We sacrifice a lot to be in the entertainment industry. At some point, most of us have weathered strained relationships with friends and lovers, gone for long periods of time with irregular sleep, and missed entire weeks of sunlight as if we were living at McMurdo Station in June.
Yet we barely notice because we love what we do.
At some point, we become our job: We live it.
That’s a good thing, right? Especially when we’re in the early part of our careers and can devote everything to our work. But becoming our work doesn’t mean that we are getting all we need from it, even during the best of times. As most of us eventually figure out, the more successful we are, the harder it is to get some of the things we really need to keep us going.
I’m not suggesting long-needed vacations or even time to meditate or getting physical exercise: The thought of that, alone, can stress many of us out. Rather, I’m talking about doing the things we actually want to do, not the things we think we have to do for someone else (or even the things we’ve been doing for so long we imagine it’s all we want to do).
Somewhere lower down on our To Do lists are items that are very important to us for some other reason than income generation or career building, but we’ve put them aside for the very reason that they don’t put bread on the table. They may even seem a little frivolous because of that. Often these projects are pushed so far down that they leave the To Do list altogether and become part of a Wish list—a collection of things we’ll come back to at some point in the future “when there is time.”
What brought this to mind was the editor’s note in the September 2014 issue of Drum! magazine, where editor-in-chief Andy Doerschuk talks about losing the ability to play drums due to spinal stenosis, an exhaustingly painful condition. Although misdiagnosed initially as shin splints, the condition has worsened to the point where Doerschuk can no longer play his instrument.
“But what would you do if you couldn’t play drums?” he asks in the article. “…it feels like losing one of the best friends you’ve ever had.” Anyone who has broken a limb or has had a repetitive stress injury suddenly realizes that even the most mundane chores—brushing your teeth, taking a shower, getting dressed—cannot be taken for granted. The pain of any disability is heavy enough to deal with, but it’s a major blow to lose the one thing that feeds you to the core of your being: “Drumming was my escape from life’s challenges, my constant companion, a source of pride, my identity.”
As I read Doerschuk’s letter, I re-evaluated my own relationship to the drums, my main instrument, as well as other aspects of my life and work that are sources of pride, identity and escape mechanisms. The first stage in such an evaluation is to become mindful about the parts of your job that are the most meaningful to you; a reminder to enjoy yourself and not take things for granted.
But it’s stage two of self-reflection that I want to focus on; a look at the important things that we have yet to accomplish and that we’ve always wanted to do but just haven’t gotten around to. That’s what I couldn’t help thinking as I read Doerschuk’s moving letter. It’s the place where my mind goes when a friend or colleague is seriously injured or dies. That question of, “Why did I wait so long to…”
So rather than suggest we take better care of ourselves or take more time off to recharge, I am going to suggest that we do more. Scan the lower parts of that never-ending list of chores and locate those projects that you’ve been putting off forever, the ones that will take you away from your comfortably insane workload. These are the things you don’t want to remember with regret during the last moments of your life (or after someone else has passed) and wonder why you didn’t do them.
Is it a collaboration with someone you admire, perhaps someone who suggested you work together? Or maybe you have always wanted to produce and release something of your own, though it requires some pro bono assistance to yourself for a change, rather than for someone else’s cause.
We sacrifice a lot to stay busy and relevant and have no problem giving back to others. Why is it so difficult to give a little back to ourselves? We know we’re not going to be here forever, nor will the people we enjoy working with the most. Why deny ourselves the chance to do the things we’ve been dreaming of but keep putting off for later.
Doerschuk finished his message by writing, “Don’t hesitate. Get out and play drums however, whenever, and wherever possible, not for the money, but because you can.”
I suggest his words be taken as a metaphor for how we can approach our own skills and loves within our work/life. Take a step back and do what you need to do for yourself, while you are still able to. Don’t leave the most important projects for the future.