Peak Frustration


I remember the moment I felt the most frustrated with my music career. It was well before my music career had actually begun. I had a middle-of-the-night radio show at a college station, a Macintosh Plus and D-70 keyboard in my dorm room, and big dreams. But none of my demos had gotten any love from music labels.

The moment: I was crossing the street, padded envelope in hand, preparing to drop yet another cassette demo in the mail to yet another label. I needed, and felt like I deserved, a cathartic release to the pent-up frustration I was feeling. Success must be right around the corner. This had to be the track that got me signed.

Well, it wasn’t. Nor was the next one. Or the one after that.

It’s a cliche that success is “right around the corner” from disappointment, rejection, paralyzing self-doubt, and abject failure. It’s not true, most of time. Usually what follows peak frustration is more frustration, hard work, more rejection, deliberate and painstaking improvement of skills, and eventually, possibly, small incremental successes. “Big breaks” which to an outsider seem to be based on phenomenal luck are more often the result of throwing enormous amounts of competently cooked pasta against the wall. Some of it will eventually stick.

I did eventually sign a couple tracks to a San Francisco disco label that was branching out into house and techno. Then I signed a track to a major label rave compilation.

Then more demos, more rejection.

It’s not like you reach a certain level of success and you no longer have to deal with being rejected (or worse, ignored). If you’re in the arts, it’s part of the territory. You can pretend you don’t care, but everyone cares. You might not care about the money or fame, but everyone wants to be acknowledged.

To get to my big break (John Digweed discovering a self-published Jondi & Spesh vinyl release in a Berkeley record store bin) I had to write a bunch more tracks, find a music partner/co-writer, put out half a dozen releases on our own credit-card funded imprint, be completely ignored by local tastemakers and scenesters for years, and generally fuel my efforts with youthful bravado, stubbornness, and plastic.

What followed was a pretty damn good couple decades, the dividends of which I am still enjoying today. Top-charting dance tracks, major TV and videogame licensing deals, US and European DJ tours (fancy hotels, limo rides, big venues and crowds), and co-hosting an epic dance music event that had a line stretching around the block every week. Though music is no longer my #1 focus, I still enthusiastically produce tracks and co-manage Loöq Records.

So what is my #1 creative focus? Writing. Fiction writing, specifically. And in that area, I’m enjoying/enduring a good run of frustration and rejection. I’m older now and I have a few life accomplishments under my belt, so the rejection doesn’t hurt as much. But it still stings! I’m currently writing and submitting science-fiction short stories to pro markets and my rejection notices just entered the double digits. Ha, that’s nothing! (think veteran writers). I don’t know if I’m at peak frustration yet. I’m not naive enough to assume that success is right around the corner.

Starting a new creative career over age 40 might be called quixotic. Less generously, deluded. More optimistically (and how I choose to frame it): an attempt at reinvention, mid-life learning, and hopefully, eventually, meaningful contribution (entertaining and inspiring readers).

I guess I’m writing this to encourage you, if you’re in a similar space. This post from Ferrett Steinmetz gave me the courage and fortitude to make a serious attempt at writing (and more recently to start submitting my work). Incidentally, the author of that post is having a great run. You can purchase his debut novel here.

Thanks for joining me on my own ride.

What Does Financial Freedom Mean to You?

Not the skylight in my house.

Not the skylight in my house.

As the water poured into my house from two leaky skylights, I had a thought …

What does financial freedom mean for me, personally?

It’s a phrase Tony Robbins uses in Money, Master the Game. I considered the question on my first read through the book, but I wanted to come back to it. I’ve been thinking about how high net worth can limit time, lifestyle, and relationships. This is especially true for expensive possessions which require management and maintenance (houses, cars, boats), but money itself requires management, and a whole lot of money requires a complex network of people and institutions to manage taxes, investments, trusts, insurance, and other aspects of wealth legality and retention.

Net worth can also influence social relationships. It’s harder to form and maintain relationships with people who are in completely different economic territory, especially at the extremes of poverty and wealth.

Possessions, including money, can be a pain in the ass.

Of course money also enhances freedom (to an extent), and being poor is more of a pain in the ass than being rich. Kia and I have an emergency fund to handle problems like leaky skylights. Generally, we have enough. But there is powerful social programming, especially in the United States, to feel like no amount of money is enough. I know I’m vulnerable to such programming. I have a vivid imagination, and sometimes that faculty runs wild in the realm of possessions, toys, costly adventures, and fantasy houses. That’s why I wanted to tackle the problem within my own psychology — not because I actually have too much money, but because I want to be free of pointless striving and financial goals that don’t actually improve my quality of life. I’d rather put that energy and focus into creative pursuits, family, and accumulating interesting and memorable experiences.

When I reviewed the question of what financial freedom (and its subset, financial security) mean to me, I came up with the following:

What Does Financial Security Mean For Me?

  1. Co-providing the basics for my family (food, shelter, clothing, education, transportation, etc.)
  2. Living well below my means, having a sizable cash emergency fund (big buffer).
  3. Being on track to save enough money to generate lifetime passive income at age 65+ (not because I expect to want to stop working at that age, but because of possible age discrimination).

What Does Financial Freedom Mean For Me?

  1. Not having to work on anything I don’t want to work on.
  2. Being able to take one big trip and several small trips each year.
  3. Being able to buy the clothes, services, food & drink, hobby materials, etc. that I want.
  4. Being able to buy nice gifts for family and friends.
  5. Contributing generously to the charities and causes I want to support.

The “A-ha!” moments while completing this exercise included the following realizations:

  • I don’t want a bigger house (with more skylights, more stuff, more rooms to keep clean, and a bigger mortgage).
  • I already have tremendous freedom and flexibility from my freelance programming work. Making database applications that are easy to use and help my clients get their jobs done is actually fun most of the time. I like the work and I like feeling useful. I’m not sure I would stop even if 100% my expenses were covered by passive income.
  • Nonstop jet-setting is a dream for some, but I don’t like to travel that much. I do get the travel bug, but not very often.
  • Feeling more financial freedom has much more to do with the decisions I make about managing my time, taking time off, and doing fun things with family and friends than it does with earning more money.

We got the skylights repaired. Upgraded, in fact. James Altucher rails against home ownership for this reason and many others. Well, I like owning our little house. But I can see his point. Why would I want even more home maintenance?

The Traps

Earning more money doesn’t necessarily result in more freedom or higher quality of life. There are traps along the way that steal both. Some of these traps are obvious and have big neon warning signs: THIS WAY LIES MISERY. Others are subtle, hidden, insidious, disguised as conventional wisdom.

I’m not going to make a list of traps, because they’re different for different people and situations. A lot of it comes down to the fine print. Kia once saved us from disastrous re-fi terms by reading the fine print. Buying a house turned out to be a great financial decision for us, but it could have gone a different way depending on timing, loan terms, neighborhood trends, etc.

One trap is overvaluing freedom. Robbins himself talks about this in his book. At one point he is explicitly prioritizing his values, and he realizes that personal freedom isn’t as high on his list as it had been in the past. Freedom is a sacred, vaunted American value. But the flip side of freedom is social isolation. When you have bonds and responsibilities with your family, friends, co-workers, business partners, clients, community, place of work, you’re less free, but you’re also less isolated. You’re engaged in the world. You can’t be engaged in the world and completely free at the same time. Even if you have enough money to not work, live each month of the year in a different city, and avoid being “tied down” in any way whatsoever, doing so won’t necessarily improve your quality of life.

Another trap is false opportunity cost. High earners can have a hard time chilling out and relaxing because they’re thinking about how much money they could be earning, about how valuable their time is.

There’s nothing wrong with valuing your time highly and wanting to maximize productivity. Not everyone wants to chill out and relax. But money is the wrong maximizing metric. So is trying to maximize joy and pleasure — that’s just stressful. Dean Kamen works all the time because he is driven by his desires to make science and engineering more accessible to young people and also to deliver his clean water system to millions of people. Kamen maximizes on meaning and quality of life, not money (being rich is just a side effect).

It’s probably going to rain later today. Hopefully the roof won’t leak. I’m going to spend the rest of the morning revising a short story, and then later work on a new Momu track in the studio.

30-Day Experiment: Daily Idea List

photo by Adriano Agulló

photo by Adriano Agulló

For the last month or so I’ve been practicing James Altucher’s habit of writing down ten ideas every day.

I agree with Altucher that you can exercise the “idea muscle” and improve your idea-generating abilities. Almost any kind of intellectual activity can be improved with practice, and at the same time degrades with lack of use. I’m not even sure that I believe in “general intelligence” anymore. Human beings are either good or bad at doing particular things. 95% of that ability is determined by the amount of active practice (not just practicing but actively trying to improve your skills and knowledge). But what about innate ability? Sure, we all have genetic proclivities, but babies who might become geniuses still can’t do anything except cry and shit their diaper. Life takes practice.

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Why I’m Joining the Maximizers

Maximize your sound ... and everything else.

Maximize your sound … and everything else.

I first became familiar with the term maximizer from Penelope Trunk’s blog. According to Trunk, a maximizer always wants the best, and spends a great deal of time and energy trying to make the best decisions, acquire the best things, and have the best life. Maximizers are competitive, ambitious, and according to Trunk, have more interesting lives.

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Update on the Facebook/Reddit Nuke Option

No half measures.

No half measures.

I deleted my Reddit and Facebook accounts back in July and August respectively. I quit Reddit because they don’t do enough to fight blatant racism and misogyny. Also I was wasting too much time on the site. Thirdly, I found that the anonymity often encouraged mean or disparaging comments (though, to be fair, there were just as many clever, helpful, and/or friendly comments).

I quit Facebook because 1) I was seeing too many posts from random people I didn’t know, 2) my time on the site wasn’t strengthening or enhancing the relationships I cared about most, and 3) I wasn’t enjoying time on the site. Also because of various privacy violations.

So I went cold turkey. Nuke option in both cases, account deleted, no going back (unless, of course, I decided to go back and start from zero karma and zero friends, respectively).

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