On Monday at 11:30 AM I decided to take some of my lunch break and walk around downtown Nashville where my office is located. It was chilly for Tennessee, about 28 degrees and windy, so the streets were mostly empty. I headed down Broadway Avenue toward the Cumberland River through a stretch called “The District” where all the brightly lit honkytonks and bars and clubs are. At night this area is hopping and loud as music pours from every door and window, but on a Monday morning it looks and sounds (and smells) more like a hangover. Especially on the Monday after the Super Bowl.
As I passed one especially forlorn bar I heard music but not the kind of music you’d expect from a jukebox, not the Tim McGraw or Dierks Bentley or Miranda Lambert that often fills Broadway. This was live. I stopped and looked through the window and saw a young man, maybe early twenties, sitting on a stool with an acoustic guitar warbling some undistinguishable country tune to an empty room. I felt sad for him. Poor guy couldn’t do any better than the hangover time slot on a freakin’ Monday. But as a walked back to the office his effort stuck in my mind. I realized a few things. That guy was doing exactly what it takes to make it when pursuing any creative endeavor. Here are four ways how he did that.
1) Practice is ugly
To make it as a musician or writer or any kind of artist you have to practice. And practice. And practice. And it isn’t pretty. It’s dreary like a Broadway honkytonk on a post Super Bowl Monday morning, but you do it because that’s how you get better.
2) Opportunities are often small.
Most people don’t jump from their journal to the shelves of Barnes and Noble or from their garage to the Grand Ole Opry. No, they take the opportunities that present themselves or that they have sought out – a blog, a Bar Mitzvah, or an empty bar.
3) It’s a grind.
When you start with small opportunities you grind away, day by day, little by little to see if you can hack it. For a musician to sing to empty room that smells like pee and stale beer is a test of drive and endurance, to see if he can press on until a better option arises. At some point it also becomes an indication to move along to something else. But either way he grinds away until he gets there.
4) You have to learn how to be successful.
If a singer can rock it on a stage for an empty room and a writer can spin a story for nobody, they are a long way toward tickling eardrums and pleasing readers. Success often starts small (and for many never gets bigger). But if you can get great at small you just might have what it takes to succeed at big.
I don’t believe in magic formulas of success and if pat answers of “hard work pays off.” Success is in the hands of God, the gifts he’s given people, and the circumstances he lays in place. But I was reminded on Monday of those key ingredients to any creative endeavor. I thought about how using one’s gifts, even for an audience of a bored bartender and a janitor is still using them and developing them. And I was happy for that young guy and his guitar.