Taking a step back

When 2020 began – about five years ago wasn’t it? – it seemed to bring so much optimism with it. Even more so than most new years because it was the start of a new decade but even the sound of it – 20/20 – made it sound like it would be a year of clarity. Perhaps someday in retrospect it will be, but now in the middle of it, it’s pretty horrendous for most of the world.

Full of optimism in January, I started a new blog – 20eachday.com – with a new goal to try to practice that “clarity” with spending at least 20 minutes a day on something I was passionate about – songwriting – and hoping to inspire others to spend at least 20 minutes a day on their passion.

The blog fizzled pretty quickly – after five posts – because I didn’t put enough thought into it beforehand and was still distracted by other things I was working on. In a few months, the blog will expire and I don’t plan to renew it so I thought I’d share parts of the blog here to document some evidence of positivity that existed at the beginning of this year.

Here’s an expression of optimism in the first post:

What do you love to do? Do you make time to do that?

Life can get busy and oftentimes the things that you enjoy doing most get regulated to the back burner while things like laundry and dishes get priority. Sure, clean clothes and dishes are important, but so are your dreams.

What if you were to devote only 20 minutes a day to doing what you love? That’s 140 minutes a week. 600 minutes a month. 7,300 minutes a year! (Or 121 hours if you’re more of an hour type of a person.) Can only 121 hours in a year really make a difference?

Honestly, I don’t know. But I’ve noticed in the past that sometimes when you get in the habit of doing something, that it continues to grow. Twenty minutes one day, 30 minutes another day and then there’s a day when you get the afternoon to yourself and spend three hours on it. Whoo-hoo!

I’m willing to give it a try, are you?

The next post – titled “Has it only been five days?” – shows that the new year already started off on a sour note for the world, even five days into it.

We’re only a few days into the new year and it has already packed a powerful punch. Seeing the devastation in Australia is heartbreaking. First the Amazon Rainforest and now this beautiful country.

I’ve wanted to go to Australia since I was in third grade when I had a small obsession with koala bears. Then in junior high I had a big crush on rock star Rick Springfield who hails from Australia. I haven’t made it over there yet, but it was on my bucket list to go there and hold a koala. Reports are now saying that thousands of koala bears may have been killed in the fire and half a billion animals, birds and plants have been impacted by the fires. Not to mention that at least 18 people have died and more than 1,000 homes have been destroyed. The photos and videos coming from that region are horrifying – the flames, the smoke and the devastation. It’s so hard to imagine as I look outside to see a clear, beautiful blue-sky day outside that families are escaping their homes in a boat wearing face masks to seek shelter from the fire and that countless firefighters are risking their lives to save people and their country.

As we start the new year full of optimism and anticipation, it’s heart-wrenching to think about those who are fighting for their survival and don’t have the luxury of a dreaming up a New Year’s resolution or making plans for self-improvement.

Yet I also think that those who aren’t dealing with such life-changing occurrences have an obligation to do what they can to bring some light and joy into the world. Music and art have the power to comfort and heal and although that might seem insignificant when compared to the heroism of firefighters and doctors and other heroes, creative inspiration is important.

Devoting 20 minutes a day to doing something you love – whether it be writing, painting, reading, drawing, taking a walk, etc. – may seem insignificant, but I think we all need reminders that there’s more to life than just getting through it.

Reading this tonight, the irony of the mention of face masks stuck out to me. Who knew what a big role face masks would play in our daily lives a few months later?

The next post was about how even small steps are important when you’re working toward a goal.

With the new year often comes new resolutions. The idea of a fresh start is hard for many people to resist.

Each day we have the opportunity to start anew and make ourselves better than yesterday, but when it’s a new year and a new decade, it seems like that should be motivation enough to put past years (or decades) behind us, along with all the bad habits and routines we developed during that time.

And then comes Jan. 2 when you head back into your routine of work (or Jan 6 if you were lucky enough to squeeze in some vacation time) and all those good intentions get shoved in that pile on the dresser to go through when you have a few extra minutes.

Sometimes those good intentions stay in that pile for several weeks or months then get shoved in a box in an attempt to declutter and then you come across them 10 years later when you move.

Or is that just me?

I guess I need to provide some context here. This past November, our family moved out of our house where my husband I moved in when I was pregnant with our oldest son – who is now 13. So I’ve spent the past few weeks revisiting the past, going through piles of papers and boxes of photographs.

I’m one of those kind of people that tend to hold on papers “just in case” so my “shred” pile included tax returns from 2003, paycheck stubs from 2005, and even paperwork to a townhouse whose purchase eventually fell through back in the early 2000s.

Some of it was easy to toss – like the townhouse paperwork – but some I still need to hold onto, like the bag of letters from summer camp. Reading my mom’s handwriting again was comforting – she died in 1997 – as well as seeing greeting cards from my grandparents and other loved ones no longer with us. I found my college transcripts, high school newspapers (I was on staff) and there’s some box in the garage that has all my high school yearbooks, as well as a couple of my mom’s.

With this big project, as well as my regular family and work schedule, it seems like something like songwriting should go on the back burner, right? But I’m still determined and have spent at least 20 minutes a day working on it – practicing a few songs I’m working on (Including one called “Take a Step”). I’ve also been spending some time on Garage Band, which I’ve also introduced to my kids. My 9-year-old and 11-year-old thought it was really cool and jumped right into writing a song. I loved seeing how they weren’t concerned with getting it perfect, they just went for it. They each recorded a song – I’ve yet to complete one on Garage Band, but am becoming familiar with it.

In the move I also found a box of cassette tapes that I recorded back in the ’90s. I had sat with my notebooks and my tape recorder and read and sang my songs and read my poems and prose. I have been writing songs off and on since high school and probably have written hundreds of songs (or pieces of songs) by now. So why have I not done anything with them? How can something that’s always been such a big part of my life (with some gaps here and there) remain on cassette tapes and hidden away in spiral notebooks? Is there some purpose to them? Maybe it’s just part of a midlife crisis but it’s something I feel like I need to proceed with now. I wish I hadn’t stopped and started so many times. If I continued with guitar lessons after my high school guitar class, I’d probably be pretty good by now.

But there’s no going back in time, all I can do now is take one step at a time to get better at it, even if I have to squeeze it in between work, commuting, making lunches, washing dishes, homework and laundry.

The next post fits this situation well, as it was titled “Being Willing to Fail.”

There’s a risk of trying something new – you might fail. Does this mean it’s better to not try at all?

No.

Sometimes you have to fail a few times to reach success. There are many stories of people who failed several times before they reached success. Oprah Winfrey. Walt Disney. Steven Spielberg. Dr. Seuss.Michael Jordan. If they stopped after their first failure (or two or three), they would have never reached their great successes.

Hearing their stories can be a source of inspiration. That’s why this past weekend I started a new class at a community college (an introduction to studio recording) although I’m by far the oldest student and am even older then the teacher. That’s why I volunteered to perform two of my songs at a songwriting festival this past weekend. Even though I wasn’t sure if I’d be able to hit all the notes of my new song (I didn’t) and when I was asked to introduce a musical performer at a work event tonight, I agreed. Even though I never feel comfortable speaking in front of an audience.

Maybe it’s because I’ve been listening to inspirational speakers these past couple of years and realizing that everyone has to start somewhere and most people are unsure of the steps they’re taking or experience the impostor syndrome. And that although online people can be cruel, in real life most people are understanding and supportive when you put yourself out there. (Or don’t even pay attention to your mistakes because they’re not really paying attention to you at all because they’ve got stuff going on in their own head that keeps them occupied.)

So if there’s something you want to try, don’t let the fear of failure prevent you from trying it. When news like today hits – the sudden shocking death of Kobe Bryant and his daughter and the others killed in this morning’s helicopter crash – it makes you realize that there’s not always a guarantee that you’ll get to try it someday – do it now.

The last post is called “Changing what you believe is possible” and was inspired by a book written by Alex Banayan, whose book tells his story about the path he took in college that led him to learning lessons of success from Bill Gates, Lady Gaga, Warren Buffett, Steven Spielberg, Maya Angelou, Jessica Alba, Jane Goodall, Larry King, Quincy Jones and more.

I typically have a pile of books on my bedside table and get through only a few pages at a time because it seems like there’s always something else that needs to get done. But last week I zipped through one book that was not only interesting and inspiring, but fun to read: “The Third Door: The Wild Quest to Uncover How the World’s Most Successful People Launched Their Careers” by Alex Banayan.

The “third door” concept compares success to a nightclub: There are three doors, the first one is the main entrance where 99 percent of people wait in line to get in; the second door is the VIP entrance where the billionaires and celebrities are welcomed through; and the “third door,” Banayan describes as “the entrance where you have to jump out of line, run down the alley, bang on the door a hundred times, crack open the window, sneak through the kitchen – there’s always a way.”

I don’t want to give away too much because I don’t want to spoil the adventure for you, but I highly recommend the book.

I’ve always been amazed about how the small choices that we make in our life have such power. Careers can be charged by one choice a person makes – the decision to go to a party where they meet the right person, for instance – or can be destroyed by an insensitive tweet.

Banayan’s choice to follow this mission he set for himself led to one thing then another then another. In the book, you follow his transformation from a college student unsure of his path in life to the author of a No. 1 international bestseller named to Forbes’ 30 Under 30 list.

One quote toward the end of the book struck me: “When you change what you believe is possible, you change what becomes possible.”

One reason this quote resonated with me is the recent realization that when people find success, it’s usually not because they were born with an amazing talent that led them to becoming who they are. Sure, some are born with more opportunities than others, such as those who have more access to other successful people because of who their parents know, but ultimately it’s those who work at something that find success.

To get down to real basics, those who succeed are the ones who don’t give up. Each person typically has a long path to success (unless you’re one of the exceptions like Billie Eilish, who won five Grammy Awards at age 18). The thing they all have in common is that they didn’t give up.

I try to keep reminding this each time I feel frustrated about taking the next step with my songs.

I recently tried “producing” my first song on Garage Band. The first few times I listened to it, I thought it sounded pretty good, especially the extra vocal tracks I added in the background, though I heard a few fixes I wanted to make.

Then my microphone cable broke (don’t ask) and I couldn’t record new vocals. I tried moving things around, taking the best part of different tracks to try to make it work. I wanted to submit it to my online sync songwriting class for feedback so I posted it as private on Soundcloud and sent in the link. I knew my production wasn’t great, but was hoping some producer in the class might be interested in producing it.

This week the class had an event in Los Angeles that was live-streamed and as part of the event, music -supervisors provided feedback on some of my classmates’ songs. Wow, the songs were so good and some of the music supervisors on the panel expressed an interest in licensing them. After listening to some of the songs, I realized how awful my song sounded and deleted it from Soundcloud before anyone could listen to it. “Who am I kidding?” I thought. Although I’ve been writing songs for decades, it’s been more focused on the lyrics and melody and not the actual music. How in the world am I going to catch up?! Why didn’t I start all of this years ago?

Every once in awhile I check the local community college schedule of classes to see what type of music classes they offer to see if one could fit in my schedule. A couple of years ago, I found a weekend-long songwriting course, which is where I was at the time, learning about song structures and such. This time, in my current phase that involves focusing on song production, the class that showed up in my search results was “Studio Music Recording 1.” It started the following week.

Always seeking for ways that indicate fate might be in play, I signed up. The first day was the same day I was supposed to play in the local songwriting gathering so I needed to leave early.

Despite feeling frustrated at my current level of progress, it crossed my mind how this situation would have sounded to myself five years ago: “I’m starting a studio recording class but had to leave early to perform two of my songs at a songwriting gathering.” I think I would have been surprised, considering at that time I hadn’t written any songs for 10 years. So I have to remind myself that I have made progress, even if it feels slow.

This last post was written in February, before the COVID-19 pandemic starting shutting things down here in Arizona.

Although I liked the idea, I realized that what I really wanted to do was work on my songs in my spare time rather than write that blog. One of the things I had hoped to do was inspire others in my quest, but it turns out that in addition to my work in the office, spending time with my kids and commuting at that time, I wasn’t sure how to inspire others through that blog. Then when my children’s school closed and I started working from home while managing their school day, our reality shifted.

Now midway through 2020 and in the middle of a pandemic, priorities have shifted even more. On most days, it takes all my effort to get what needs to get done for work and around the house, that I barely know what to do to inspire my sons, much less anyone outside the household. (Though I’ve still been writing songs as a way to process what’s happening – as recorded here.)

So many big things are happening now. Between the pandemic causing so much illness, job losses and economic fallout and the protests throughout the world after the tragic death of George Floyd, so many people are suffering and lives have been turned upside down.

2020 has changed our world in ways that we couldn’t have imagined on Jan. 1. We can only speculate how the rest of the year will look because this whole experience is new for all of us. Back in March there was a general feeling of “We’re all in this together,” but now, three months later, our country feels more fragmented than ever.

I can’t even think of the right words to end this post because my mind is overloaded with all that these past few months have brought. Is there even a way to wrap it all up in a short concluding paragraph? I’ll just end this post with a quick wish of hope and healing to all who need it right now as we prepare to head into the second half of the year.

One comment

  1. Don’t ever let go of these important moments and things we love to do! It’s too easy to forget about them as we keep up with the day-to-day.

    Like

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