The First Step

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If there’s one thing I can take away from the last two years of my life, it’s this lesson, embodied by quote by the great French painter Henri Matisse:

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Two years ago, after spending the first fifty-plus years of my life playing guitar to myself in my bedroom, I decided to screw up my courage and play for people. I joined a band, which led to playing solo in public, which led to a handful of paid gigs and a couple of albums. In the span of two years, I went from playing alone for myself to being paid to play in front of (mostly) strangers.

Initially, I had no idea what I was doing. Once I got out there and started playing in public, I made friends with a number of musicians who were more than happy to give me tips and show me the ropes, but when I was starting out, I had to make it up as I went along.

The learning curve was steep, and I often felt frustrated and lost. There’s no handbook on what equipment you really need, how to get gigs, how to market yourself, how to make it known to the world at large that you want to play in front of people.

I made more than my fair share of mistakes along the way – too many to go into much detail about them here. And truthfully, too many of my mistakes were stupid and embarrassing, the sort of errors of judgement where you ask yourself after the fact, “What the heck were you thinking out there?” and chalk up to inexperience.

The lesson I took from all of these character-building moments is this: when it comes to trying new things, to doing something different, to putting yourself out there to experience new experiences, the best guide is to follow the words of the great poet and shoemaker Nike:

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Never played a guitar with a bunch of other guys? Just do it.

Never wrote a song before? Just do it.

Never sang and played in front of people? Just do it.

Never recorded an album of original songs before? Just do it.

Doing all of these things involved only two prerequisites on my part: the desire to do it, and the willingness to fail. And that is all that separates those who want to do something from those that do – the ability to stop worrying and start acting.

It’s pointless to sit around wishing that you could do something, idly daydreaming about it rather than actually making it happen. Regardless of what it is you wish to accomplish, the first step is to take that first step. The worse that could possibly happen is that you fail.

But failure is no reason to not try.

The fear of failure is a strong demotivater, and it takes courage to ignore that gut instinct of wanting to remain in the comfort zone we’ve created for ourselves and make a change. The easiest course of action is always to do nothing, to not affect the change in your life that will lead down new roads and open new opportunities to you. But the easiest course is rarely the best course. Comfort is the enemy of progress and change.

So, if you’ve ever wanted to do something creative – play an instrument, write a book, paint a picture, make a movie – but feel like you don’t know where to start, or how to start, or when to start, then stop over-thinking it.

Creativity takes courage. Just do it.

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