I was playing Scrabble with my wife last weekend while on our outing to Bear Mountain in upstate New York. As I stared at the game board, I realized that nearly all board games have a starting point. It’s usually a place where the first game piece is placed after a tile is anonymously drawn from a black bag, or a role of the dice determines which player will make their move first. In some games, like Candy Land or Jumanji, everyone starts at the same place. Though in those games, chance and luck may determine who will make it to the “finish” square first. Staring at the game board, it made me wonder, are game boards a metaphor for our lives, our careers or our relationships?
From the center tile of the scrabble board, the calculations of spaces, possible point scores, and words upon words spiral out. Is this not unlike the decisions we as musicians have to make each and every day? What is your “center tile”? For some it is when they play the first note of the day. For others, it is the first event that happens to them, from which they will react all day long. For me, it is the moment I open my eyes in the morning. In that moment, I can pre-empt whatever is going to happen to me that day, I can start laying the words I want across the game board.
But what about the part that luck plays in games? It’s not tile we draw that is as important as seeing all the options we have once we have drawn it from the bag. In all fairness, you can’t see which tile you are grabbing in the game of life (no pun intended). You don’t always have control there—but you do have control over what you do with it. For musicians and other creatives, this is especially important in the way we approach our careers and the creative work we do. Will we be proactive or reactive? Will you plan ahead, or be a calculation in someone else’s plan?
When we are dealt the next hand of the game in our lives and in our careers, our ability to excel or recover, advance or retreat is all about how far into the future we are willing to forecast. How much risk will you take when the outcome may be unknown? That’s a looming question for many. But I feel that’s where the reward is.
As we in the collective music community begin a new season, I encourage you to start planning and forecasting from the moment you lay down the very first tile of your game. Imagine the extent of what you could do if you extended yourself as far as possible and took the necesary risks. Remember after all, it’s just a game.
Have you ever considered this? If you are like me, and have read your fair share of self-education books about music performance, then you probably have considered the question of not needing the permission of others to be an artist. But there is a key component often not addressed in self-education books that can only be learned in the real world: Who are we not getting permission from? Who is holding us back?
Building healthy audiences, pioneering innovations in performance, and being a champion of innovative music education are at the core mission of Tuxedo Revolt. There is one caveat though; each of these goals relies heavily on the artist being a risk-taker and an innovator at the individual level. Many musicians and performing artists feel like they don’t have permission to break away from the pack and be innovators.
Today, I want to empower you to take risks and to seek innovation in your performance. You will see that you can be innovative and outstanding in performing, teaching, presenting concerts—whatever it is that you are passionate about. Innovation is the key to rising above mediocrity, and the first step to being extraordinary is to explore unknown territories. You really don’t need permission to do it.
This will be the first of two posts that will help you to blow past the people who may be holding you back, to question their authority, and to revolt against anything but your own plans.
Ok, so let’s try this again: “You don’t need permission to be an innovative artist.”
Along your path to becoming a rock star, an opera diva, or the next great virtuoso you will encounter the kind of person I loathe most in the music world: a Sentinel. Remember those terrifying robo-squid things from the movie, The Matrix? Most likely, you’ve already had your fair share of run-in’s with this demonic creature in real life. Over these posts, we are going to take a look at what is a Sentinel, how do identify one, and how to disarm it.
What is a Sentinel?
Sentinels are the people who stand in the doorway between you and where you want to go. This can be either figurative or completely literal. Often, these people have attained some degree of success in whatever it is they specialize in—this alone is not the problem. The problem stems from the way that they jealously guard their success by blocking others from taking the same pathways to success.
I have seen these people in varying degrees of intensity from the casual blow-off all the way to the audition saboteur. I feel certain that it is in the form of Sentinels that musicians gain the reputation for being a little crazy. They don’t have to be outwardly hostile either. Sentinels can also take the form or well-meaning mentors, teachers, and loved ones. Over the years, I have become convinced that many of these people don’t know how much damage they are doing to other musicians or fellow performers.
How to Identify a Sentinel:
The following are some quick and dirty tips for identifying the Sentinels in your life:
- Sentinels love to tell you all the reasons why something can’t be done but rarely give you any ideas to help you get something done.
- Sentinels usually aren’t ultra-successful people, but rather those who have achieved low to mid-level success. They will tell you stories about how they slaved for years to achieve what they have now. They may say things like “It’s a long road, with plenty of bumps—you have to have your fair share.”
- Sentinels are often cold or indifferent when you present them with an idea or new concept that might be more innovative than what they are accustomed to.
- Sentinels may believe that age and the number of years of experience they have acquired is the only way to become an expert or “professional” in a given field.
- Sentinels may always treat your ideas and dreams with skepticism. This is because your aspirations may exceed theirs, and this is both frightening and depressing for them. They have a fear that you might surpass them. Or perhaps they just don’t understand you.
Take this list of characteristics and examine the people in your life. Take a good look at who might fit this list. Tomorrow, let’s examine how you can disarm these sentinels and kindly ask them to step aside and let you through the door to success.