Posts tagged ‘decisions’

November 29, 2015

#100) Quitting my day job

Artist-difficulty

For musicians and other creative types such as myself, the million dollar question is: when do you quit your day job?

In my case, it was ten years ago, a few months after I turned 30. (A while back I promised an over-wrought, existential rant to mark my 40th birthday. Guess what 30 plus 10 is? Besides, for post #100, go big or go home, right?)

By the end of 2005, my wife had just gotten a promotion. One of my bands scored a weekly gig and the others were working regularly too. My roster of private students was as big as it had ever been. We had saved some money. If there was ever a time to quit substitute teaching in the Long Beach public schools, it would be now. What did I have to lose?

Within two years, I had the answer: my marriage and my love of music. As both started to falter and then vanish, I would often find myself wondering if I should have just kept the day job.

Almost a decade later, now with a terrific marriage, a house, two great dogs, a good social life, a few bands that are doing pretty well and a newly discovered love of hiking and the outdoors that I’ve parlayed into a successful website and digital photo library, it’s easy for me to wave the “I regret nothing” banner. But what if things had not turned around in the way that they did? I believe that even if my life was worse now than it was ten years ago, quitting substitute teaching–my day job–was the right call.

While the stress of my music career certainly didn’t help my marriage, had I continued to substitute teach, or become a classroom K-12 teacher as I had once planned, we would have just swapped out one set of problems for a new one. A teacher for whom I once subbed had written herself a note on her desk: “Don’t take it personally; don’t take it home.” I likely would have done both. If I’d bypassed teaching altogether–perhaps if I’d actually done my homework and made an effort in school instead of messing around with music and had pursued a degree in law or medicine–I might have landed a better-paying job, but while financial stress played a role in my divorce, no amount of money in the world could have changed the fact that I simply picked the wrong person to marry. She was what I had spent my whole life not having and when I met her, all bets were off. It took several years to realize that while we might have had fun dating, we weren’t built for a lasting relationship, but try telling a male 25-year old to look at the long term picture. Just try, I dare you.

Would I have continued to enjoy music if I hadn’t spent hours teaching unmotivated students or grinding out the same grunge rock and country songs in bars? I’ll never know for sure, but while I didn’t have a choice in how my first marriage ended, I’m grateful that I have a choice with music and I’ve chosen to keep playing it.

The biggest lesson I’ve learned in the 10 years since my last day as a substitute teacher is that the results of a decision don’t necessarily dictate the soundness of the decision. We’ve all made mistakes that have been absent of consequences; we’ve all made honest, well-informed decisions that simply didn’t work out. When I gave up the lukewarmness of substitute teaching, I knew that I might get really hot or ice cold. Sometimes during the cold periods I would miss the lukewarm, but getting back there would have gotten boring pretty quickly.

I leave you with the words of GoPro founder Nick Woodman: “When I have a difficult decision to make, I imagine myself as a 90-year-old guy looking back on his life. I imagine what I’ll think about myself at that point in time, and it always makes it really easy to go for it. You’re only going to regret that you wimped out.”

 

 

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February 13, 2014

#71) How do you know?

How do you know?

I mean, seriously, how the fuck do you know?

This simple, timeless question was recently brought home to me by a TV commercial.  Like any good commercial, it failed to actually instill the name of the product in my head, but its message resonated with me nevertheless.  An adult is shown some fancy new product he’s supposed to buy and hesitates.  During his hesitation we see him flash black to junior high, when he dumps a tubby blonde girl: “Sorry, Brooklyn, it’s just not working out.”  In another flashback, now at college age, he declines investing in his friend’s startup: “What can you do with just 140 characters?” Which brings us to the present; the implication being that he doesn’t want to pass on yet another thing that will end up being huge.

Apart from its amusing storyline, the commercial has hit home for me on a personal level.  Since starting my hiking blog, www.nobodyhikesinla.com, I have been fortunate to keep the company of dozens of blogging experts.  Counsel that has been given to me about how to successfully monetize the blog includes T-shirts and other swag; creating a mobile phone application; eBooks about the hikes, branching out to other cities (coming soon: http://www.nobodyhikesinwichita.com).

With demeanor ranging from polite to borderline hostile, depending on the intensity of my expert’s pitch to me, I have invariably rejected most of these ideas, not because I want to be difficult, stubborn or ungrateful, but just because in most cases, I don’t feel that the potential for revenue justifies the effort and expense of, say, hiring an app developer or handling (gulp!) physical inventory, that bane of the existence of anyone who has ever tried to develop an online revenue stream.  My hesitation to endorse these ideas is based on information I’ve gathered about my site traffic, link clicks, etc (I have been known to spend hours a few minutes here and there perusing statistics related to my blogs).  While the revenue the site has earned – mainly through advertising; also through affiliation sales, the Nobody Hikes in LA Guidebook and donations – is a little bit short of Fortune 500 status, by breaking the three-digit income threshold, NHLA stands apart from at least 81% of the blogs out there, according to Infographic.

That being said, a part of me has to ask: what if I am wrong?  Are eBooks based on hike writeups the wave of the future?  By passing on these opportunities, will I become the next Nolan Bushnell?  (In the mid ’70s, after founding Atari, Busnhell had an opportunity to invest in a startup created by one of his employees: a certain Steven Paul Jobs.)

History abounds, of course, with stories like this: numerous record producers rejecting the Beatles; board game makers  passing on Monopoly; the Portland Trailblazers drafting Sam Bowie instead of Michael Jordan.  Hell, there’s even one from my own family: in the mid 1960s in New York, my dad and uncle Joe were involved with the city’s thriving folk music scene.  One of the misfits hanging around the fringes was a scruffy kid from Minnesota named Robert Zimmerman, whose presence was a nuisance to everyone, be they veteran musicians who didn’t want him fucking up the songs or young women whom he was trying to bed.  One of the latter category was waiting for my uncle Joe to meet her at a cafe and when he showed up, she was laughing.  “This homeless looking kid tried to hit on me,” she said.  “When I brushed him off, he said, ‘But I’m Bob Dylan!’  I said, ‘Well, I’m here waiting for Joe Lockeretz.'”

To bring it back to my original question, strictly speaking, no, you DON’T know.  You can, however, make sound decisions based on odds and information.  I consider the fear of passing on a great opportunity to be the converse of fears such as being struck by lightning, being attacked by a shark or being in a plane crash.  Just as plane crashes make the news because of how rare they are, stories such as the Beatles’ early rejections make history because of their infrequency.  Yes, it’s inspirational to hear these kinds of tales and their positive messages shouldn’t just be dismissed.  It should just be noted, however, that these events are the exception and should have limited influence on your decisions, investment and otherwise.  And if you do end up on the wrong side of history?  At least you’ll have some good stories for the grandkids.