How to slay destination fixation and tame the fear-feeding beast of rejection: We’ve all learned that you need to have a tough hide to survive in this music business, but is skin thickening really the best way forward? Musician, educator and composer Jeff Wragg scratches the itch of predetermined outcome fixation and the perfectly natural fear of rejection.
Having a thick skin is about being tough, being able to handle rejection, getting back up and trying again every time life knocks you down. It’s about ploughing through setbacks, rejection and disappointment with dogged grit and determination, until we get the outcome we’re hoping for.
Being determined and resilient in the face of rejection and disappointment is undoubtedly useful when we are focused on a specific outcome, but outcome is not the only thing that matters. In fact, it may not even be the most important thing, and focusing solely on outcome might not be the most helpful mindset.
The music industry is a complicated arena to navigate, and knowing exactly how to get to the destination we’re aiming for is not the typical experience of most people. When we’re so focused on the destination, or outcome, but have no clearly marked route to follow, it can make even the first step a daunting obstacle.
We can second guess ourselves if it’s really the right next step, or get so caught up in over-analysing we procrastinate ever taking action. We can get so overwhelmed with choices and possibilities that we become paralysed, unable to take a committed step in any direction, afraid that it may lead us away from our destination.
Rather than focusing on the outcome however, we artists can instead focus on the process. These are the small steps that, while we may not know the direction they’re taking us, at least keep us moving. Movement, even in an unknown direction, is essential because if you’re not yet where you want to be, the only way to get there is to move. Most of the time it’s only with hindsight that we realise a particular move was good or bad, so forget about how best to reach the destination – just pick a direction and move.
If we are solely focused on the outcome, our attention is always somewhere else, whereas when focused on the process our attention is on the here and now, in the present moment. When we are present, we are adaptable, able to notice what’s going on around us and react to it. We can identify opportunities and change direction, investigate areas that interest us, and be of service to other people. Being present and focusing on the process can expose us to new ideas, new ways of making art, new communities of people. This not only moves us forward towards our destination, but also makes our day-to-day lives more fulfilling.
Most of us have encountered fear at some point of our creative journey. It might be the fear of performing in front of an audience, of being vulnerable, or poorly received. It might be the fear that prevents you from reaching out to a promoter, publisher, or manager because you are worried you will look foolish. But fear is rooted in outcomes, specifically unintended outcomes. It is the fear that the outcome will not be as you want it that can prevent you from even trying in the first place.
If you focus on the process instead of the outcome, that fear loses its hold. You don’t need to doggedly fight your way through a rejection or setback, you simply need to remind yourself that you are walking your path, focusing on the process, and letting the outcome fall as it will. So, rather than having a thick skin, you simply need to know where to place your focus. I liken this to the difference between goals and values.
Most of us have clear goals for our music career, whether it’s to make an album, perform at a local venue, tour overseas or have a hit song on the radio. These goals tend to be quite specific and by their very nature are rigid and inflexible. If we’ve put enough thought into them we can usually articulate them very clearly.
But how often do we think about our values? Can we articulate these as easily? Goals are very useful to help us make decisions on how to drive our career forward, but they’re not so useful at understanding why we want to drive our career forward in the first place. This is where our values come in.
Goals are aims which can be achieved. They give us a target to aim for and once achieved they cease to exist, and can only be replaced by new goals. Values on the other hand are a way of living that is meaningful to us. We will never arrive at a point where we have ‘achieved’ our values and no longer need to direct our energies towards them. They are a way of guiding our life choices, every single day.
Let’s say your goal is to have a radio hit song. If that goal is your sole focus then every day that you do not have a hit song on the radio can leave you feeling unfulfilled. You may become frustrated and dejected that your career is not where you want it to be, or that all of your efforts are in vain. You might look towards others that have achieved the same goal and feel jealousy because you’ve not experienced the same level of success. Or perhaps you achieve the goal and experience a brief feeling of joy and satisfaction, only to find that the feeling of accomplishment is short-lived, and you have to then find yourself a new goal to work towards. Instead of placing all of your focus on the goal however, you can focus on your values as you work towards achieving that goal.
So, what are your values? Obviously, we all have slightly different values, but as musicians we tend to place great value on being creative. We value the act of making music, of expressing something that lives within us, and sharing that experience with others.
We can do this every day, whether we have a hit song on the radio or not. While there are often external forces exerting control over the attainability of our goals, there are no such forces exerting control over our values. They reside within us and are always accessible to us. Focusing on our values reminds us that we are living authentically and embracing those things that matter to us, whether the goal has yet been achieved or not.
Goals can help drive our career forward, but values can help us to remain excited and passionate about what we’re doing as we work towards our goals. Deriving meaning from our values then is much more sustainable than deriving meaning from our goals, and more likely to lead towards long-term satisfaction. It reminds us that fulfilment is for the here and now, not for some far-off point in the future when we have achieved this and accomplished that. Rather than acting on goals for their own sake, act on your values and they will guide you toward your goals in an authentic and meaningful way.
Jeff Wragg composes popular and classical music, and also composes for film, television, and theatre. He is also an educator and has held teaching positions at MAINZ, SIT and Victoria University. He can be contacted at www.jeffwragg.com.