forge ahead against the chance they won’t succeed. They might make a mockery of themselves; they might get ripped apart by critics, even friends, or in secrecy by all the acquaintances following them on social media.
That’s why so many can’t take that step. So they just resign their dream to a hobby, or do it on the side. I always say these people don’t love it enough. They love it enough to do it as a hobby, but they don’t love it enough to make it their life. Or try making it their life. They can’t forfeit security. They want complete assurance of a certain level of living for their futures. They want security they can have a family one-day and provide the kind of life for their kids that they were fortunate enough to have growing up. It makes perfect sense. Living on blind ambition seems irrational and irresponsible, right? Well try telling that to someone who is whole-heartedly pursuing their passion. To them, they love something so much and are so driven toward it that giving up and doing something else would be the most irrational and irresponsible decision they could make.
Every artist or entrepreneur has to ask the question, “Do I love it enough to surrender to it?” Because you have to love it enough to go through the years of struggle, years of the unknown, as well as the continuous and plaguing fear that you will fail and you won’t achieve the things you want.
You must also have a deep inner belief that you have the ability to do it. You have to believe you’re talented and have inner, unparalleled confidence that this is what you’re meant to do with your life.
Just like a relationship, you can’t find success when you have one foot out the door. You have to be all in, both feet, hands and whole heart. You have to surrender to your dream, for better or worse. You have to actively choose the path, knowing very well of the monsters and boogey men that lie in your way. This is why backup plans are just escape routes for the ones who don’t have the courage to commit to the unknown. Security is the nemesis of passion. As artists and entrepreneurs, every day we fight between conforming to security and standing strong with our passions.
It’s not easy to do. You look around at all your friends who are making very tangible progressions towards success and maturity: buying condos, getting big promotions, buying expensive rocks for their wives-to-be, getting married, and taking awesome, very adult vacations. While so much of our success is intangible. We’re working towards carving out our authentic voice as artists and creators, going to networking seminars to try and meet mentors, trying to merely find an audience for our work, or trying to find a way to keep the head of our business above water. Success, particularly as artists and creators, is so difficult to see and measure. It’s easy to think you’re shit and doing nothing, while you notice so much tangible and monetary progression all around you. Artists and entrepreneurs work their ass off for no guarantee of success, blindly, against huge fears, for the faith that it is all going to pay off eventually. Artists and entrepreneurs work for long-term benefit, forfeiting short-term stability and security, in hopes that developing their business or craft, over time, will become their livelihood.
We all have to confront our fears. We have to work knowing that we might not make it. We have this idealistic picture in our heads of what success in our industry looks like. But we have to love the work, and believe in it enough, to continue to push forward, in the face of the possibility that we might not make enough money to support a family, take lavish vacations, be a member of country clubs, or end up getting any sort of recognition for the things we create.
Our life mentality is about “for love of the game”. But we actively chose this. We jumped with both feet. Now we’re committed to the unknown, insecurity, vulnerability, and fears that come along with it. And we might never make it. We might fall short of that vision in our heads. We may come up swinging. But there’s at least one thing we can take comfort in, while others who weren’t prepared to forfeit security for passion might be comfortable, their lives may be far less than they were capable of, and not because of trying and failing, but because of being too afraid to take that step.
As artists and entrepreneurs, we walk a path riddled with uncertainty, but we can take comfort in at least one certainty: even in the wake of failure, we won’t have regrets.
Perhaps that cabaret singer in Mexico isn’t living the dream life she envisioned when she was starting out in her career, but I’m sure she doesn’t regret the choice she made to pursue it fully. The same choice that a lot of us are making now.