I think about failure a lot. Past failure, present failure, the possibility of future failure – you name it.
Out of all of these it’s the past failures that really bite me on the bum and motivate me to work harder. Maybe it’s just me but I don’t think about sunshine, rainbows and kittens when I’m down in the dumps with the indie author blues. I’d rather be motivated than comforted if you get my drift. So how do I do that? I think about how I failed.
Failure, the great motivator.
But how exactly did I fail? What is it that gives me a kick when I need it most?
This is a sensitive issue for me but I’m going to write it down anyway. At best it can be used as an example of how failure can be a good thing or at least a useful thing to those who may be currently searching for motivation in other places.
I failed at being a musician. By that I don’t mean I never learned how to play the guitar or the piano as a little boy. Not quite. I actually worked as a musician for ten years between 2001 and 2011.
So you succeeded, you might say? Well, no I’d say I failed miserably. It’s perhaps a matter of perspective.
I was fifteen when I started to think seriously about being a musician (1992 I think!) One day my brother came home with an acoustic guitar that he’d borrowed from a friend and when he wasn’t there, I used to sneak into his bedroom, pick up the guitar, run my fingers down the steel strings and I was the happiest boy in the world.
I was hooked. There are no words to describe the way that music reels you in. Its charms are incomparable and I think it’s even fair to say that my first love affair was not with another person. It was with music. I fell hook, line and sinker and things would never be the same again in my life as a result.
Of course my parents and everyone else thought it was a phase that I’d grow out of. But I knew better. Get a real job and play gigs at the weekend, they said. No thanks, I said. This was the real thing. For better or worse, I’ve always been all or nothing in terms of pursuing what I’m passionate about. I still am. And I’d never been as passionate about anything like I was with music when I was in my teens/early twenties. I set the bar high in terms of future ambition. I would be a successful musician and that’s all there was to it. There was no room to fail. I would be in demand, recording and touring the world and earning good money because well, because it was meant to be.
I believed I could do it too. I was determined enough and what’s more I was a damn good bass player. I don’t mean to sound arrogant because I’m hopeless at so many things in life. But I could play the bass well and I don’t think anyone I ever worked with had reason to complain.
Eventually (at the age of 23) after many years of playing on the local band circuit in Glasgow, I got my first regular paying gig as a musician. After that, I took whatever paid gigs I could get my hands on. One thing you learn quickly when you’re trying to pay the rent through a music career – money is hard to come by. On top of that, I was always the kind of guy who lost money down the couch. I was never the type to find it. You might even call me Mr Money Repellant. So in those days, I took what gigs I could get and certainly I did a few thing that I’d rather forget.
The truth is I barely survived as a working musician between 2001 and 2011. No matter how much I tried, my lofty goals were far from coming true. In the big picture it was great of course – I was working as a musician but still, I was very much on the lower end of the music ladder. Reality and my ambitions were poles apart. I just couldn’t seem to get it going.
It’s not like I didn’t try either. I worked my ass off, practicing three hours a day without fail. When I wasn’t practicing I was looking for work. Before I had the Internet at home, I used to stand in Borders book store in Buchanan Street, picking up every doorstopper sized book about the music industry off the shelves. I’d look through them right there in the shop (the average price was sixty pounds that’s why) and write down the contact details for music managers, agents and artists in a little notebook. This took ages and I’m surprised the staff didn’t ever chuck me out.
After that I’d go to my parents house and use my dad’s laptop or go into an Internet cafe and sit there all day, sending emails to these supposedly important people (even letters at one point!), bullshitting (a little) about my experience and announcing to the world that I was available for work.
I thought the world would answer but it didn’t.
So this was my life. My twenties were all about failing, playing gigs, hustling, rinse and repeat. I put ads in music magazines like NME. I started original bands from scratch searching for the right chemical mixture but it just never happened. Sometimes I’d get invited down to London to meet agents to talk about future work opportunities. On several occasions, these meetings fell through on super short notice and that stung because I’d already travelled down from Glasgow to London to meet them and had spent money that I couldn’t afford on travel expenses.
Anyway, I’m rambling here and apologies. I don’t want to sound like a miserable, ungrateful git. It certainly wasn’t all bad luck or somebody else’s fault that I didn’t make it. I made bad choices for sure.
So anyway I failed at music. My ambition flopped and that failure felt public and humiliating for a while. Still I got to play with some amazing talent from all over the world for sure. I paid rent for a while but it was always a ferocious struggle to stay afloat. I had dreamed bigger dreams than these.
In 2011, burned out and exhausted, I played my last gig.
Yes there is. And that’s the whole point of this post. A lot has happened in the last six years. I took up writing in 2011. I got married to a great woman (who I met on tour!) and then I picked up my degree in English Literature and History, spending some time in New Zealand along the way. In 2015, my wife and I emigrated to Australia to begin the next chapter of our lives.
For me that next chapter has been in play for a year and it’s the indie author journey and a shitload of hard work. Of course it’s another thankless task 🙂 Twelve hour days, crap money and if we’re being honest, not a lot of people giving a shit when push comes to shove about what it is that I actually do.
Still I’m very fortunate and count my blessings every day. I do know that and if you’ve got your health, well you’ve got it pretty good. And when I do get a little down in the dumps or the work seems hard and pointless, I think about how I failed before and that really pushes my buttons. I let it piss me off because I haven’t forgotten how much it hurt in 2010/2011 when my music career came to an end. These days however, I have no expectations as to what’s going to happen. I’m taking it one day at a time. My ambitions are modest but I’m determined again and I one hundred percent believe in what I’m doing.
So what am I saying? In any walk of life, it’s what we do with failure that either makes or breaks us. And some of us will break irreparably. But instead of letting it break you, why not use your past failures to spur you onto better things? Get angry, get mad! Exploit them for your own sake because God knows, if you’ve had the guts to ever fail at something then you’ve earned it.