Treat It How You Want It To Be – Not How It Is

This post is a bit of an addendum to my entry called Prove Yourself.

The following situation never happens:

A runner friend of yours needs a partner for a long distance running event this coming weekend – maybe a triathlon or even a marathon.  Because you sometimes wear running shoes, she/he asks you to be their running partner on this enormous endeavor.

Could you do it?

Unless you’re already an exercise geek, I doubt it.  It takes hours of near daily training, conditioning and preparation several months before the event to even be able to do the thing.  If you don’t already have the muscles, you’d never make it.  In reality, your friend would ask another person who has proven they can do it – someone who already made the investment of time and effort to prepare for a big run.

Big goals require muscles, too, and those take time, desire, belief, ability, experience and daily action to develop.  When you want to do or be something and you’re at square one, you have to treat it like you want it to be, not how it is.  You have to make an investment in your own development.  We’re talking about the work you have to do BEFORE you do the work.  The training, the education, the practice, the experience.  Sometimes the cost is high.

The Butthole Surfers made a living out of playing abrasive, challenging original music because they treated it like it was their job for years.  As odd and off-putting as they were to people in the 80s, they treated empty rooms the same as they treated the full houses… and eventually the empty rooms disappeared.  There was certainly a high cost to do this.  It took years of work and sacrifice.

That daily action is THE key to treating something how you want it to be.   Consider the differing outcomes of the following:


  1. talking about practicing a difficult piece/song
  2. practicing a difficult piece/song


It doesn’t take a genius to figure out which course of action to implement to learn the piece/song.  However, most of us choose #1 or NO ACTION more often than #2.  Why?

Because treating it how it is is easy and seems logical.  Why should I invest my time in this difficult, non-paying thing?  The desired outcome isn’t worth the time I’d put in.

If that statement goes through your head, that’s the first sign that you’re doing the wrong thing.

If you truly want to do or be something, you must defy the “logic” that tells you to do something more immediately satisfying/lucrative.  Instead, you must play to the greater logic that tells us that in order to scale the wall, we must first have the tools, and the muscles.  Those don’t just come from talking about doing the thing!

Sometimes there is no immediate reward for investing that time/effort or any use for the results of doing so.

Think about all those basic math tests you took in 1st grade.  They seemed boring and pointless at the time and how many times have you been asked to show a potential employer those results?  Never! Yet it was exactly those exercises that gave you the basic math muscles you use daily.  Fortunately for you, someone in your past treated you the way they wanted you to be not what you were in 1st grade.

When Richard Linklater asked Graham Reynolds to score A Scanner Darkly,  Graham still had a day job and no Hollywood credits to speak of.  However, he’d worked like hell DAILY to become the Austin arts community’s most sought-after composer – even over people at UT with actual degrees in composition!  Graham had already done the job many times over and developed his style and Linklater knew he could do it.

Linklater wouldn’t hire someone sitting in his/her apartment waiting for the phone to ring.  Would you?  Here’s my own story about that.

In 2008, I joined a songwriters group that focuses on lyric writing through seasonal two-week speed-writing exercises.  It’s tough but my songwriting and composing muscles are much stronger.  In my early days of this, a close friend thought I was wasting my time.   He saw my efforts as a futile exercise in quantity over quality.  I was spending hours per night on the effort with some pretty terrible material to show for it.  His preferred method is to wait for a reason to create the music, then focus on making it really good rather than spinning his wheels on something that might or won’t pay.

I totally understand that mentality… but now it seems backwards to me – even disconnected.  I see/saw those speed writing exercises as necessary homework to get where I wanted to be!

In the early days, it took hours of working on a tune for me to realize that it was a dud.  Often I’d get frustrated and give up at that point.  However, after many of these duds, I started treating them how I wanted them to be instead of a how they were.  The hours spent (not wasted) polishing turds gave me invaluable experience and eventually paid off – now I can write songs that are cohesive, memorable and even intriguing in about 1/8th of the time.  Even my duds have improved (and I can usually spot them in quicker)!

Since then, I’ve written HOURS worth of decent songs with lyrics, instrumentals, silent movie music, music for a few short films,  theater, web commercials all while managing/running/booking/promoting my own band and constantly learning/arranging non-original material for weddings, etc.

I earned several thousands of dollars from the stuff above that actually did pay and I only got those gigs because I was actively working my creative muscles and seeking opportunities to use them – paid or not.   In the same amount of time, my friend from above has written under or about an hour of material, shared almost none of it and only earned money from the gigs where he collaborated with me.  Maybe a few hundred dollars.

I’m not using dollars a measure of quality so much as a measure of opportunity.  This friend’s works is some of my favorite – he just doesn’t work those creative muscles enough for anyone else to know or notice.  He treated his creative efforts as they were – a hobby – not what he wanted them to be.

(If you work hard, one day you can get paid to make music that’s turned so low in the mix that no one notices it’s even there… like the masterpiece above. :/)

This idea can be applied to just about any aspect of music or life.  You’ll play the bigger venue after you’ve treated the small ones like they’re huge (and sold them out).  Someone else will represent you AFTER you’ve represented yourself so well you don’t need anyone else to do it.  You’ll get the promotion once you’ve proven you can do job.

This may all seem obvious but I wrote this because my experience tells me that people (especially creative people) tend get stuck in that backwards, seemingly logical mindset.   It’s easy to feel like we HAVE proven ourselves and difficult to recognize that no one else noticed.    I started identifying and eliminating backwards thoughts/practices like, “Let’s save money now and wait to pull out all the stops once we get a show at a better venue.”   Doesn’t it seem more likely that a band would get shows at a better venue BECAUSE of pulling out all the stops elsewhere?

I guess my bottom line is – if you’re waiting for someone to give you a reason to score a film, write a song or whatever, your waiting-by-the-phone skills are going to be through the roof while your creative abilities will atrophy.  Don’t fool yourself into thinking someone’s going to drop a paying gig in your lap just because YOU know you can do it.  You have to already be treating your craft how you want it to be – not how it is – for others to notice.

I even apply this to things other than my actual goals – like my day job.  I don’t treat it the way it is (my main source of income), I treat it how I want it to be (a placeholder).

More on that next time.