Article by Danny J. Lee
“Overnight, I went from driving all over L.A. to auditions to stepping over baby toys, five feet in my living room to put on my best self for the camera.” – Danny J. Lee
For as long as I can remember— a skill which is not as impressive as it used to be— I wanted to be a creative person. Over the course of my lifetime, I’ve written, been on broadcast TV, done voice-over, played music and, these days, come up with a number of lame dad jokes, including the most perfectly shaped plant around: the symme-TREE!
However, the lot that comes with being a creative person usually involves quelling doubt from outside and within, emotional and tangible challenges, which are not limited to the high-odds nature of finding success in creative fields.
For those of you who have taken on the reins of the challenge of trying to carve out a niche in one creative field or another, eschewing the 9-to-5 life, I present you yet another hurdle: trying to understand a newly conceived playing field resembling something painted by Picasso.
The current pandemic has caused us to rethink all industries in ways many never imagined, including those of us creators. What follows are my tips for achieving the staying power in your field of choice and strategies I, myself, have been and am currently implementing during these uncertain times. As an ode to being a nerd for all things music and since Philip is running a site largely paying homage to musicians, I have mixed in a health dose of eclectic music references to help me make the point. Enjoy!
Un-masking Your Creative Side
- “Roll With It”
Ah, Steve Winwood, if this weren’t an anthem for my career, I don’t know what would be (“Stayin’ Alive, perhaps?).
One thing that these times more so than any I can think of during the last 40 years, outside of economic downfalls and national crises, have taught us is you need to flexible. It’s the old truism of predicting the unpredictable. Yeah, yeah, I know you’re probably sitting there thinking, “Thanks for the tip, Nostradamus.” However, guile aside, being ready and prepared is at the essence of being successful in any field.
Procrastinating, something for which we’ve been all guilty, and simple things like not having new headshots or, say, producing new content, represent another strike against you. If you’re going into a field where you’re already looking at an 0-and-2 count before you get into the box, why would you give away that valuable strike?
These last few months have been unconscionable, something for which it would’ve been impossible to be adequately ready. But, simple things like keeping a positive outlook, making sure you will put your best self out there with all you’ve got when things open up, will put you a step ahead of the rest. This is a good lesson that things won’t always go as planned, but the ones who find a way to keep up with the current will be better able to manage the deluge.
- “Shinin’ On”
The first line from this Grand Funk Railroad song—“We are winners and losers”— is as blunt as it is apt. Unless you are a fan of the Beautiful Game (soccer, fútbol or football so as to not draw your ire), a draw isn’t very satisfying.
I haven’t met too many people who aspire to be part of the latter category. We all aim to be winners. What ends up pulling us away from that winners’ circle, though, is a lot of negative self-talk or lack of reinforcement from outside. Certainly, the company you keep is important to establishing a successful mindset, but it all starts with you. If you don’t believe in your abilities, who will?
By the same token, drinking from the cup of success, is a great undertaking. It’s addicting. It’s why so many opt to continue instead of resting on laurels. The key, though, is with positive developments comes the need to keep challenging yourself and dialing it up a notch. Michael Jordan didn’t stop at one title. Mozart didn’t say after one composition, “I’m good.” Vincent Van Gogh didn’t just stop at one ear— I mean painting. They kept shining’ on.
- “Good Times Bad Times”
Don’t just take it from Led Zeppelin, every story has ebbs and flows. Watch any documentary on anyone ever made. There are story arcs. Nothing in life is ever linear.
Just know that no matter where you are in life, if you’re rolling along, stuck in a rut or in a long losing streak, it doesn’t last. The 1972 Los Angeles Lakers’ winning hit 33, but they eventually lost. The 1961 Philadelphia Phillies lost 23 in a row, but they found a way to win. The Beatles had 9 platinum and multi-platinum albums but not every song was a chart-topper.
Do not despair, though. If you take the necessary steps and remind yourself in the good times that you need to keep grinding and in the bad times, that the funk will not last, you will be ahead of the curve over the long haul.
- “Things Can Only Get Better”
I felt it was enough classic rock— now onto the ‘80s. Howard Jones’ single can easily be an anthem for the Covid times in which we live, as well as an addendum to my last point.
I’m not going to lie: One of the hardest things to do is to maintain an even keel during times of stormy seas. Things look bleak and you start looking for signs, signs, everywhere there are signs (sorry, another ‘70s music flashback). You think this is it and you want to give up
I remember seeing a cartoon with some dude digging for an underground treasure, appearing as if he had been at it for quite some time. The next cell, shows him turning and heading back. Unbeknownst to him, the treasure was a little more digging away but the self-doubt prevented him from continuing the pursuit.
Don’t do that to yourself. You’ve gotten this far— and read 80% of my post. Don’t give in to the demons who would have you take the offramp from the highway to your dreams. If times get tough (and they have), keep plodding ahead. You don’t know close you are until you get there. Cervantes said the road is better than the inn. That may seem hard to believe but, trust me, you’ll appreciate the journey that much more when you consider that it helps construct you as a person and an artist.
- “A Change Would Do You Good”
I just recently watched “Speed” again for the first time in years, so I felt the need to pluck a ‘90s contemporary Sheryl Crow song for my last point.
Considering all that we talked about— being open to unexpected influences, staying positive and knowing that success and bad luck can sometimes be as temporary as you will them to be— also consider the element of change.
If there’s one thing to be gleaned from 2020, it’s that we’ve had to rethink our whole paradigm in whatever it is we’re doing. If you got comfortable in your ways and set into a routine, then maybe the occasional wrench isn’t such a bad thing.
Nothing memorable was ever done by being comfortable. Remember that old truism from Thomas Edison about finding 10,000 ways to fail? If he had just continued on the proverbial path as he had with his other forgotten devices, the light bulb would never have gone off in his head (see what I did there?).
In my field, the whole corona bonanza forced me to invest in my home set-up and get better without being in a room of casting directors and producers. I had to be better at being a one-man band. Overnight, I went from driving all over L.A. to auditions to stepping over baby toys, five feet in my living room to put on my best self for the camera. (Don’t step on blocks, they hurt.)
It was hard at first and intimidating to try and do it all solo. But change is always scary. I mean, it’s change after all! Hey, Prince transformed into a symbol in more ways than this sentence suggests. David Bowie wasn’t always Ziggy Stardust, nor was Garth Brooks always Chris Gaines. Just because you change, doesn’t mean it is permanent. Sometimes it works— as with Edison— and sometimes it doesn’t— also with Edison. But going through that process may teach you a thing or two about yourself and your craft.
- “Roll With It”
Above all, keep creating. Keep doing your thing. And as someone married to a nurse fighting this pandemic head on, I can attest to this last piece of advice: Let’s all be thankful we can keep doing what we’re doing through the efforts of those who sacrifice so much. Best of luck!
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