Some people find every decision difficult to make. Others with very busy lives find even the most simple decisions taxing. In a recent Vanity Fair piece, President Obama described why he only wears blue or grey suits:
“I’m trying to pare down decisions. I don’t want to make decisions about what I’m eating or wearing. Because I have too many other decisions to make,”
The President of the United States should not be spending his time thinking about what suit to wear when there is so much to be considered. There are likely things you can do to remove unimportant decision-making from your life.
But sometimes you need to make a decision.
There will be moments in life that force you to choose between what you were doing and what you could be doing. There will be times where you cannot choose to do it all.
The above Facebook comments were in response to a sophomore’s status about feeling like he was stretching himself too thin at Berklee College of Music. They were made tongue-in-cheek but both were serious. My comment meant that you should always be prepared for change.
I don’t know the young man very well but I do know how involved he is with many activities both in school and out. There is nothing wrong with huge ambition and I respect him greatly for that. Outside of classes and 3 (THREE!) ensembles he has done an internship with the Boston Symphony Orchestra, works at the Box Office for the Berklee Performance Center, and is the Musical Theatre Orchestra Assistant Manager.
College is a place to experiment both academically and, for some, in other ways as well. It’s a time to discover what you really care about. There’s a good reason so many college students transfer, take time off, etc; curious individuals seek to use this time to learn about themselves and what they want to be.
After you find out what that is, it becomes the time to focus. That doesn’t mean you cannot change your mind later. Be completely open to pivoting because you probably will need or want to at some point in life.
When looking at what makes someone successful, writer Malcolm Gladwell states in his book Outliers that the key to mastering any skill is a dedication to practicing it. Specifically, Gladwell believes that it takes about 10,000 hours to reach mastery.
Let’s put that into perspective. I’m 22 years old and have been alive 8,329 days. I would need to have have walked an average of 72 minutes every day (since birth!) to have “mastered” the skill of walking. I’m not certain but I may still be on my way.
But in all seriousness, this means that doing something for an hour a day for over two decades will not be enough for you to reach the point of mastery. You need to let your passion consume you. You need to wake up in the morning and begin painting then not stand up until much later only to realize you’ve missed breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
Recently Macklemore has inspired me more than any other artist. His song Ten Thousand Hours is inspired by Malcolm Gladwell and this theory.
"The greats weren’t great because at birth they could paint
The greats were great cause they paint a lot”
Passion is the spark that drives people to become masters of their art.
People mean well when they get you presents but often you know what gifts are more practical than they do. Here’s a list of the top ten things to give yourself to improve your knowledge of entrepreneurship, investing, and technology. Though targeted at entrepreneurs, I feel like much of this list would be very useful for people pursuing music careers either solo or with a band.
- The Founder’s Dilemmas: Anticipating and Avoiding the Pitfalls That Can Sink a Startup: this is one of those books that changes the way you think about starting a company and who you co-found with. I suggest this for musicians because you will likely face the same issues that founders of tech startups face. Bands are the leanest of startups and things can get ugly or painful quickly.
- Treehouse subscription: Have you ever wanted to build an app? How about build a website for your business or band? Stop wasting your time messing around with templates that look incredibly derivative and learn how to do it yourself. Treehouse has some of the best instructional videos I’ve seen online. There is student pricing available if you email them a recent transcript.
- The Icarus Deception: How High Will You Fly?: Seth Godin’s latest book is all about treating your work like an artform. Not out yet but his track record guarantees this will be brilliant.
- Mastering the VC Game: Written by Jeffrey Bussgang of Boston’s Flybridge Capital, this is a fascinating look at the world of Venture Capital. Jeff has been on both sides of the entrepreneurial equation so he can explain VCs in a way that entrepreneurs will understand. This is also covers some truly interesting Boston startup history that younger entrepreneurs may not be familiar with.
- Do More Faster: TechStars Lessons to Accelerate Your Startup: This is as much a book about fast iteration as it is an insight into the culture and rapid prototyping of TechStars, a premier startup accelerator that has locations across the country.
- The Lean Startup: This is the book that will change the way you think about business and developing ideas. It’s another book for startups that I cannot recommend enough to bands.
- The Play Ethic: Pat Kane’s revelatory book on the power of play in ideation and business. Sadly it’s only available digitally for Kindle or used (and pretty pricey for a physical copy since it’s so popular).
- The Dharma of Capitalism: A Guide to Mindful Decision-Making in the Business of Life: I read this book when I was studying meditation. It’s a very interesting take on how we make decisions and how sometimes things that on the surface appear to be simple actually have greater ramifications than we had imagined.
- Getting to Yes: Negotiating Agreement Without Giving In: My friend Amy Mantis suggested this book to me after hearing good things. My pile of books to read is stacked pretty high but I have added it to my list. I feel those that don’t think of themselves as “business people” (engineers, musicians, etc) would do themselves a great service by reading this.
- Absolute Beginner’s Guide to C (2nd Edition): I’m taking the Harvard’s edx course on Computer Science and this is the textbook they suggested we get to follow along with the lectures. Author Greg Perry assumes no prior knowledge and does an incredible job of making the C language very accessible. Python and Ruby are all the rage but if you want to learn C this is the book for you.
As Ringo says, “it don’t come easy.” The Beatles are a great example. They played at bars for hours and hours every night and then went home and played even more.
There’s no, “I’m trying to become a rock and roll star in my spare time.” The same applies for building a company. How can you expect other people like the drummer in the band or co-founder of your company to devote their time if you don’t do the same?
College is a place for people to dabble in and experiment with many topics that interest them. Few people find something that they want to spend every moment thinking about or working on but those that do must seek out others like them. They should not expect the average college student to be capable of focusing on one project.
The ones that really don’t want college to distract them from their passions drop out or take time off (I did the latter). I’m not advocating either option unless you feel compelled to make that decision on your own. If you do take a break or drop out you had better focus on what you were supposedly putting your institutional education on hold for.
No, it don’t come easy, but if you love what you do you should savor every moment.
You can find great success following a trend or leeching onto a fad. You could make millions of dollars and maybe even solve some problems that people are currently experiencing.
What you will not do is change something that is fundamentally broken or build something entirely new.
Never follow the leader. If you do this you will end up where they do but you will be too late. You will be left to build around their idea. There is nothing inherently wrong with that but I believe most entrepreneurs want to build something new.
There are options:
- Revisit ideas that have failed for others. There may have been a great demand but the execution was so poor that they did not solve the problem. Facebook was not the first social network.
- Look at patterns and history. Guess what direction the leaders may eventually head in and get there before they do.
- Find something that has only just become possible and be the first person to try it. Since technology evolves so rapidly, things that were impossible just a year or two ago may now be feasible.