Advice to My Younger Self. (10 Things I Wish I Had Know When I Was a Student.)

When my forty-something looks back at my early twenty-something self, I often cringe at the blunders and blind steps I fumbled through painfully learning my way to where I am now. As I work with musicians around the world I have found several key elements that are universal pain points and growth opportunities on the path to success.

1. A Starving Artist is Not a Successful One.

Get your money stuff figured out ASAP. The number one thing that stops success is being stressed out about paying rent.

Figure out what your yearly budget is. This is more important than thinking monthly because you’ll see trends and patterns in your spending needs. Some expenses happen once a year (such as instrument insurance) while others increase or decrease when you are traveling (airfare, transportation, restaurants) and some are predictable and consistent (such as rent, utilities, etc.)

Open up a savings account today and start an automatic transfer from your current checking account to the savings account. It doesn’t matter if you start with $1, $5, $10 or $25 a week. JUST DO IT. Don’t touch it. Increase this by 10% every quarter. If you can’t increase it by 10%, then do it by 1-­5%. JUST DO IT. Don’t touch it.

There is nothing more powerful to the psyche than knowing you have a cash reserve you could go to if you HAD to, but the whole idea is not to ever touch it. When you see the effects of compound interest and your savings grows over time, so does your self-worth, self-confidence and certainty.

2. Take care of your health and wellness.

Do whatever you have to do to invest in your wellbeing and make it a priority. Do not wait until you are sick or seriously injured before you start taking care of yourself. A life in music is just that-a LIFE. Which means it’s a marathon with ebbs and flows. Many people burn out and give up because they’re sprinting full out without knowing where they are going or how they will get there.

3. Only YOU can know your worth. Do not let ANYONE have the power to define what you can or cannot do.

We literally astound ourselves all the time by accomplishing things we never knew we were capable of. Waiting for permission from someone else is giving them the power to determine your future. They will never know what is right for you or what you truly are able to achieve.

Your success, your worth and your value is up to you. Only you. No one else.

4. Don’t wait for others’ permission or approval.

NO ONE IS EVER GOING TO GIVE YOU PERMISSION TO DO WHAT YOU LOVE. Only you can do this for yourself. The sooner you learn this the better.

As James Clear powerfully states:  “Merely believing you deserve something doesn’t make it a reality. But believing you *don’t* deserve something will prevent you from trying. Most people are capable of more than they believe. Confidence won’t automatically get you results, but self-doubt sets your ceiling.”

5. Set realistic goals and expectations for yourself.

Three months post graduation is not enough time to figure everything out.  It takes a minimum of 5 years to get established in any profession.

Most people don’t have a plan before they graduate, they just drag themselves across the finish line. Then they have empty time and don’t know what to do with the time off, or are so exhausted they can’t think straight. They put unrealistic pressure on themselves to have a career right away.

6. Define what success means to you.

What does success mean to you? How do you define it? What does it look like, feel like? Make sure you know what this means to you, not what you think you *should* do because that’s what everyone else is doing. Make a plan. Study the people who inspire you. Revise and edit as you go along. Don’t be rigid in how you think things are “supposed to look.” Your nervous system will tell you again and again when you are on the right track. Stress and burnout are not signs of success.

7. Relationships are essential.

We do not create a career alone and success is not solitary. Life is a team effort. So make sure you build relationships. Find your tribe. Return e-mails and phone calls. Write thank you notes. Invest in people and what they care about. Make sure you don’t create one sided relationships where people are always giving to you but you’re not responding in kind. Taking advantage of people’s generosity, belief in you and support of you can be a heavy price when that door closes because you didn’t nurture the relationship and respond in kind. It’s very hard to open doors that have closed because of your neglect.

8. Study your results.  

Success is not a magical, random occurrence. It is an innate, unique and personal formula.

The most efficient and effective way to success is to study your results. What worked? What didn’t? Pay attention. Write it down. Celebrate what you’ve achieved. Take note of what doesn’t work, course correct and try again.

9. Focus on service and demand fair exchange.

Value yourself and your time. You are your business. The best thing you can do for your art and your business is to be thinking in terms of service. How are you helping someone else solve their problems? What experience are you giving them because they hear you perform or experience your art? How is his or her life better because of that experience?

10. Be meticulous about your sphere of influence.

Do not surround yourself with the whiners, complainers, blamers and haters. SERVE others, don’t try to SAVE others. Don't ever rob someone of accountability, growth and integrity. Hang out with dreamers, go-­getters, visionaries and success stories. Find a mentor, a mastermind group, or an accountability partner. Be around the people who stretch you, inspire you, help you grow and hold you accountable to fulfilling your potential.

Dana FonteneauComment