The Trouble with Freedom
Can you think of a time you were so incredibly busy doing obligatory bullshit things you didn’t care about that you swore when free time finally came around again you’d take full advantage of it? You probably had all these plans to be so pro-active; to lose your love-handles or do volunteer work or start writing a memoir. But, let me guess what most-likely happened; you slept in, told yourself you had all the time in the world, re-watched all of Seinfeld and tried all the new Ben & Jerry’s Core flavours. There is such a thing as having too much time on your hands, my friend. And I’m here to call us all out on our misguided intentions.
A wise psychology professor of mine once remarked in a lecture, “your trouble with freedom is freedom”. It always haunted me, and as the years go on it bares heavier meaning. You see, no one wants to admit it but people love excuses because they are a reason to not pursue something. You may not even realize it but that “not enough money” or “lack of equipment” or “too slow laptop hard drive” or “too shitty guitar” are usually just fat excuses for not having to put in the real work for what you desire. I’ll even go ahead and admit that I’ve had crazy thoughts of “thank God, now I don’t have to do anything” when I come down with a cold. It’s almost like I’m wishing to be incapable of work so that I have an excuse to lie around all day and not do it. It reminds me of my high school days when I would wake up with a headache or sore throat and tell my mom I’m too sick and I’m not going to school, when I knew it was an exaggeration and I just didn’t want to go. (PS – sorry mom, I know you read my blog but it’s too late now to ground me). If there was a mathematical equation for this phenomenon I’d describe it as: excuses lead to the threshold of acceptance of your own laziness going up and up until it becomes your normal reaction to challenges.
In my twenty-five years of life, I have unfortunately found that too much time on my hands usually just turns out to be really boring and depressing, instead of productive and amazing like I always plan it to be. I believe that it's actually very hard to harness your freedom in the way that you intend. Without any real deadlines or timelines to follow one can easily become all talk and no action. Sometimes a sense of urgency is what forces the most important art into this world. Your intentions may be beautiful and exciting to vocalize, but they are not tangible. Your day dreams will live on forever as exactly that if you don’t make sure to manifest them. That’s what this post is all about.
Let me tell you a little story about my friends and I.
Part I: I Must Work My Ass off to Survive
In 2010 I started a band called Helicopria while attending Berklee College of Music. All of us were pursuing full-time degrees and part-time jobs, but (bless our souls) we also wrote and recorded two albums, played a large amount of shows, and did a couple tours. We were all-in with our band, college, and jobs. During this time I also worked on several film scores, commercials, and songwriting co-writes. I even played in a 2nd band for two of those years. That means for two years there were two bands, film scoring, college, and day-jobs that overlapped daily for me. Looking back, this was probably the busiest time of my life and I remember constantly expressing the desperate need for more free time to do exactly what I really wanted to do (which was pretty ironic because I was accomplishing a lot of important goals). I felt like I was always looking forward to this mystery time when I could dictate what I wanted to do everyday. A bit of a grass-is-greener attitude. The truth is, I had no fucking clue how much trouble I was going to have with my own freedom when I had finally earned it.
Part II: Glimpsing My Freedom like a Light at the End of a Tunnel
Fast-forward two more years of constant work, post-graduation. Our efforts and pulling-our-hair-out days had started to pay off. We were emerging from our windowless-basement-bedroom-work-caves and started going to parties and on dates again and buying ourselves new clothes. All of a sudden we could afford rent without a panic-attack by the end of every month! We no longer had to eat beans and rice every day and we could buy drinks at bars instead of sitting on our stoop with 40s. We could get fashionable hipster haircuts and drink cold brew coffee. We had done the unthinkable – we were now earning a living playing music (oh my god, who would’ve thought?!) The problem is that most of us didn’t know how to spend this newly earned liberty. With financial freedom comes great financial and social responsibility, and we were generally just fucking up. Buy hey, we’re child-like adults and this is how we learn ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
Part III: Getting Comfortable and Maximizing Distractions
Something astounding happened somewhere down the line after sitting back a little… we all got lazy. And I know why. As young musicians a couple years into “the real life industry”, we had all seemed to hit the musical jackpot of starting to have some success and no longer constantly struggling. You see, most of us spent our childhood being told by whoever the fuck felt like putting us down for whatever the fuck reason the statistics of “how few musicians make it” and “how rare it is to be a successful artist”. Most of these people also equate success with income, so really they were talking about making a ton of money and maybe also talking about fame. But that’s really beside the point because there are so many amazing artists who work behind the scenes to make an entire production run. Not every artist strives to be rich and famous. But, I digress.
With musical chores aside, rent paid, food on the table, and ample time to work on our most burning desires as artists we ended up… doing a whole lot of nothing. We were out of practice with freedom, it had been a long time. We had adequately given the skeptics the finger and now we were wasting days, even weeks at a time, when we used to hustle every single day like the world would end if we didn’t. It really is so hard to explain how this affected our art without one having experienced it oneself. I’ll try paint a picture of some examples of the way this freedom, and effectively laziness, had affected us:
• We slept in, stopped making breakfast and instead bought it from the a coffee shop every morning
• We took up every friend on grabbing a drink because we actually now had time and it’s no longer an issue to postpone our work
• We drank more alcohol than we usually did
• We bought a PlayStation and SSX Tricky (main culprit of the time-suck)
And here’s the kicker… we all got a little depressed. Without a fire under my ass of the previously lived reality that if I don’t make this happen now I will probably have to pack up and leave the U.S. and restart my life, it became easier to give into distractions and relax a little too hard.
So how does this make sense? I’m basically proposing the idea, in my experience, that the less time you have for something, the more likely it is that you’ll pursue it because you’re in the flow of working. The more time you have, the more likely you are to sit back and put it off - because you can. I have started understanding how to fix the problem, because you see, true progress is about always having goals that excite you. There’s always so much more to strive for, and I have a feeling that this is truly the hard part – doing something meaningful when you don’t have to, but because you want to. For me, staying in a comfortable position would be to plateau. I don’t want to stop growing. Chasing excitement is what makes me feel the most enriched in my life.
Nowadays, I don’t spend every day, all day making music like in those crazy years of work madness. And I also don’t spend it day-drinking and playing SSX Tricky (except on occasion). I try to exercise every day, work, and spend time with people as well as time with myself. Like I’ve said before, very little music is written about writing music. You have a sweet life to live, and you’ve got sweet art to make about this life. Strive for some kind of balance that fuels and centers you, especially as your goals and environments change. Hopefully I can start maintaining some kind of balance. Or not, who knows – either way, you’ll read about it on here.
Work hard, play hard!