Time will tell. It always does.
Time will reveal we’re foolish. Or wise.
Leaning Toward Wisdom isn’t about some ideal version of living. None of us are wise all the time. Few, if any of us, are as wise as we think we are. The best and brightest among us are foolish sometimes. I watch enough Discovery Channel crime shows to know that Harvard graduates and Stanford MBA’s can do some stupid, criminal things. Committing crimes, especially violent crimes (including murder), are the height of foolishness. I’ll watch some episode about a guy who graduated top of his class, then went onto Harvard Law, but he murdered a girlfriend…and I’ll wonder in my head, “What was he thinking? He knew better than that.”
But that assumes knowing better is the only key to wisdom. Lots of us have behaved foolishly in spite of knowing better. No, not murder, but lesser crimes. I’ve been caught speeding in spite of knowing better. Most recently I got a parking ticket because I parked against the traffic. My car was facing the wrong way. How stupid was that? Don’t answer that. It was $106 worth of foolish, that’s what what it was. Am I smarter than that? Of course. Did I know better? Yes, ma’am. But I did it anyway.
Truth is – we can behave foolishly and we can behave wisely. Within a short period of time. Maybe it takes a lifetime to really find wisdom, but it only takes a single moment of extreme foolishness to end it all. I’m thinking of that poor drunk idiot who blew his head off when he put a firework on top of his head July 4th. Okay, maybe that wasn’t a single act of foolishness, but it happened in a single moment. Being drunk. Showing off. Fireworks. It proved a deadly combo. If it takes a lifetime to find and execute wisdom we may be stumbling onto the difficulty of the task.
Not long ago I was asked by a client about being an “A” player. Namely, what did I think was involved in being an A player or leading a team to become an A team.
Unless you’ve got Mr. T on your team you can embrace a variety of strategies to drive performance up. But it starts with your own ability to be an A player. A players aren’t foolish. Mostly they’re wise folks, prone to making the right decision more often than not. A players not only make better decisions than the lesser players, but they also behave better.
I’ve had lots of conversations through the years about higher human performance. Leadership and executive coaching are focal points of my professional life, and they’re a big part of my personal interest. But this podcast is all about the various aspects of wisdom. Today, it’s about the wisdom of chasing and achieving A-level performance. After all, if it’s worth doing – it’s worth doing well. It’s worth doing it as well as we can. Right here is where you hear over-achievers say, “Whatever it takes.”
Since we’re talking about wisdom we’ve got to eliminate that trite phrase – whatever it takes. Our ability to be a high performer can’t hinge on our willingness to do whatever it takes. That’s what gets people into trouble. Getting into trouble isn’t wise. Whatever it takes is an idiotic strategy, but I do have some suggestions and thoughts on a better way to achieve good, perhaps GREAT, results.
This all began when I threw out some words that all began with the letter D. It wasn’t planned. It just happened, but I started thinking more deeply about it all and decided I’d try to develop it into a framework that might help some of my clients. The first D-word I mentioned was DISCOVER.
Improvement requires an openness to consider alternatives, better ways. Historically I’ve used the word EXPLORATION, but in this one conversation I used the word DISCOVER. And I made a proper distinction between those words. Exploration is a search. Discovery (or discover) is finding something, or the result of the exploration. What’s the point in exploration if you don’t discover something?
That’s how this whole 7 words that all begin with the letter D started. Remember, the objective was an individual’s ability to elevate their own performance. I haven’t tried to apply it to everything, but I’ve had some weeks to think about it. And I’ve mentally applied it to many human endeavors. I’m not here to tell you it’s fool-proof. I mostly want to do what I always do – provoke you to consider it and to think it through for yourself. In order to be wise, we first must be thoughtful.
Okay, let’s get on with this and I’ll walk you through my own thought process. Let’s dive into these 7 D’s toward an A-level performance. First, I’m going to give you an 8th D word – a bonus word – where much of this needs to begin. The word is DESIRE. We can stumble into and onto things, but surely we can all agree that our lives are best served by acting intentionally chasing what we really want to accomplish. Yes, today’s show isn’t about acquiring stuff, or living like a rock star. It’s about our own performance. It’s about doing something worthwhile, elevating our performance.
This D word preface – DESIRE – isn’t included in my 7 because it’s more subjective than process. You want what you want. People can tell you what you ought to want. They can urge you to want something they think is better. But it’s your life, your performance and your choice. You want what you want. Maybe that’s a future episode about wisdom – how can we improve our desires so they better serve our leaning toward wisdom? But not today. Today we’re going to dive into these 7 D words that can help us improve our performance. And I know we want to think that only the most honorable, highest integrity people reach the heights of great performance, but it’s not true. Scoundrels can implement these strategies and achieve great results. It’s naive to think that only the best among us are high performers. Bill Cosby and Tiger Woods have proven that’s untrue. You can want to achieve positive professional results and still be a low-life character with shabby morals. But you’re here so I’m pretty sure that’s not how you roll.
Give your DESIRES some thought though. Think carefully about what you want and why. Now, let’s get into the first of the 7 D’s toward A-level performance!
High achievers assume some things. Those assumptions are different than the things assumed by lower level performers. I know because I’ve spent years working with both ends of the spectrum and all the ones in between. Try to train a person who isn’t yet an A-level player (or committed to becoming one) and you’ll run into resistance. They’ll tell you all the reasons why a new, different approach won’t work. Most won’t even try it. They just dismiss it. There’s another D word that could apply to the people who will never be A-level players.
If we’re going to achieve greater levels of wisdom – or anything else – we have to chase improvement. It’s not good enough to just be open to it, we have to go looking for it. Lewis and Clark weren’t just open to finding a path to the western part of a new territory. They weren’t sitting around hoping it would land in their lap. Hardly.
Captain Meriwether Lewis and Second Lieutenant William Clark were commissioned by President Thomas Jefferson to explore and map out the new territory known as the Louisiana Purchase. It was no casual endeavor. It was arduous journey that started in St. Louis in May 1804. They spotted the Pacific Ocean on November 7th, 1805. It took them 2 weeks to reach it after they saw it from afar. They got back to St. Louis in late September, 1806. Many books have been written filled with the discoveries made by the crews of Lewis and Clark – some 33 men in total.
We have to search out improvement like Lewis and Clark. History knows these men as explorers, not just soldiers. Explorers.
Are you an explorer? Are you really searching for ways to get better?
Most aren’t. Most are content to be who they are, where they are. Sure, they sometimes wish things were different – better. But that’s all they do. Wish.
Explorers don’t wish. They go looking. I supposing you’re not satisfied with your wisdom, or achievements. You want more. You want to get smarter, wiser and accomplish more. In short, you want to be more impactful. And you can be. But it’s not going to just land in your lap without effort. It’s going to take hard work.
Along the way – your expedition toward A-level performance – you face choices. Yes, DECIDE is an upcoming D, but DISSECT comes first. What’s the process of making a decision? That’s where dissection comes in. You’ve got to cut ’em up, take ’em apart and consider which option is best. That’s dissection.
There are some words of wisdom I’ve found myself offering consistently for as long as I can remember. Mostly because I think they’re crazy simple and crazy effective. Chief among those is this simple admonition that I’ve sought to embrace in my own life for decades.
What’s the worst thing that can happen? What’s the best thing that can happen?
The questions aren’t brilliant. Or simple. But the answers are. Most people don’t spend the mental effort (or time) to really drill down the answers. And keep drilling down.
Rarely is the worst thing really even possible. Usually, it’s hardly probable. But it scares us to death.
It’s just one of many tools you can use in this phase to DISSECT what you’ve discovered. You have to weigh the discoveries. Lewis and Clark discovered many things in their journey from St. Louis to the west coast of America. By the time they reached the Pacific Ocean they knew they had discovered something more monumental than most things they had seen along the way. Okay, so your discoveries aren’t quite so monumental…they still need to be vetted or dissected.
I use the word DISSECT because it signifies looking at the discoveries from every angle as we try to figure out what we’re going to do. This is deliberate (another D word). Maybe you dissected a frog in high school biology class. You didn’t just happen to do it. You had to intentionally do it, following the instructions you were given. Same here. You need to closely examine what you’ve discovered. Put it under the magnifying glass. Make sure you’re seeing it for what it really is and not what you may want it to be.
For example, I’ve known some people who thought they discovered an ability to sing. Well, it wasn’t so much a discovery as a desire. Desire isn’t the same as discovery.
Kelly Clarkson was a local girl from down in Burleson, Texas – a little town that’s really a suburb of Ft. Worth. She discovered she could sing. Like so many other talented people, she didn’t have any idea how good she was. Humility helps. She was recruited for the high school choir when a teacher heard her singing in the halls. Fast forward to high school graduation and she had scholarship offers to college, but by then she had spent a few years steeped in singing and writing. She figured she’d try to chase the west coast dream and went to Los Angeles. It didn’t go so well and in time she came back home to Texas. Friends urged her to enter a new TV show, American Idol. She won that first season and became a household name, now a Nashville star! It all started with a discovery that sparked her desire. She did her share of dissecting her options. I suspect she’s still doing it.
Some call it weighing your options.
This part of the process is both internal and external. We all have self-talk. We have these conversations with ourselves as we’re surveying our choices. Some of us may even be nutty enough to have conversations out loud. Just make sure you’re alone where nobody can see or hear you when you do this. I speak from experience!
We all need somebody we can talk with, a person who can help us sort through it all. Your A-level performance needs help from other people. Everybody needs somebody else to help them.
Wisdom is enhanced when we talk it over with somebody we trust. Well, it can be. If you trust a fool then all bets are off.
Talk it over with somebody, but don’t talk in circles.
Have a sober conversation to help you distill and process your situation.
Even with the help of trusted people the decision is ours to make. Sure, your mom may want to make the decision for you, but that’s not how wisdom is practiced. If you’re going to lean toward wisdom, then you’ve got to own your decision. Remember, the focus here is on your pursuit of A-level performance. We’re not talking about making budget decisions with your husband or wife. You need to do those together. We have to make many decisions with other people. We have to make our own decisions about what we’re going to do.
It can be tempting to ask other people, “What should I do?” Resist. As much as you want people to tell you, they’re not you. They don’t have as much skin in the game.
Ideally, you want somebody willing to help you examine the alternatives, but that’s the previous steps – DISSECTION and DISCUSSION. You’re past that by the time you reach this point. Now, it’s time for you to mull it over as much as you can (or as much as you’re able given some time constraint) and make up your own mind.
I”ll offer you a few questions that you should answer as you do this.
1. If I decide wrong, can I recover? How can I recover?
2. Which choices stand out as being clearly superior? Focus only on those. Or you could approach it from the opposite viewpoint: Which choices stand out as being clearly inferior? Kick those to the curb.
Kelley Clarkson decided to go to LA to pursue music. That didn’t mean she had a strategy at the point of decision. That’s what this step is all about. Once you decide, you’ve got to figure out your approach. What are you going to do? How are you going to do it? How long are you going to do it? How will you know if it’s working well? How will you know you’re wasting your time?
Those are all the issues of development. It seems to me that we universally hear a lot more about the whole “making up your mind” part of the process instead of hearing very much about the strategies or tactics necessary to give that decision a fighting chance to win. Let’s stick with the story of Kelley Clarkson. She’s sitting at home in Burleson, Texas wanting to pursue music. She’s made the decision. Now what?
Through some process she designed to go to LA. Why not Nashville? Or New York? I don’t know. We’d have to ask her. But in the music industry there are many paths or strategies to pursue. I’ve talked here before about the busking that many artists have done. Kelley never did busk as far as I know. But Ed Sheeran did it. Ed also had a significantly different music background than Kelley. She was going to church 3 times a week while Ed’s parents were taking him to see Van Morrison. He was singing in the church choir when he was a little kid though. He went to London, then wound up hopping between Nashville and LA. One size doesn’t fit all.
There is something that causes problems at this phase. Copycat-itis.
We want to find somebody who has done what we hope to do, then we want to do it the way they did it. That’s a different verb than develop or design. That’s copy. Plagiarize. Don’t mistake one for the other. They’re not even remotely the same thing. The time spent trying to find somebody to copy, and then trying to copy them would be better spent figuring out your own strategy.
Kelley lived in America, not the UK. It made sense for Ed to venture into London. These two musicians come from different worlds with different skills and different desires. No wonder they choose different paths. And I’m certain they both morphed things along the way. Kelley moved back to Texas after failing in LA. Ed went to Cambridge before he went to London. After a couple of years in London, guess where Ed flew to? Yep, LA. Maybe he and Kelley have more in common than I first thought.
The route we take to A-level performance depends on where we’re at when we start. Type in a destination into Google Maps on your iPhone. You’ll be prompted to let the app know if you want to use your current location as your starting point. What if you don’t want to use that as your starting point? Simple. Just type in the address of your desired starting point. Each starting point provides a different design or course.
I’ve probably spent more time in this stage looking at my own life and the lives of the people I serve. Mostly because I see many people who agonize over making the decision, then act with haste to pull the trigger. Sometimes not even knowing what they’re aiming at. But I’ve seen other people who can make a hasty decision, only to get stuck in this phase of trying to figure out what they should do now. Honestly, I think both ends of the deal deserve some deliberate, thoughtful consideration. I know that I’m prone to ponder the decision for a period of time, then jump. When I jump I tend to go all in, but that’s only because I’ve spent time carefully considering the decision. Then, there are other times that I can be somewhat knee-jerk to make a decision, but get all twisted up agonizing about how to implement it. I confess that I have to consciously focus on giving each step the attention it deserves.
Before I move on let me offer one more piece of information about this develop or design step. Don’t grow anxious trying to get it just right. Develop a strategy to move yourself forward. Think about the very next thing – at most the very next 2 things – you can do. Don’t get too far ahead of yourself.
Yes, we want to know where we’re headed – or where we want to head. But if I’ve plugged in a destination into Google Maps that’s 20 miles from my current location, do I really care which direction I’m going to turn at mile 18? No. What difference does it make? I’ve got 18 miles and many turns (maybe) to execute before I get to that point. That’s getting ahead of yourself. Avoid that. But you do have to find your way.
Now it’s time to get in the car and drive. You know where you’re headed. You know how you want to get there. It’s time to GO.
I grew up in retailing. Not by birth, but by choice. Selling stereo gear as a teenager propelled me into a lifelong career I never saw coming. Talk about not having a strategy! I didn’t. I just knew I wanted to be an A player. So I put in the work, grew, learned and good things happened. Some bad things, too. But along the way I learned about merchandising and purchasing. One of the things I learned was that there’s always another deal. Whenever a vendor approached me with some killer deal, I wouldn’t allow myself to be pressured into making a hasty decision. If my delay caused me to lose the deal, I never fretted about it — because there was always another deal. But, I also learned that I could make quick, well-informed decisions and course correct based on feedback from the market (customers decision to buy or not buy). I became a speed freak (still am). I wanted to have great data and information, make my first decision…all the while knowing that I was going to just as quickly make a second, correcting decision. By the time I was 25 I was making decisions 3 times faster than competitors. That meant I was making my 3rd decision by the time they made their 1st one. And I was smart enough (wise enough) to know that my 3rd decision was always going to be better than their 1st one, even if they were smarter than me.
That’s how it goes with this step. Go. Do it. But be open to course correction along the way. You don’t know what you’ll encounter along the way. You might hit a closed road. Or a traffic jam. Or bad weather. You just never know. You need to be prepared and flexible. That doesn’t mean you’re not committed to your design or strategy. It means you’re willing to adjust to the circumstances and situations in real-time.
Wisdom is largely being able to make the best decision in real-time so you can avoid regret. Making a bad decision doesn’t have to be regrettable if you course correct. But if you’re unable to correct it, then it can be very regrettable. Like I always told my kids –
“You’re going to make mistakes. That’s okay. I just don’t want you to make a mistake that you can’t recover from.”
I hear you. “Hey, that was the first one.” You’re right. It’s also the last one. It closes the loop on the process because this isn’t a once-and-done affair. When you’re leaning harder toward wisdom you’re learning all along the way. That means you’re adjusting and closing that knowing-doing gap.
Gap control is a big deal so don’t overlook it. Hockey coaches work with defensemen on gap control. It’s that distance between an attacking player (say the puck carrier) and the opposing player who is defending his end of the rink. If the defenseman gives the puck carrier too much space, he’ll fail because he’ll give the opponent too much time and space to maneuver toward the net. He needs to close that gap to make it difficult for the puck carrier to do anything harmful with the puck.
In our efforts to elevate our performance, we have to close a gap between what we’ve learned and what we’re doing. That’s why this final step is critical. It keeps us improving.
Look at the people you know who are A players. They perform better than most because they’re not satisfied. They want to keep getting better. That means they’re paying close attention to how well things are working. Or not. And they’re making adjustments based on the results they’re getting. That’s their commitment to revisit this step over and over again. Truth is, they’re always in this mode of DISCOVERY.
Like a driver always adjusting the steering wheel, even if slightly, they’re staying on track. Sometimes it’s just a minor, subtle little change. Other times, they’re turning the wheel pretty hard to make a left turn. The road and the conditions determine the course. But each of us determine the steering.
Don’t get too caught up in trying to get it just right. Life isn’t perfect and even with good wisdom we’re going to get it wrong an awful lot of the time. Our reactions and responses determine our path. Let’s just make them as good as we can and keep working this cycle of 7 D’s so we can elevate our play. ‘Cause if we’ll commit to it, then that’s okay.
I mostly talk about the topics that seem to crop up in my everyday life, either professionally or personally. Or both.
Every now and again somebody will say to me, “Have you been lurking around our house?” It happens. I can speak to something that really hits home. Literally.
No, I don’t have spies lurking in the bushes of your house. It’s just that we all have some problems – and issues – that are quite common. That’s why we can sometimes find a comic who resonates with us. They talk about relatable things. Stuff we get. Stuff we understand. It helps if they see that stuff the way we do. It’s why there are a number of successful comics with varied styles and personalities, and approaches. We may have some common experiences, and challenges, but the way we view the world can be very different.
Back in the spring when I first heard that song that serves as the title of today’s show, I laughed because it immediately struck me as true. And I’m not a songwriter or a musician. I know Wade Bowen wrote it about the music business, but it still resonated with me – a guy who isn’t in the music business.
Randy Rogers and Wade Bowen are longtime member of what’s called “red dirt” music. I was born in Ada, Oklahoma long before Blake Shelton came around. I know what the red dirt of Oklahoma looks like. And how it’ll stain your clothes when you go outside to play. The soil is red because there’s a high concentration of iron in it. It’s red clay really. Not even TIDE will get the stains out of clothes.
Red dirt music isn’t so much a sound as an attitude. It’s different than the Nashville sound. Even for a music guy like me it can be hard to put your finger on, but you know it when you hear it. Part swing, part alt country, part folk and part Americana. The word I’ve always used to describe it is “troubadour-ish.” It’s music that lives right here – in the Oklahoma/Texas area from Stillwater, Oklahoma to Waco, Texas.
Luke Bryan and other rock stars of Nashville make their living – and their hits – singing country music anthems. That’s not the spirt of Red Dirt music. To me, red dirt music is appealing because of the stories. Maybe more importantly, the point of the stories. It’s not just another beer drinking, pickup truck driving, break my heart kinda music. Red dirt music isn’t anthem music designed to rile up stadiums full of people. Red dirt music doesn’t likely have the Jimmy Buffett factor that so many country artists are working feverishly to emulate. Jimmy’s had it going on for a lot of years, but he figured it out from humble beginnings busking the streets of New Orleans. Go back and listen to episode 4040 entitled, A Key To Success: Who Wants To Be There More Than Anybody Else.
As a podcaster I can understand and relate to the audience part of all this. Singers, songwriters, musicians – they want more people to hear their work. They want a bigger stage. Some want the fame worse than others. Some want the money more than others. But how do you separate the largeness of the stage from the stuff that accompanies it? I don’t know that you can. If you have a hit, your standards just might change. You might change.
Funny. And a good question.
Randy Rogers and Wade Bowen like so many other musicians have been subjected to criticism of selling out. I could argue that Jimmy Buffett sold out a long time ago, but I don’t see it like that. Not when it comes to these guys. I’m not even sure about that whole idea of “selling out.”
Rogers, Bowen, Buffett and so many other musicians have a genuine talent and skill. We encounter them somewhere along the way. I was there early with Buffett. It was over 40 years ago. That affects my viewpoint of him, his music and the changes I’ve seen along the way. Falling in love with that early Buffett music gave me a bias that I still have today. It can’t be prevented. I’m not even trying to prevent it.
Jimmy at his best, for me, is still the troubadour standing on a stage with an acoustic guitar and buddy playing along, singing harmony for him. He’s still in my ears and my memory singing 3 minute stories of a man who went to Paris looking for answers.
Did Jimmy sell out? I rather think he figured it out. I could argue that millions more people have heard him sing the songs I fell in love with because he’s willing to sing about cheeseburgers. I love cheeseburgers, but I hate that song. Did Jimmy figure out how to earn a handsome living singing songs that connected with millions so he could sing what he wants…or did he just start music that would sell and find outrageous success? I don’t know. Don’t care. I know that Jimmy has been making music – and money – for a lot of years. If success is making a living doing what you want, I’m guessing Jimmy fits the bill. Writing and playing music. Writing books. Telling stories. That’s what Jimmy does. Just because I don’t love all the stories doesn’t mean he sold out.
Maybe he did. But if he did, he’s certainly figured out to sell out well. He’s not barely selling at all! Go big or go home. Jimmy’s been going big for a long time and showing no signs of slowing down. Before he’s done he’ll own all of Key West. Good for him. Jimmy’s got hits and he’s been raising his standards of living.
When he got started Jimmy didn’t have the measurements of our current world. Busking the streets of New Orleans and other gulf coast cities had just one standard of measurement – earning enough money to get through the day and night. Can you garner enough attention to get people to drop some money into a guitar case so you can keep doing this for another day? It was a more binary time of life for Jimmy. There was no savings account. No checking account. Just a pocket with enough cash to confirm an idea, a love affair. With music.
In a recent interview John Mayer acknowledged that the world is different today. A self-confessed ego maniac John mentioned a whole new measurement used by musicians. But it’s not restricted to people who play music.
Podcasters, writers, salespeople, coders, business people and all the rest of us are doing the same thing. We’re chasing popularity. Clamoring for our place in the modern freak show. Well, I’ve got news for you. Bruce Jenner has raised the stakes. He’s gonna be tough to beat. Reminds me of a comedy bit Franklyn Ajaye did back in the 70’s about serial killers.
Yep, we’ve lost our collective minds. No wonder wisdom is so tough to come by, huh? The freak show just keep gettin’ freakier. Attention is tough to come by when outlandish trumps remarkable.
The ironic thing is that Mayer’s apparent girlfriend – Katy Perry – is now the top Twitter personality with over 72 million followers. Justin Bieber is next with over 65 million.
What do we do now? We’ve lost 5 Twitter followers. Our downloads aren’t going up anymore. Oh, my lands…what are we going to do?
I’ll tell you want we’re going to do.
Fail. That’s what we’re going to do. We’re going to join the ranks of the millions – the BILLIONS – of losers. And we’re going to be sad about it. No, make that upset. Angry. Livid. Resentful. Bitter. Yes, bitterness. That’s the spirit of failure, bitterness.
No, of course not. We’re not going to do any of that. Not because it’s improper, but because it puts us in a herd with other losers. How does that help? It doesn’t. If we can’t join the ranks of the popular people, then we must avoid the sea of irrelevant people. So we’re stuck with the question posed by Wade Bowen’s lyric…
“How can I sell out when I barely sell at all?”
I want to sell out. I want Twitter followers. I want Facebook likes. More. I want more.
There is a generation gap. There always has been. I grew up as a Baby Boomer, the tail end of it all. That just means my grandparents endured The Great Depression. No, not the one of 2008. The one back in the 1930’s. It means my dad was part of what Tom Brokaw calls, The Greatest Generation – those men who were in World War II.
They were insistent on job security, a nice house in the suburbs, good schools and mom staying home with the kids. My generation wanted more. Mostly materially.
Women wanted to be like men in the 60’s and 70’s. Be careful what you wish for – wish granted. Welcome to the crappola of making a living. Women went to work outside of the home. Men loved it because we got tired of looking at each other at work. But mostly we wanted bigger houses, swimming pools, fancier cars and nicer vacations. Dual incomes made that possible.
Did we sell out? You bet…for just as much money as we could get. We were unapologetic, too.
Standards? Shoot, we were searching for hits, man. Whose got time or money for standards? We’re busy trying to be successful. Can’t you see how busy we are?
Come on. We’re working hard here. Reminds me of that classic line from James Garner in Support Your Local Gunfighter (a favorite of mine).
That’s what I call “owning it.” Garner’s character owned it. We may as well own it, too. Yes, we’re working hard to be noticed. Yes, we’re trying to gain popularity. Yes, we want more downloads and Twitter followers. We need more re-Tweets and Facebook likes. But you know what really matters.
Hits means money. Standards mean nothing. We can sit at home with our standards and starve. Or we can produce hits and be somebody.
Is it that cut and dried?
Do we have to compromise our standards to be successful? Of course not. But it might help.
Ask that doctor who falsely diagnosed people with cancer so he could commit Medicaid fraud and earn almost $35 million. Giving up his morals and standards paid off…until he got caught.
But abandoning standards doesn’t have to result in criminal behavior. It just might mean we’re deceptive.
The National Geographic Channel aired a documentary called, Generation YouTube. If you don’t believe things are sometimes not what they seem, then watch it and you’ll become convinced. Sometimes hits happen because you don’t have standards. But come on, I’m a cynic. And even I’m not cynical enough to believe that the rules of the world are so rigid to prevent people from doing things the right way and succeeding in spite of it, or because of it.
And there’s that other idea that standards outlive hits. Now, that’s something I know is true!
Ray Charles first recorded the song, Georgia On My Mind, in 1960. The song, written by Hoagy Carmichael (music) and Stuart Gorrell (lyrics), was already 30 years old when Ray recorded it. Here we are 85 years later and the song is a standard. It’s been a hit, but over the years it morphed into something even more powerful. A standard.
Depending on your current age, you probably can’t tell me what song is number 1 on Apple iTunes right now (it’s Can’t Feel My Face by The Weekend). No, I’m not a fan of it. Well, that’s not entirely true. I rather love the title. It’s a Michael Jackson starter kit kinda song. It’s also the only song on the record – which isn’t due to be released until August 28th, 2015 – that doesn’t have explicit lyrics. 14 proposed tracks and 1 without explicit lyrics. Hello, 2015. I’ve got hits, I don’t have standards. 😉
We all know Georgia On My Mind though. It’s been many, many years since it was on the charts. No matter. Chart position doesn’t matter when you’re a standard.
I own 4 versions of the song. The original by Ray Charles, a 2002 version by Van Morrison and a 2009 version by Michael Bublé. When you’re a standard (in this case, a song), you get covered by a variety of people. Willie Nelson had a hit from it in 1978. That’s the 4th version I own.
The song was first a hit. Had it never been a hit, it wouldn’t be a standard.
But we’re using HIT and STANDARD metaphorically.
A hit is success. Mostly financial. Sure we want more readers, listeners and followers, but what we really want is more money. We want financial rewards that come from popularity. That doesn’t mean we want to be a celebrity. Maybe we just want a bigger, better job. We want somebody to want us more so we can make more. Or we’re a business and we want more clients or customers. Or we’re a creative and we want a bigger audience. In the end, we want the money that comes with a bigger version of success than we currently enjoy.
A standard is our commitment to our beliefs. Our convictions. Our preferences. It’s what we would most want if could have our cake and eat it, too.
When I first heard Rogers and Bowen sing that song I thought of how easy it is to see the world through skeptical and cynical eyes. And how hard it is to believe – I mean REALLY believe – that you can succeed by being true to who you are, what you are and how you choose to go about things.
I’m a red dirt guy. I’ve lived my entire life in Oklahoma, Texas and Louisiana. There’s no red dirt that I know of in Louisiana, but it’s still this neck of the woods. There’s a demeanor, a way of life particular to this part of the country. It’s food, music and just a general way people behave. When you venture beyond this area it changes. Some times it changes slightly. Or it can change wildly. You can drive east to Arkansas and it’s not so different. You can venture up into Tennessee or Missouri and it’s not so different. It’s not the same, but it’s not so different. But you can go toward Colorado, or New Mexico and it’s very different. You can meander your way to Indiana or Illinois and it’s very different. Go to either coast – east or west – and you’ve left the planet.
It’s a standard. Not in the sense of being right versus wrong, but it’s a standard in the sense that it’s what I’m used to. It’s comfortable. I like it. I belong here.
The hit – geographically – might be somewhere other than here. It might be New York City. Or Los Angeles. Or Miami. I’m not interested in the hit because the standard means too much to me. Here is where my family is. It’s where my work is. It’s where my church work is. This is home. I’ve got standards geographically.
Not everybody does. Some people go where the work takes them, or where the current itch beckons. I’ve known people who sold everything they had, left grown kids and grandkids behind and moved to a tropical clime to enjoy retirement. I don’t judge them, but I admit I can’t understand it or relate to it. They’re willing to chase the hit because they don’t have standards when it comes to a place. Good for them.
But it applies to so much more. The song’s writers are playing Red Dirt music. They’re committed to it. They’re not Nashville guys. They’re Texans. But this isn’t a Nashville versus Waco challenge. And it’s not a Red Dirt music versus modern country music challenge either. Well, not entirely. How can it be when Nashville has the likes of Jason Isbell and Sturgill Simpson? Nashville also has Mat Kearney and Midnight Pilot. Nashville is diverse. So is Texas. So that ain’t it.
It’s the stereotypes. Every industry has them. Hollywood and the movie industry have them. TV and New York City have them. Publishing has them. Wall Street has them. These Texas songwriters and singers understand it. They want hits. Of course they do. They just don’t want to sing Luke Bryan kind of music to get them. And why should they? We’ve got Luke Bryan, Blake Shelton and all the other super popular country music stars who produce hits and win awards. Do we need more of the same? Doesn’t really matter ’cause we’re going to get more of the same. That’s how the hit machine works. We see what succeeds and we work to replicate it. That’s why we don’t see more innovation.
Enter Jason and Sturgill. They’re not replicating the current hit machine formula. Jason is just plain different with awesome songwriting chops. Sturgill is old school, singing like a guy from a bygone era. Sometimes you can be a freak without being too freakish. Just different. Unique enough to be very attractive.
And there’s the paradox.
You can be part of the “establishment” once you break through. Like Luke or Blake. They both struggled at first. You can be Justin Bieber and have a promotor extraordinaire like Scooter Braun help launch you out of YouTube celebrity to real-world fame and fortune. You can be one of many attractive young ladies who can sing well enough with electronic help to earn millions. But don’t misunderstand – being part of the hit machine is no small feat. It’s crazy hard where you have to battle the countless millions who will do anything – literally ANYTHING – to make it.
It’s also tough to make it on your own terms by refusing to be like everybody else. You can battle the odds of trying to be unique because it’s just how you roll. Jake Bugg is a young man in the UK. He started playing guitar at 12. At 17 he had a record deal. He’s 21 now and he’s got 3 hit records already. It wasn’t so hard for him really. He’s different.
But you and I both know different doesn’t always work out. Not in music. Or business. Or anything else. Sometimes different just gets ignored.
It’s just too easy to focus on joining the ranks and claim that our lack of success is because we’re not willing to do what they’re doing. Or we’re unwilling to do it the way they’re doing it. So we conclude that our lack of success is because of THAT. It’s a high road sensibility that just might be untrue.
Remember, not everything is at it appears. Watch that Generation YouTube show. You’ll see how contrived things can be.
Shepard Fairy turned himself in to Detroit police today after a warrant was issued for his arrest. He’s an artist who paints large murals. He also does illegal tag art. Seems he’s illegally tagged 9 buildings doing $9,000 worth of damage. Pardon me if I’m skeptical. The man is worth millions. He did that hope poster for Obama. $9,000 worth of damage done in street art tagging is a small price to pay for another hit. He can afford good legal representation. He’s already been released on $7,500 bond. I’m betting he’ll parlay this little legal issue into many more millions. I’m also betting the entire thing was architected. Well played, sir. Well played.
And that brings us to our ability or willingness to play the game.
Can you have hits and still have standards? Of course.
Can your standards make it harder to have hits? Maybe. Maybe not.
You gotta do what you gotta do.
Me? I’ve gotta live here in north central Texas. Because the people who matter the most to me are here. Because my professional and church work is here.
I’ve gotta chase the things I’m chasing. Namely, I’ve gotta chase the kind of work I’m doing because I’m ideally suited for it and it’s where I know I can provide the most value. I’ve gotta chase a lifestyle that fits my convictions, my faith and my family.
I’ve got to stand by what I stand by because that’s where my commitments are. To my faith. To my family. To my work.
You? Well, you’ve gotta do the same thing for yourself. It’s that whole figuring it out ordeal facing each of us.
I’ll tell you what we can’t do — we can’t do what works for somebody else. The art of being unique is one you have to figure out for yourself. You can be a hit with your own life, and for your own family. Or you can be a bigger hit with more people. Either way can make a person sick and tired. Just be careful as you venture out to chase what you want.
I hope you have hits and standards. Just remember, hits come and go, but standards last.