Expect the Haters

I recently had the opportunity to attend an online entrepreneurial music business workshop. Several presenters gave ideas and suggestions on all aspects of building one’s personal brand, networking, marketing, creating content like podcasts, and finding new students. It was all very helpful. But one session in particular stood out: Jeremy Todd, in his session on “Building a Business Mindset,” said straight out: “Expect the haters.”

Wow. That phrase shocked me: EXPECT the haters. In other words, getting push-back or a lack of encouragement, even from people you love – family or friends – is inevitable.

This is something I wish I had known years ago.

Learning new things as an adult is hard. When we’re young, learning new stuff is a way of life, for everyone. When we’re in school, our classmates are also learning, even if it’s not at the same rate. Based on my own experience, I would argue that most kids do not know how much they have to learn. They don’t yet have an end-goal in sight. Failure may sting, but it’s not particularly risky. We might get a bad grade or embarrass ourselves, but we’re not going to lose our house. However, as adult learners, we have a different perspective. We’re more aware of how far behind we are as beginners and how fast we need to catch up if we’re trying to establish a career. We’re more aware of our personal limitations; we’re more aware of who is already successful; we’re more aware of the cost of learning, in terms of money, time, and effort. It’s stressful.

Venturing out on a new project or working to turn a dream into reality as an adult is even harder. It’s one thing to make the effort to learn a new skill. It’s quite another to take that skill and make it public, whether through a new business, an invention, or a piece of art. What if it fails? The adult life is one full of responsibilities to other people. It could be a family dependent on you to provide food; it could be the bank or a landlord expecting payment. There’s not a lot of room for risk and failure.

It is easier to play it safe.

(This is not a criticism of those who choose not to go on career or creative adventures. I do not think everyone is given an entrepreneurial spirit.)

What happens sometimes is those who want to play it safe may criticize those who start new things. They become the “haters”: those who outright discourage you from trying, tell you it won’t work, demonstrate disinterest, don’t show support, and refuse to lend aid or make an investment, however small. Jeremy Todd says you will get even more push-back from those who are close to you, but it makes sense. He likes to think it comes from a place of love: these people are afraid for you. They don’t want to see you fail. Or, he says, it might come from a place of feeling inferior: their feelings are hurt because they don’t have the talent, inspiration, or motivation to do what you’re doing.

Earlier this week, I read “Ignore Everybody and 39 Other Keys to Creativity” by Hugh MacLeod which, incidentally, is probably the best book I have read thus far on creativity, though I am obligated to give a warning about the language. MacLeod takes a very practical look at working and living as a creative individual, which makes this book stand apart from other, also favorite, excellent, but more philosophical books such as “The War of Art” by Steven Pressfield, “Big Magic” by Elizabeth Gilbert, or “Walking on Water” by Madeleine L’Engle.

In “Ignore Everybody…”, MacLeod has a different take on “haters.” He says, “Good ideas alter the power balance in relationships. That is why good ideas are always initially resisted.” Wow. It’s not that other people want to control you. They just want things to stay the same – the way they know and expect, an attempt to retain a sense of internal comfort.

This really does help me understand why I should not take things too personally. I have never expected everyone to appreciate my music, but it is enlightening to understand now that some of the worst push-back can come from the people who are the closest. That connection may be precisely why some are so uncomfortable with my new ventures.

I have always liked sharing, and that includes discoveries I make along the way. I admit it is disappointing when those I care about want to stay back rather than join me in the adventure. But at least I now know, despite how it is communicated, that is not a rejection of me but a reflection of where they’re at.

As Hugh MacLeod says, “There’ll be a time in the beginning when you have to press on, alone, without one tenth of the support you probably need. This is normal. This is to be expected.”

Maybe, someday, the haters will change their minds.

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A professional recording of my piece for string orchestra, Daughter of the Stars, is now available. It can be found here.

Declaring One’s Self

The term “declaring one’s self” often refers to making a pledge of commitment and support. It can also mean stating strongly one’s opinion or revealing one’s true character or identity.  In short, it’s about owning up to a position, saying “this is where I stand.”

Composition is an exercise of “declaring one’s self.” During the writing phase, I sort out my ideas, clarify and refine them. But once a piece is completed, I own it. I chose all the notes, all the voicing, all the instrumentation. I have declared myself to this piece. I stand behind it, taking full responsibility for it. I have said, in no uncertain terms, “this is what I want.”

It is at once empowering and terrifying. I feel like this every time I get on a roller coaster or when I am halfway through a mountain trail and find myself in a difficult spot. On the one hand, I am quite satisfied with myself for having the guts to get on the ride or start the hike. I didn’t chicken out. But once in the midst of it, I sometimes wonder what I have gotten myself into. There’s no getting off the ride, there’s no going back. There is only one way to go, and it is forward, come what may.

To me, writing a piece of music and presenting it is a bit like laying out my heart in front of the entire world. I painstakingly ripped it out of my soul and laid it bare.  It cannot  return to the depths from which it came. It has seen light and has been exposed, all of it: the good, the bad, and the ugly. At that point, all I can do is see what happens. Will it get performed? Will it be well received? Will it be found lacking? Will my friends encourage me or will even they have nothing to say, finding nothing to praise? I feel accomplished, having finished a project. But I also feel extremely vulnerable. My inner thoughts, shown in the choices I made to create the piece, are on public display.

Declaring one’s self can be a dangerous activity. Some people will not like what you have to say or who you are. The practice of saying “this is what I want” clearly and firmly is an important discipline. So many times we are hesitant to reveal our inner desires out of fear they will be rejected or scorned. But pretending that our own desires don’t exist or are unimportant is a refusal to stand by our own selves and a form of self-rejection that says we are worthy of being dismissed or ignored. I’m not saying that every single desire we have is a good one that should be “published”, but too many times we hide ourselves for no reason other than simply being afraid.

However, the skill of declaring one’s self can be developed with practice. It does get easier. The first hill on the roller coaster is the scariest. One hike up a mountain gives confidence to do the next one.  As the saying goes, what doesn’t kill us makes us stronger. What is the worst that can happen? A rejection? Someone gets angry? I am embarrassed? Those things will not destroy me. I may get knocked back a little. I may hesitate. I may need to recover. But I pick myself up and write again, with a little more strength, confidence, and determination.