From 1950 to 1990, my Dad worked in the oil fields of West Texas. In those first 20 years or so, he rarely had a day off. Regardless of how hot, how cold, how windy or how sick he might’ve been, he got up at 4:30, grabbed a lunchpail that mom had packed the night before, got in his pickup and headed out. Day after day. This was his life.
John Mays’ dad stands next to his pickup truck, holding his lunch pail, on his way to work in the oil fields of West Texas.
This work fed our family and raised my sisters and me, but it left little time for much else. The oil field is a merciless taskmaster; but somehow Dad endured with a generosity of spirit and sense of humor that left a legacy.
I’m not really sure which came first – either Dad mentally came to the end of doing that thing one more day, or his body just gave out on him. Maybe it was some of both, but around the end of the 80s, he was done; and we had the great privilege of providing a place for both Dad and Mom as they lived out the rest of their lives with us here in Tennessee. Those were great days. My Dad loved them and we loved being able to watch him discover life after the oil patch.
One of those discoveries came as a surprise as we watched Dad begin to tinker around out in the shed. Who knew what he was messing around with until one day he sheepishly showed us the fruit of the creative seed that had been laying fallow in him for so long.
I know. It doesn’t look like much, but for a man who had never made a thing with his hands his entire life, it was impressive. And you could put your weight down on it!
He began making benches all the time. Sometimes one or two a day. We had benches everywhere (and still do!). We gave them to neighbors and friends, people at work and church. Literally, these benches were the ultimate in simplicity – some two-by-fours and some nails. No paint, no sanding, no nothing. But for me, there was something beautiful about them as they represented something profound… my Dad’s ability to create.
He passed away in 2007 leaving a lot of love and a lot of benches behind. But that wasn’t the end of the story.
A few summers ago we were blessed with the experience of giving away our daughter Kelsey in marriage. For anyone who’s been part of planning a wedding, you can empathize with the year of work that proceeds the big day. Lucky for me, this planning lived mostly in a female world so I didn’t have to get too involved. So you might imagine my surprise when I learned that much of the focus of the wedding decorations would come from an unlikely place. Dad’s benches.
Kelsey worked with Dianne (my wife) and our friend Terri to begin to imagine what beautiful things could come from adding to these ordinary benches, and I was stunned to see the results.
Here’s what I hope you start to see. Dad’s benches alone wouldn’t have been much as a decoration piece. And the flowers and vines could’ve been just another floral arrangement. But had Dad never had the courage to create and show that first piece of his “art”, the girls wouldn’t have had such a special foundation for theirs.
As Brenda Ueland wrote in the very special book “If You Want To Write” – “Everyone is talented, original and has something important to say.” Everyone. And the expression of your unique gifting is something important for you to not only discover, but to share with someone. Once that happens, you may be blown away with what someone else’s personal expression can add to yours, or what you can add to theirs. What someone’s lyric might bring to your melody. Someone’s seasoning to your recipe. Someone’s music for your dance. Someone’s frame to your decorating. Someone’s second step to your first.
“Everyone is talented, original, and has something important to say.”
Creating and expressing anything can, of course, at times be a very isolating and lonely journey, and for some of you, maybe that is how it will be. But for others, perhaps especially for those of you still wishing to, but yet to actually create, collaboration might be the key to the door, and might just produce something you could’ve never imagined on your own.
A few things to remember…
1. You’re never too old to start. Mark Twain, William Butler Yeats, Alfred Hitchcock and Irving Berlin all produced their greatest work after turning Fifty. (Dad was 74 when he built his first bench!)
2. What the object of your creative impulse might be is not as important as your willingness to express it. The thing you create, your work, will get better over time, but the point is to start, then share. Like Dad, this is a part of how you will love the world around you.
3. That inner voice of resistance will always be there to criticize and condemn. Create anyway. “If the voice inside you says you can not paint, then by all means paint and the voice will be silenced.” – Vincent Van Gogh
What could you bring in to the world this week that didn’t exist before you created it? What could you bring to something someone else has created? If you need some time to sit and think about it, I’ve got a great bench for you.
Barry Kerch, drummer for Shinedown
EHS will be sitting down with individuals in entertainment to discuss a wide range of topics as they relate to personal experiences in this industry. We hope these stories will help continue to open the gates in discussions of mental health and what that looks like in the entertainment industry. We believe there is great value in recognizing mental health’s impact on each path and inspiration to be found in the up’s and down’s of other’s journeys.
This week we talked with Nashville’s Elizabeth Eckert to discuss some of her personal perspectives on life as an artist. Elizabeth is a songwriter, singer, and pianist currently signed with Right Recordings in the United Kingdom. She will be traveling to the UK for her second tour this coming June and will soon be releasing her newest single “Church Bells”. Elizabeth admitted her career in music is not what she initially expected with the biggest shift occurring her junior year in college.
Elizabeth began playing piano at the age of three years old and dreamed of becoming a classical pianist. She explains both her parents were musicians and she found herself naturally building her identity around being a pianist. She excelled in piano and found herself in college continuing to reach for her dreams as a classical pianist. It was in her junior year of college that she would face one of her greatest obstacles. She began to experience pain in her wrist and soon discovered she was having complications from a prior childhood injury, severely limiting her ability to play and causing tendinitis symptoms. With the medical recommendation being surgery, Elizabeth states she then realized “I was not going to be able to do what I had worked so hard for”. After completing surgery, Elizabeth reports she spent the next couple years lying her prior dreams to rest and “reinventing myself as a musician”. She continued teaching piano, starting doing some singing and songwriting, and moved to Nashville to begin teaching piano through the Blair School at Vanderbilt. She found she could still play the piano in a less demanding form of singer/songwriter. Elizabeth reports others began to refer to her as a singer, an identity she had not considered before. She spoke to the importance of being “flexible in your music career”. Elizabeth admitted being flexible can be difficult when you have ideas of how you want your career to go, but opportunities can come in different forms and you have to be open to receive them.
We asked Elizabeth how her personal values have shaped her music career and her response was being authentic and honest in her music. She said she writes songs that speak the truth in her world. Her newest song “Church Bells” speaks to her recent marriage this past year. She reports there had been some who told her to avoid releasing such songs since they “make her seem unavailable”. We at EHS have heard similar statements before about the impact of image on marketing yourself as a musician. Is that the path to success? Putting on a mask and selling yourself as something you’re not. How does this promote a healthy self image and mental wellness for our artists? We were happy to hear the support Elizabeth received from her record label in releasing this song, but we know this is an obstacle many other artist face. How important is transparency and authenticity in music or to the wellbeing of the artist?
When it comes to maintaining a healthy lifestyle, Elizabeth reports she finds balance in spending time writing songs for herself late at night and finding time outside of music doing activities such as sailing and strength training. She admits she started strength training to keep herself in shape for her stage presence, but reports it has become so much more, especially in maintaining a healthy mindset.
We appreciate the time Elizabeth took to share her story with us and can’t wait to see where her music career will go next. Check out her new single “Church Bells” released today!
Blog Written By: Elizabeth Porter
“Do the best you can with yourself and hope for the best.” - Loretta Lynn
Welcome to Nashville, the place where dreams come true for aspiring musicians, singers, and songwriters. Ambitious musicians and songwriters move to Nashville every day with hopes and dreams of seeing what music city can do for them. Many learn the path to success is very different from what they envisioned and then the real test begins. How do we hold onto hope when our path in music doesn’t go as planned? How do we manage the potential disappointments while maintaining a positive mental state of mind? How do we continue to grow in our music career without burning out or becoming jaded? There is no doubt that pressures and demands in the entertainment industry can leave your head spinning. Sometimes maintaining hope can become the biggest struggle. While the topic of holding hope can be a difficult subject to condense into one article, we will focus on seven key elements in sustaining hope.
Set SMART Goals
SMART goals are as follows; Specific, Measurable, Action-Oriented/Achievable, Realistic, and Time-Bound goals. It is important to decipher what your goals are versus expectations with your music career. Unmet expectations can quickly lead to resentment and feelings of hopelessness. Therefore, it is more productive to set SMART goals. This requires you to be specific in the goals you set and make sure they are measurable. If you aim to “make it" in the entertainment or songwriting world, then be specific when defining this. What would “making it" look like for you and how would you measure success? Make sure goals are action-oriented and realistic. If you have big dreams and ambitions in the entertainment world, remember it doesn’t happen over night. List the short term actions you need to start taking to move towards your goal and make sure they are realistic. Perhaps setting a number of co-writing sessions per week, finding a seasoned musician to mentor you and meeting monthly, or set aside time to work on your music each day. These goals are specific, measurable, action focused, and generally realistic. Make sure your goals focus on things you can do. Setting a goal to get a record deal by the end of the year is great, but you have limited control of the outcome. However, working on steps that may set you up to start exploring record deals in the next year, focuses on actions you can take now. Lastly, make sure your goals are time-bound and set a deadline for achieving each goal.
Holding onto hope when things are hard can seem impossible, especially when you have invested so much into your music career. How do you make lemonade when life seems to be dishing out lemons? Difficult times can leave us feeling out of control and powerless. This can cause fear and even anger. The reality is there are many aspects of life that we are not in control of, but we can control how we respond to these events. Do you look at obstacles in your career as disappointments or failures? It is ok to be disappointed when things don’t pan out the way you had hoped, but dubbing it a failure diminishes hope and confidence in those goals. Stevie Wonder and Ray Charles both overcame adversity of losing their sight and continued on to make history in music. Obstacles and disappointments can only debilitate us if we allow our minds to settle in that space. Reframing obstacles and self-talk takes practice and attentiveness, but a positive mindset is imperative to maintaining hope, productivity, and resiliency.
Everyone has certain skill-strengths as well as weaknesses, but focusing on your strengths will elevate hope and confidence. Acknowledge areas of improvement and either work within your limitations or outsource these tasks. For example, if your a songwriter, but not great with any particular instrument, you may continue working on learning an instrument while using a guitarist to play shows while you sing your songs. Identify what your strengths are and look at ways you can highlight these skills in working towards your musical goals. Confidence is key in maintaining hope and reaching your goals, so be mindful of your skills and remind yourself of your strengths. Monitor your "self-talk" or inner monologues, which I often refer to as the “tape” you play in your mind. This is similar to a sports commentator at a game, announcing each success and failure you make during a game. Changing our immediate and deconstructive thoughts is like reprograming a computer and takes work. Negative self-talk can cause you to repeatedly question yourself to the point of self-doubt, uncertainty, and hopelessness. Clinical levels of depression and anxiety have been found to be deeply rooted in deconstructive self-talk. Acknowledge your strengths, remind yourself daily, and set affirmations if you feel you need to tackle any self-doubts.
Cultivate a Supportive Environment
When developing hope, it is advantageous to cultivate supportive relationships and surround yourself with a strong community. The music industry is forever changing and the pressures can feel overwhelming at times. You don’t have to do it all alone. Spend time with those who encourage and are invested in you. Be that supportive individual to others as well, but make sure you are not draining yourself to maintain the relationship. I have seen numerous people fall off task with their goals because they are preoccupied with tending to a maladaptive relationship with someone. Ultimately, when you surround yourself with people who believe in you, this will help promote feelings of hope.
Find a Cause
Finding a way to give back and volunteer has great benefits for mental wellbeing and sustaining hope. Volunteering not only connects you to your community, but gives a sense of achievement and purpose. It is an opportunity for you to share your skills or learn new skills and build your self-esteem and confidence. It can help us step away from our personal stressors and obtain a fresh perspective. There are countless volunteer opportunities, but sometimes it’s as simple as giving a free music lesson. It is easy to get wrapped up in our projects or routine, but the positive effects of volunteering are often immediate when we can disconnect from our own worries to help others. I cannot list all of the programs and charities supported by those in the music industry, but rest assured that they are numerous and readily accessible. And remember that instilling hope for others helps promote personal hope as well.
A major contributing component to our level of hope is the actual achievement of our goals. These accomplishments give us validation, which instills hope and empowers us to move forward. This is why setting smaller attainable goals and celebrating each success is essential in bringing more hope into your life and specifically your music career. Anyone can look at their life and find areas where they feel they are falling short (as a musician, employee, friend, significant other, son/daughter…). Yes, acknowledge shortcomings and areas of improvement, but dwelling on this will not serve you well.
Trust and Faith
Trust and faith are the cornerstones of hope. Trust is based on evidence, while faith is based on hope or belief in what we do not know or cannot see. Trust in yourself as a musician/songwriter and your ability to grow in your career. Maintain the faith that if you continue to develop in your career, then things will work out the way they are supposed to (and in the timeframe they are supposed to). This does not mean things will necessarily work out the way you want them to. Many stories of success in the music industry had unconventional paths. Before his break in music, Gene Simmons was an elementary school teacher and even spent some time working for women’s fashion magazines. Not really the steps towards music success that many would envision. Dierks Bentley spent time cleaning out house boat toilets prior to his full-time music career. Life is often surprising and we need to be flexible with accepting the journey as well as the destination. We never know what each chapter may be preparing us for or how it is shaping us, so embrace the moments. When we lose trust and faith, hope begins to diminish and fear takes the front seat. Many say music is all they have, and all they need to succeed. However, if you begin to lose hope and move into panic mode, this will likely become counteractive.
A Final Thought
Holding hope in the music industry is imperative to motivation, resiliency, happiness, and growth. Thousands of musical souls embark on this journey with the hopes of “making it” in the entertainment world, but we all know it is generally a long hard road. When you feel you have fallen too far off your path, reach out to those around you for support, take steps to instill hope again, or seek professional counseling. Remember this when you are in the beginning stage of setting your goals and defining what success means to you. Vincent Van Gogh only sold one painting in his entire lifetime, even though he painted over 900 pieces of art that are celebrated worldwide. Would you define this as success? Why did he keep painting if his art wasn’t selling? If music is in your heart, then try and look beyond the external validation and find the passion and drive within.
This blog post was contributed by Elizabeth Porter, LPC-MHSP.
President of Entertainment Health Services (EHS), providing Counseling for Creatives in the Nashville area.
Guest Speaker Tim Gray