The Dividing Line

This past weekend I was visiting New York for a family wedding, and we were staying on a small island near the coast.  Now, if you’re in the US, you probably heard about the storms that produced two tornados there, and we were staying just 20 miles away from where that occurred.  Luckily, none of the really bad weather reached us, but it did make for some huge ocean swells and dangerous riptide warnings right by where we were staying.

Being the kind of person who likes “extreme sports” and pushing myself in outdoor activities, I thought it was the perfect opportunity to go play in the waves.  A few other people were equally into surfing and outdoor adventure, so there were about 4-5 of us who spent a lot of time swimming out past the break, and then dodging the massive waves that would pound you into the sand on the way back in if you didn’t get it right.  All while fighting this massive riptide that was doing everything possible to make getting back to shore almost impossible.

Scary, but fun none the less.

The interesting thing was that other people at the wedding party saw how much fun we were having, and started to feel that urge to come join us despite not having any experience in these kind of conditions and being able to clearly see how dangerous this was.  A few even went so far as to walk in knee deep, but could quickly tell the current and force of the crashing waves (10-12 feet) was serious and that this wasn’t going to be something to take lightly.

They hit what I like to call “the dividing line”.

That point where enthusiasm and desire confront cold hard reality, and gives you a moment of pause.

One of the things that struck me about this, was how many times I’ve seen (and experienced) something similar when it comes to music.  Let’s face it, we all get into making and performing music with high dreams and goals.  We see the musician on stage, the artist in the studio, or the DJ rocking a crowd and aspire to achieve similar success.

So we put in the work, and eventually, sometimes years later, we’re confronted by a situation where we hit the dividing line.  It could be getting offered your first big gig, or perhaps the chance to score a short film.  Maybe it’s the chance to work with a famous musician you have always looked up to, or even quitting your day job to make music full time.  It’s a situation you’ve dreamed about for years, usually because it looks like fun and the chance to do something you’ve always been jealous that other’s were able to do.

But then you pause, and realize just how big a leap that is, you are more conscious of the ramifications of this one crucial decision that you have to make.  It’s easy to tell other people what your dreams are, and how you’d jump head first if only you were given the chance.  But when it comes time to actually put your money where your mouth is, things become much different.

Some people will push through this moment and take that chance, others will back down and let it pass them by.  And here’s the thing, sometimes backing down really is the best choice, just like how some of the people I was with decided against swimming in rough and dangerous waters.  They knew it was beyond their ability that day, so they wisely decided to stay on shore knowing the ceonsequences for making a mistake were pretty serious.

I’ve long said in my articles and this blog that great progress in life comes with great risk, that the best achievements come when you find yourself in a situation where you’re in over your head and manage to struggle through anyway.  But the flip side is also true, sometimes taking a chance before you’re ready can do more harm than good too.  When you’re working with other people and you’re unable to deliver like you said you would, it reflects poorly on you, and people don’t forget that.

Taking a gig you knew you weren’t ready for, then completely blowing it on stage will most likely mean you won’t get booked there again.  Or worse, any other place in your town if word gets out.  Delaying the release of a film because you couldn’t get the score done in time, causing a well-known artist to miss their album release date, or other similar situations can have long term impacts on your dreams and goals.

It’s a fine line to walk, being confident enough to accept a difficult challenge, and being pragmatic enough to know that perhaps this is not your time yet.  I think determining your action depends a lot on how honest you can be with yourself about your abilities, and how much of a risk-taker you are.  But regardless of your experience and self-confidence, the one thing everyone can do it continue to strive to improve your skills.  You need to be constantly working to improve your abilities so that when these situations come up, you’re even better equipped to make that choice and push through the dividing line.

Keeping the right mental attitude is key as well.  It’s easy to always let yourself feel overwhelmed, or to underestimate your skill level.  Staying positive not only makes the entire process just plain more enjoyable, but it helps you more honestly assess if you’re ready or not for the challenge.  And most importantly, it keeps you focused on your dreams in those situations where perhaps it’s just too early still for you to make that jump.

I remember back in 1999 I was offered the chance to work on some music for a TV commercial with a very well known production house in Chicago at the time (Libman Music).  I went to the studio and helped them come up with some more modern sounding electronic music for the spot over the course of a weekend.  At the end of the weekend, they more or less told me that they were interested in having me work there doing similar type of work, and that I could even set up my own room in the studio.

But…. I knew I really wasn’t ready for that yet.  It was incredibly cool being in this full blown studio, I had had a lot of fun, and I was flattered and tempted to take the offer.  But deep down I knew that I just didn’t have the skills yet to work at the pace a job like that would demand, so ultimately I passed on the offer.

Here’s the thing though.  Instead of being depressed that I missed a good opportunity, I was excited that it had even been offered in the first place.  It was motivating, I redoubled my efforts to learn as much as I could about audio production so I’d be ready if the chance ever came again.  For me, stepping back from the dividing line wasn’t a feeling of defeat, it was a way to measure my progress and push myself to achieve even more.

So I think it’s important to remember that sometimes turning down an opportunity you’re not ready for is not alway a bad thing.  Sometimes it’s the smartest option, and the one that will push you the most to achieve your dreams in the long run.  The key is to turn these experiences into something positive, to make them one more small step along the path towards your ultimate goal.  They ultimately push us forward, not hold us back.

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