The Very Personal Meanings of Success

My first blog post. So many firsts this year! I love how life continues to be full of firsts. It’s been a long time since I was in elementary school, but I often feel like I somehow still am. I am definitely into a lifelong learning approach to everything.   

I released my EP, Burnt Toast, this past Friday, April 30 2021. This EP is the most polished and fleshed out recorded version of my music so far, with a full band of incredible musicians backing me up and making beautiful sounds. So for this very special first blog post I am going to focus on one aspect of developing and releasing music. Something that is super important: the definition of success. Over the past year I have been taking every professional music business webinar I can find and fit into my schedule, and quite a few industry professionals have mentioned that this is a vital part of a creative career. Defining what success means to me.  

This year I have had the intense privilege of my Burnt Toast EP project being supported by a grant from Creative BC; it has made it a lot more financially feasible to produce and share these four songs. I felt pretty successful when I got the email saying I am getting this grant. This has not, however, led to huge acclamations from media and radio, or massive CD and download sales. I have not shot to stardom, and am not in super high demand for interviews or private concerts. It does not necessarily even mean that I will get more grants to help pay for more recordings. The grant system is highly competitive and a lot of other extremely deserving artists are trying hard to get these carrots, to try and keep their careers going. Success is elusive if I focus on financial success as a most important success value. 

I have always believed that the most important things in my life are the relationships I have with my immediate family, and then radiating outward to extended family, friends, community and so forth. In music, I believe an important aspect of success means developing relationships that are mutually supportive and uplifting. The most important thing about any job is the people you work with, and music is no different. This year as I have focussed on joining any webinar or conference possible, I have met people from my home province of British Columbia, from all over Canada, and from other countries. This has been incredibly encouraging to me to keep making music and connecting. I am gaining some really supportive friendships with interesting people who share a musical passion and I am inspired by their vision. I believe we can help each other to create and keep a momentum going. People need people. Being part of this network of communities is a huge success in my heart and mind.   

Another aspect of success that is important to me, is that success includes continuing to be present for my family, and to continue to provide for my family’s needs. This one is really difficult. I ended up going to school for social work because it was more feasible as a young single mother in my early twenties than going to music school. To continue to do art and music on the side, while raising a family and working has been intense and super hard. I can see why a lot of people get discouraged and perhaps do not even try. Delaying personal goals and making huge sacrifices is necessary to raise children. And women are much more likely to be the primary caregivers and make more of these sacrifices. I have lived my life, and continue to do so, out of necessity and commitment, in the traditional woman’s roles, as well as a breadwinner. Now, as my children transition to adulthood, I am still very involved, and there is a new generation to provide for. The beautiful circle of life goes on and I am still very much part of it. When I was twenty I used to think that I would raise my kids and then party in my fourties. Well, it’s not quite as simple as that, lol! I still need to earn an income and there is much work to be done. But I do get to put my social work career more to the side now, be creative and find more ways to put music in the forefront, which is amazing. I am enjoying the payoff of having kept a dual career focus for so many years.  

Success also doesn’t mean feeling successful all the time. Failure is a massive part of any creative endeavour. I often refer to Ed Catmull’s book CREATIVITY.INC when I am feeling low about how my music career is going. One of the founders of Pixar Studios, he writes about the fact that failure is an important part of any creative process, and he gives an example of an inspiring Pixar staff member who says he always aims to fail fast and hard to get that out of the way. I love this idea, and it has helped me with some pretty major oopsies on my part. I’m especially inclined to make a fool of myself in front of colleagues. I get very easily star-struck by new people, totally blinded; I will say and do some pretty dumb out-of-character stuff, especially when I am meeting people who are further along in their careers than I am. Failure doesn’t feel good, it feels like crap. It takes enormous courage to keep going when failure is flailing me. When week after week my new songs sound like my old ones, no one responds to my promo emails, or I get a rejection email from a grantor, including juror comments saying my assessment track is not good enough, I feel low and miserable and wonder if I should just go apply for a full time job somewhere. Give up on this infernal dream. In order to value these learning experiences, I have a couple of “rejection” folders; I keep these as souvenirs for myself. Each rejection email or letter is a little thorn to absorb and move on from, even though these are easier to take than not hearing anything back. There’s always some value in every attempt; I have always learned something. SO in a roundabout and painful way, failure is actually success. Oh great! How convenient! Get ready for more failure, woohoo! 

In thinking about what success means to me, I have come to the realization that it is truly about sharing a message of caring and courage with as many as people I can possibly reach. An ever-increasing number. The internet, especially social media, is great for this. It’s a more than a little bit terrifying too, and not nearly as physically tangible as raking in money and buying things. I’m not against money (I gladly take e-transfers to either my business or personal email addresses). But I am astounded by and grateful for the numbers of people watching at least part of my live-stream shows on Facebook and Instagram. I feel uber-successful some moments of some days because of the watches and likes and encouragement.  

So, I suppose my conclusion here is that success really is personally defined. It comes and goes. It’s not a thing, it’s an experience, and it is quite fleeting. Kind of like waves, like any other feeling, it rises and falls.  

Anyway, thank you for reading this fairly long first blog post. I will be writing one of these a week for the next few months, as I move forward developing a bunch of new projects.  

All the best to you on your creative journeys! 

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