Permission, that invitation to reach deep down inside and express what is there, without reserve and without regret, is something every one of us craves. We just need someone to go first.
The trick is, then, is that giving people permission isn’t some parlor trick we learn at public speaking school. It’s not a manipulative sales tactic we read in a book about persuasion. Permission is an act of embodiment. It’s not about the adjectives of our language, but the audacity of our lives. We inspire people to believe in themselves when we first throw ourselves boldly and joyfully into the life adventure, never looking over our shoulder to see who’s laughing.
Velvet, for example, only sold ten thousand copies of their debut album, but everyone who bought it went out and formed their own band. That’s permission.
I remember when first sent out the press release about my concert documentary, an artist friend of mine told me that each time she saw something of mine, she put more things on her creative bucket list.
Mission accomplished. That’s impact. That’s exactly the kind of response I want. And it can’t be accomplished by playing covers. Because that wouldn’t be creating something personal. Forging other people’s art doesn’t involve undergoing the emotional labor of taking a risk and extending yourself.
Whom are you giving permission?
They don’t play cover songs, they make their own music.
When I used to perform music in bars and coffee shops, people would yell out names of songs or artists they wanted to hear. And that infuriated me. Because I didn’t come here to swim in the shallow end. I have an agenda, and people’s crappy childhood songs aren’t part of it.
Eventually, though, I became so frustrated with people’s disinterest in hearing original music, that I stopped performing in public and went into music hibernation for nearly a decade. Which I completely regret. I allowed the voices of mediocrity to get the best of me. I allowed public taste to overwhelm personal expression.
Fortunately, though, hope found its own way back. Thanks to the tunnel, I started performing in public again. But this time, I brought the fire. My fire. I created my own venue, my own permissionless platform, where I could do whatever I wanted. The music was all expression and zero apology. And nobody seemed to mind.
In fact, they quite liked it. Funny what happens when we give ourselves permission to make our own music.
When did you start singing in your own voice?
What a moment. Two and a half years of work, finally coming to fruition. Hallelujah. Beautiful feelings of satisfaction and relief and pride washed over me like a tidal wave.
Five minutes later, I felt a twitch in my left eye. And I realized, wow, I could easily spend three more months making this movie fifteen percent better.
Think of all of those scenes and sounds that would benefit from a quick once over. Maybe we could push the deadline back till next year?
No. Don’t you dare, I reminded myself. Stay away from that goddamn treadmill. Don’t even think about scratching unless there’s really an itch. Finished is the new perfect.
And so, I snapped out of it. I sidestepped the seductive trap of perpetual improvement. And we began distributing the documentary two weeks later.
Phew. Close call, though. Turns out, I’m just as susceptible to resistance’s trickery as the next guy.
Have you ever asked yourself why you procrastinate?
My favorite basketball player once said, if you don’t know where you’re going, nobody can stop you.
I’ve always appreciated the playfulness and flexibility of that mindset. It’s not a bad way to play the game. In fact, it’s not a bad strategy for approaching the creative process.
Life is boring when we know all the answers. When we’ve already decided exactly what we’re making or where we’re going, our work can only be as good as that. On the other hand, when we objectify the creative process and suspend our need to categorize, we invite projects to expand into unexpected territory. We allow the work to adapt and evolve.
When I started working on this documentary, I didn’t know I was making a movie until a year into the project. One day, I just stepped back from the project and thought, I think this thing wants to be a film. So I listened.
But had I decided that at the onset of the process, it wouldn’t have organically blossomed into the work of art it is today.
In this example, I was creating medium agnostic. Instead of locking the work into a single form, I kept the idea in permanent beta. Instead of forcing my own expectations on the work, I allowed patterns to emerge. And when the time came for the documentary to announce itself, all I had to do was listen and say yes.
Are your expectations serving or frustrating you?
And I wondered if there was any significance to such fortuitous timing. So I went for a long walk in the park and ran the following thought experiment. How would this problem be solved in nature?
After a few hours, something occurred to me. The number ten is by far the most significant labeling system in nature. Ten is the major organizing principle of the universe. It’s the mathematical base for everything. That’s why decades are such important life markers. There truly is something special about what transpires during a ten year period.
That information activated a professional transformation for me. I began to reinvent myself. To enlarge my concept of work. To expand the constellation of my identity as a creator. To keep more of my passions in play. And to mold my definition of a career to fit anything that excited and fed my soul. What’s more, I memorialized my journey to finding the next stone on the path through a collection of songs, which ultimately became the centerpiece of this concert documentary.
That’s what’s possible when we tune into nature’s agenda.
How are you remaking yourself as you grow and as the world changes?