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“The chains of habit are too light to be felt until they are too heavy to be broken.” —Maria Edgeworth

“You must be more interested in remaking yourself than breathing.” —Hero the Band

I remember hearing my grandfather say a lot of old saws that I shook off as fluff when I was a kid.

“Nothing is built in a day.”

“Everything good takes some time.”

“There are no shortcuts.”

Yeah, yeah, yeah. Whatever. I’ll get this record deal, and I’ll show you all. 🙂 But, of course, as you get older, you learn there is no one thing that fixes any problem. I know people with too much time and money on their hands, and they are more miserable than someone slowly working at their craft and passion. You can have little, but if you have some hope and your goals are clear—and you have those around you telling you there is possibility in this world—you can be a lot happier than millionaires who’ve lost track of the myriad of things that matter beyond money/fame/consumption.

Keeping a goal fixed in your mind. Becoming, learning, feeling you have some worth, staying on a path—these are the things that fill the soul.

In some ways, you and I are already very, very lucky, no matter what happens. If you have time to read this, there is a good chance you have some food to eat and some kind of roof over your head. Much of the world does not, and much of human history did not. I spent (wasted) a good part of the beginning of my career convincing myself the only real happiness could be to fly around in an airplane playing arenas—when really, I have already been closer to the “dream” than I could have ever imagined when I started playing drums and guitar as a little kid. I always played for the sheer joy of it. It’s only later you measure your self-worth against everyone else in society and what blares from your TV set. (I tell the schools I speak to, never compare your inside to someone else’s outside. Most of what people show us is a facade anyway.) I have not achieved my very specific childhood dream—I still have delusions of grandeur, for sure—but once I stopped thinking of money and fame for fame’s sake and realized how wonderful it is to be able to give more to others, any guilt or shame for wanting to reach the top of my craft went right out the window. Most of us who tell you they want to be starving artists are probably hiding from something. I refuse to settle into the nihilism of not trying harder. I have a limited window on this Earth, and I want to move the needle for myself and for others—and especially the crew around me that has bet on me steering this ship. So how do we get there?

Brick by Brick

This may seem a little out there, but when I get up in the morning and don’t feel like rising with the alarm—when I don’t feel like doing anything (which is plenty more mornings than I care to admit)—I imagine a little brick of gold inside my mind. It’s not about money. This brick represents discipline, fire, TRYING. A path to the things I want. (As Jock Willink says, Discipline = Freedom.) It represents a chart I keep, which I mentioned in this post.

If I reach for this from the second I rise (and if I rise early enough to get ahead of my day), if I do the things I am SUPPOSED to do—the things I have set out to do—I am gonna have the things I want or at least feel fulfilled getting down the path.

If I lie there and start to let the negativity in, if I complain to myself my body doesn’t feel great or these things went wrong in my life, that little brick of gold starts to fade fast. Momentum through the day is lost. The void is filled with little annoyances and stress. Regret and doubt start their slow creep to dissolve and wither away what I want and who I can be. If I’m not up and at it early, I will find myself chasing the phone calls, stressing, not thinking clearly, not writing and recording as well as I am able. Then the day is not as fulfilling, and that next night, I won’t sleep well, and the circle starts again. I figure enough days like that, and I cannot close in on the happiness ONLY I can make for myself.

The Past Must Fuel the Future, Not Hold It Back

Everyone struggles. Life being full of pain is about the only guarantee you get. It’s easy to hold court writing these blogs and talking about inspiration and self-help, but I fight doubt, fear, entropy every single day. And I was not always in a place to be able to even identify what I needed or what was driving me. From day one, I lusted to have drumsticks or a guitar or a mic in my hands, but I wasted a lot of my childhood with pure 100 percent unabashed WORRY and STRESS. With FEAR. I’ll go into this in another blog, but I suffered some major panic attacks in my early 20s figuring out who the hell I was. What hurt me was that I didn’t know what was holding me back, what little demons were still hiding in the corner of my mind. I had to take control of who I was and where I was headed. Had to stop being a victim and find new people to imitate. Had to try to become the person I would want to imitate. If you are an artist you must turn wounds into assets and turn pain into creation, but you don’t have to make yourself and everyone else around you miserable doing it. As my brilliant shrink at the time said, it’s all grist for the mill. It may sound reductive, but when Stephen King wrote in Shawshank Redemption, “Get busy living or get busy dying,” he was onto the whole thing.

(For anyone suffering from anxiety/panic, I hate it for you—it feels like dying, but the good news is it usually happens to people who are highly functioning: people who WANT to change and people who have something inside that needs to be dealt with. If you can afford a doc, get one. If you can’t, this book has cured tons of folks, and it helped me more than I can say: From Panic to Power by Lucinda Bassett.)

Five Nonnegotiables

1. HEALTH. My body is built by a thousand workouts and diet decisions day by day or deteriorated by a thousand decisions of neglect—booze, smokes, drugs. As with everything, it’s choosing to sacrifice now to not feel like garbage later. (More on drugs and alcohol later. As Dave Grohl said, “You don’t need a needle hanging out of your arm to be a rock star.”)

2. MIND. My mind is built by thousands of books, audiobooks, conversations, podcasts, and articles, and asking smart, driven people hard questions, as well as by asking myself hard questions and getting out of my comfort zone more.

Or my mind is deteriorated by garbage TV shows, constant negative news cycles, talking to negative people, talking to people who can’t get behind others because they are too jealous or worried about their own demons. We all have this built in; it’s just a matter of getting beyond it by kicking through fear and lifting ourselves and others up. Which brings us to number three…

3. SPIRIT/SOUL. My center/belief system/spirituality. The little voice that 99 percent of us have inside (the other 1 percent are sociopaths) that tries its best to get over all the noise and push us to choose love over fear. Push us to give and not just take. It’s sad to me that here in the western world we have used religion/spirituality to justify so much judgment, hatefulness, and brutality. We have come up with so many excuses for our own greed. We have taken stock with our fears, and I believe that when we shut each other and the world out, we do this at our own peril. The more we lose sight of our shared beliefs, the more we will be divided and conquered.  We are in an environment right now that doesn’t allow us to hear “other” very well. And my interest is in love, bringing each other together, and not all the judgment that comes if someone doesn’t see God in exactly the same way you do, or even if someone doesn’t see God at all.

A lot of us (myself included) get caught in these echo chambers where we think we can understand the world as Us versus Them, and it gets very easy to start seeing so much of the world as OTHER. We start listening to people who we think feel exactly as we do, and, therefore, we can be led by those who tell us what we want to be told. We have to protect our ability to think for ourselves. I refuse to believe you are all that different from me. I choose to believe that (unless you are a sociopath) you and I are connected and we will do our best by lifting one another up. We will do our best when we have a society that includes everyone in its growth and success.  Our society is built, brick by brick, by shared understanding of certain facts and beliefs. Duty. Ethics. More on this later, but I hope as we get deeper into this conversation that you can hear me and I can hear you (me through these rants and you through your comments or our conversations out on the road) because there are a handful of people with a lot of power trying to convince us that we are not the same. I refuse to believe it. I refuse to give in to this fear.

4. FAMILY/CREW. Our families are built one brick at a time by a million tiny moments of attention, of pure love, of compliments, understanding, gratitude, and patience (something I need a lot of work at). I don’t have kids yet,  but I know what it meant to me as a kid for someone to pay attention unconditionally, to show real love. For my mom to buy me my first guitar, for my dad to tell me his stories of being a radio DJ and growing up wilder than I’ll ever be :), for my sister to scream “LEMON” in a crazy falsetto voice as we died laughing making fun of U2 together (one of my all-time favorite bands). A million little moments. If you are from a really small family, then you know the joy of picking your own crew outside of blood, people who may not be related but you would do anything for. I see this with people who are kind enough to adopt or work with big brothers/sisters, etc. Enjoying time with family/friends is what the hard work and struggle are all for at the end of the day. Speaking of work…

5. WORK/CRAFT. Our craft is built one brick at a time. Whatever you do, there is no getting around putting in the work and putting in the hours. For me, it’s sitting down with pen and paper and six strings—10,000 hours of trial and error, carving away at nothingness until the chords or the melody or the groove becomes a form, until it tells me what it wants to be. As they say in Nashville, the first thousand are free. Most of us have to write a lot of songs before one fires on all cylinders. You might stumble on a hit, but more than likely you will write and write and call and call before you get anything through the door. Very few people do their best work right out of the gate. Yes, some are born with immense talent, but almost always does the hard work eventually overtake the talent—because talented lazy people perish. Keep trying. Over and over. You can’t help but get a little better each time.

For me, all five of these inform one another. Clarity in one area leads to clarity in the next.

Brick by brick means workout by workout, phone call by phone call, song by song, show by show, conversation by conversation, lending a hand and hopefully LISTENING. Tuning up 10,000 guitars and doing 10,000 sound checks, touring a million miles—are any of us guaranteed any fame or fortune? Hell no. But will I get to know myself a little bit better and hopefully make things just a little bit better for myself and others? I sure hope so. We can be guaranteed absolute zero if we don’t try.

So when you get up in the morning, trying to fit the pieces together, know I’m getting up, too. We are seeing the same sun, and we probably have more in common than we think, dealing with many of the same fears, same worries. All of us at some level are fighting a similar battle. It’s gonna come down to whether we choose to open our hearts or whether we choose to shut each other out. Life is a struggle—it was designed that way. You don’t get born old and magically get young. It’s heavier and heavier lifting the whole way through. Let’s get to lifting. I’m reaching for that first brick right now. I’ll see you out on the path.

Thanks for reading. Looking forward to your comments.


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