Over seven months ago I met up with my friend Josh Taylor (you may recognize him as the front man for the band The Moderates). In our conversation he expressed his intentions to take the fall semester off from college to “spend more time on music.” My ears definitely perked up when I heard this. For a couple reasons:
1. Several years ago I was in a band and I had fallen into the same belief that “I would be soooo much more productive in my craft if only I quit everything to pursue it.”
2. Since my band-days, I had read Steve Pressfield’s book, The War of Art. Let’s just say that Josh’s rationale was a classic form of what Pressfield calls Resistance.
3. Perhaps most importantly, I had recently read (technically listened to it), a book called Quitter by Jon Acuff. Let’s just say that Acuff would not be chill’ with Josh’s proposal.
So with this backdrop, I heard him out and when solicited I definitely offered some strong resistance in the form of questions, really just one: “What do you hope to accomplish during this collegiate vacation?” (I imagined late-night Halo sessions, pizza parties, and road trips to no where).
Josh’s answer was simple and direct, “I want to become a better songwriter.”
So where the conversation goes from here is the primary difference between those who dream and fail and those who dream and succeed. I think it is worth sharing, and worth repeating in practice:
- He made a goal (and wrote it down / told someone else about it): I want to become a better songwriter in the next 7 months.
- He made it real. We took the vague concept of “being a better songwriter” and we nailed in down into measurable entities, with a real deadline fixed in time. We turned the qualitative into quantitative: I want to write 50 songs by the end of 2015 (approximately 7 months times). Sure, there is no guaranty that accomplishing quantitative goals will result in qualitative goals necessarily, but I’m pretty sure you are more likely to become a better songwriter by pushing yourself to write 50 songs, instead of trying for 10 songs that “are really good.” In the process of writing 50 tunes, it is likely you will hit that smaller qualitative goal of 10 great ones.
- He worked backwards and broke it down into smaller goals. Working backwards from the deadline (December 31) we calculated how many songs he needed to write each month and each week. This gave him the ability to plan and manage his time. If he was meeting or exceeding his goal on the timeline he had the freedom to take time off and do whatever else he wanted (all-night Call of Duty sessions). This way the goal was more of a marker than a master.
- He made it costly. In our conversation he shared how author Ray Bradbury had rented a typewriter in a library on a weekly basis to work on his craft. The cost to Bradbury was not paramount but the fact that it was costly at all made it more valuable to him. I offered to rent Josh studio time at Sanctus on a monthly basis (with set times) to work on his songwriting. We found a price that was mutually acceptable – neither overly burdensome to him but still costly and valuable.
Shortly after, we concluded our conversation and within a week Josh had keys to the studio.
The steps above will get you on the road to accomplishing your dreams/goals but ultimately the magic sauce to accomplishment is the unsexy, week-in week-out discipline, focus and work while no one is watching. Josh made a goal, made it real, broke it down, and made it costly. But that doesn’t mean he wrote 50 songs or became a better songwriter. That part rests solely upon his follow-through.