Reacting vs. Responding: An Artist’s Guide to Growing The F*ck Up

It’s been a week since the New Year hit. I thought I’d wait on a review of 2016 since not enough could ever be said about the disappointment that branded the year. The streets of Los Angeles were a lot quieter this New Year’s Eve than I remembered. A lot of folks opted to stay bunkered up at home or left as far away from the city as possible. The particular house-gathering I found myself that night was joyous for sure, but it felt more like a homegoing celebration (aka, funeral) than your regularly scheduled NYE party.

And that’s okay. This year for me was mostly a reminder that things don’t always go your way, even when you know they should. Even when justice and truth and reason says otherwise, our plans may still be flawed.

The question then becomes, what do we do about it? The natural instinct is to react - by flaring up with anxiety, retreating in depression, or a dangerous mixture of the two.

But what if we made the choice to respond, rather than react? It would mean making time to sit still and take thoughtful action on the real issues underneath. To enact change from the inside-out. It would mean doing the hard things first. It would mean growing up.

Maybe it has something to do with me leaving my twenties behind, but growth and growing up was a consistent theme for me last year. A lot of lessons learned. Let me count the ways:

1.INITIATE TOUGH CONVERSATIONS

Like a child, I tend to hide when an obvious confrontation is on the horizon. Uncomfortable conversations cause me to feel all but vaporized into thin air, as I shut down to protect my ego (reacting).

The problem is that hiding never makes the confrontation go away. It magnifies it. A difficult conversation you know you need to have is like a spider in the corner of your bedroom at night. You know, right where the wall meets the ceiling. You could try leaving it alone, turning off the lights, and going to sleep. But the likelihood of you getting any good rest knowing that spider is alive and well enough to hop in bed with you is pretty low. You’ve got to take care of it.

You’ve got to suck it up and be a grown-up (responding). Tell that friend you need space. Tell your business partner you’re over it and need more support. Tell your mother you’re sorry.  Accept the consequences, even when they aren’t according to plan. This is what adults do, and one of the biggest lessons I learned in the past year. It never stops being uncomfortable, but it does get a little bit easier each time. Not because you know what to expect, but because you’ve been down this road before and made it out okay.

2. KNOW WHEN TO TAKE A STEP BACK

I began 2016 with an intense desire to prove myself. Another music project was winding down and the results were below my expectations. I was really feeling the pressure to stay afloat in the eyes of my peers and the public with new releases and live shows. So I hustled, saying yes to almost every opportunity, throwing strategy to the wind, keeping busy at any cost (reacting). My inflated expectations compounded with every new release. With more work there would surely be better results, I thought. But during those first six to eight months of the year and over the span of several self-driven attempts, the needle barely jumped.

I realized I had traded my original vision of long-term sustainable success as an artist for short bursts of gratification based on blog mentions, IG likes, and local shout-outs. While I don’t regret doing some of these things “just for me,” this manic need to stay on the radar wasn’t serving my true mission.

All it took was the right person, a prospective manager with a little authority in my eyes, to tell me it was okay to stop. “Look, I know you don’t want to hear this right now,” he said, “but I really think you should just focus on this one thing [my next album]. The rest will come. There will be a moment soon where you really wish you had all the time you have now to create. So just do that right now.”

I stopped checking my Soundcloud listens and tracking my Twitter followers. I took a hiatus from Snapchat. I made the conscious decision to stop doing shows and random collaborations so I could just focus on creating new music.

And surprisingly I started writing better songs. Everything is taking much longer, but I’ve grown to understand that the process will be worth it. I’ve committed myself to responding with my best work, instead of looking for a quick hit.

3. ASK FOR HELP

This year, I’ve had to put my ego aside in pursuit of a larger vision. I’m still learning how to ask for help. As an only child I’ve never been good with group projects. But I had to grow up and see where my self-isolation was holding me back:

  • Creating new songs and managing the business side of my music career took too much brain space. I started seeking out new management.
  • My lyrical game was stagnating. I needed another writer’s perspective to help inspire new ideas. I began weekly free-writing with my friend Hollis.
  • The pain of uploading words and pictures to the Still Mind site only fueled my resistance to write openly about my experiences. So I reached out to a former intern Ossy to help on the admin side.

It wasn’t just a question of letting go and delegating, but also one of trusting myself to lead. There’s a lot of emotional work in teaching and motivating others in pursuit of a common goal, and I don’t want to fail. It always seems like the easier route is to just do it myself because then, I’m the only person I risk letting down. That’s a pretty selfish way to look at things, though. If the goal is to be generous with the best of me, I have to let others take an active role in helping me develop that. It’s not easy. But it’s the adult thing to do.

I’m trusting 2017 to give me the opportunities I need to capitalize on last year’s lessons. Do the hard things first, choose to respond rather than react, and ask for help.

In what ways are you looking to grow?