“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.