There’s a very dangerous thought going around the electronic music scene right now. It’s flooding social media and seeping into the minds of young, ambitious creators. The dangerous idea is this: you are what you make, and your entire life should revolve around your art.
The culture inside the EDM industry suggests that producers and DJ’s should eat, live, and breathe music. Your girlfriend should be a vocalist so she can sing on your track. Your best friends should be bloggers, promoters, or other DJ’s. You should live in a house with other DJ roommates. You should wear music industry t-shirts (like ours!), and even drink coffee from a DJ-themed mug. You shouldn’t have any non-industry friends, or give a second to people who don’t support your music career.
The fact is, this idea is bullshit. Here’s why.
Few make it out unscathed
I usually like to be positive about everything. One of the reasons I started Pariah Reign is to spread positivity in the music scene. But, I have to real here.
The reason why everyone shouldn’t base their lives around creativity is because not everyone will make it.
It’s hard to get to the top. Not everyone has the talent, grit, and determination to push past failures and reach success. It takes real work. Truthfully, I question whether I have those skills to make Pariah Reign what I want it to be.
So what happens when someone focuses all of their life energy into attaining a creative goal, only to have it slip away at the last moment? Devastation. Like Uncle Rico, fallen creatives become quarterbacks who peaked in high school. All they know, all they aspired for, all they could think of doing, is now gone.
This is where creating a balanced sense of identity becomes important. The fact is, you aren’t what you do, you are what you are. You’re not a human doing, you are a human being.
Now, where I differ from most creatives is that, if I shut down Pariah Reign right now, I would be okay. My identity is not tied up in being an entrepreneur or blogger or clothing designer. Those are things I do, that I’m testing out right now to see if they work.
Instead, my identity is that I’m a person who likes to help people. I like learning and always say “hi” first to cashiers at the supermarket. I try to be a good role model for my kid, and have integrity with everyone I meet.
Why split action and identity
Separating out what we do and who we are can increase our effectiveness in what we are doing. I know far too many creatives whose self worth is tied up in the work. It’s truly an emotional rollercoaster, where if the works does well, they’re happy, and if the work does poorly, they’re devastated. If they turn out a bad product, they feel they like are an unworthy person.
They take negative feedback on something they created as a personal attack to their being. It’s unhealthy and miserable to associate self worth with creative endeavors that are bound to contain some amount of failures.
When you split your action from your identity, creative dry spells don’t lead to personal depression. Likewise, big successes don’t cause us to lose our heads. By staying zen and dividing the action from the identity, we can see the best course of action at any given time. We can notice the flaws in our work, and recognize them as mistakes, instead of personal shortcomings. We can noticed what we did well, and not gorge our egos over it. We’re more effective, and less prone to the emotional battering that many creatives face.
So why does this narrative exist? Because it’s sexy.
Mainstream culture likes to venerate the maddened artist. The public worships those who obsess over their craft, despite the negative effects that ensue. Kurt Cobain is hailed as a genius, although he was maddened into taking his own life. We praise Jimi Hendrix as the greatest guitarist of all time, even though he overdosed on drugs. Robin Williams was the master of comedy despite killing himself, leaving behind a wife and kids to live in his shadow. This praise without the disclaimer that relentless pursuit and fame will ruin you as a person, is literally deadly.
When heroes are deeply flawed people, it is no wonder that young, impressionable kids make bad decisions to live up to their idols. It’s no wonder that young rappers died of codeine overdoses after listening to Lil Wayne rap about lean. It’s no wonder that aspiring DJ’s think they have to lay it all on the line because Skrillex was homeless when he made his breakout album.
For me, I’d rather have my life intact than have people think I’m great. For me, going down in the history books is not worth my soul. I cannot picture trading my emotional sanity for the wide-accepted praise of others. If you would trade your being for the fame and recognition, perhaps you should take a closer look at yourself.
In creative communities, brands are capitalizing off of these sentiments. The company who sells DJ themed mugs wants you to think that you can only drink coffee from something that expresses who you are. The graphic design meme pages wants to tell you should find a man who knows the difference between Helvetica and Arial. These messages aren’t for your well-being, they’re self-interested on the brands to drive their sales and reach. None of this is based in reality.
How to make the divide
So the question is now: how do we separate our being from our doing? You can start by diversifying your life.
- Pick a hobby that has nothing to do with anything you currently do. If you’re a musician, don’t pick up an extra instrument as your hobby. Instead, find something completely different, like working out, collecting rocks, or playing video games. You need escapism that can take your mind off your work. Choose something outside of your field to spend your downtime on.
- Find friends that are different than you. If you’re reading this, you’re probably ambitious. You want to achieve and show the world how good you are. That’s okay. But not everyone in your circle needs to be driven concert promoters like you. Instead, find people who are equally passionate about other pursuits. Have friends with jobs that are completely opposite of you. Reach out to people who look different than you, listen to a genre of music you dislike, and are diverse in every way possible. If you’re on the prowl, don’t expect your significant other to be exactly like you either. You want balance, whether you know it or not.
- Do work on yourself. Go out and read Ryan Holiday’s last two books. Download the Headspace app and learn to separate thoughts and feelings from who you are. Practice being a stable, effective, confident person every day. It takes time, but you’ll get to point where you can fail at everything and not be taken back as a person. Bad things happen, but that doesn’t mean you’re a bad person.