The long road: How to stay motivated on your artistic journey


Illustration: Lan Truong

The path of any artistic journey is rarely a straight line.

We’ve all heard various anecdotes that claim that life is about the journey, not the destination. However, for many of us, that journey can at times be frustrating and even unfulfilling. The path of an artist can be a long one, and sometimes it’s hard to see where you’re going or where you’ve been. If you’ve been frustrated with your career, or felt that you haven’t accomplished enough as an artist, these are completely normal feelings to have. So, how do we get over them and reinvigorate our desire to pursue our dreams?

In a previous article, I talked about how writing down concrete goals can help you achieve them. However, for some of us, just putting our goals into writing isn’t enough. This is because we often have subconscious biases towards ourselves and what we think we can realistically accomplish.

The difference between dreams and achievements is action. It’s great to dream about what we want to do and even plan it out, but it’s even more important to actively move towards action. I believe that if we’re able to change our mindset, then we can change our reality. With that in mind, below are some tips I’ve gathered about how you can restructure your days and your way of thinking to better achieve your goals and have a more positive outlook on your artistic journey.

Imagination as a tool

Bob Proctor is a famous philosopher and self help author who once said, “If you can hold it in your head, you can hold it in your hand.” The idea here is to understand our imaginations as a toolbox. Most of us dream about our goals, but then become overwhelmed by the path to get to those desired results.

I believe we actually often create more steps for ourselves than necessary, just so that our goals seems unattainable. This isn’t necessarily on purpose, but rather a result of whatever mental programming we have subscribed to. Anyone who watches Kenny Beats’ YouTube series, The Cave, will notice he has a neon sign that says, “DON’T OVER THINK SHIT!” There’s nothing wrong with thinking and planning, but if your thoughts are overcomplicated or even negative and self-defeating, then they’ll actually create a barrier between you and your dreams.

In my article on managing your mental health as a musician, I briefly mentioned the importance of positive affirmations. In his book Think and Grow Rich, Napoleon Hill calls this process auto-suggestion. His idea is that it’s important to use your imagination to create a clear mental picture of what you want, and then to act as if you’ve already accomplished that goal. He also outlines a few ways to subconsciously program your mind, which basically revolve around developing a script that you repeat to yourself, which helps you gain the self confidence and discipline needed to achieve your dreams.

All of these behaviors and actions can help you reprogram your subconscious mind in order to better orient yourself towards your goals. Many philosophers have stated over the centuries that we become what we think about. The more we intentionally think about who we want to become, the greater our chances are of becoming that person. Some people refer to this process as visualization – in other words, you have to (mentally) see it to believe it.

Six short goals for the day

Planning out long-term plans is a great way to keep track of what you want to accomplish over the long run. However, the key to checking off those goals is hidden in what you do every day. An easy way to not get overwhelmed by a larger-than-life goal is to organize your days into six approachable goals (that still ultimately tie into the bigger picture). If you condense everything you have to do in one day into six concrete goals, things often become less overwhelming.

By setting smaller goals for your day, you create a few actionable tasks you can actually accomplish. When you’re inundated with a ton of work, your brain might confuse being busy with being productive. It’s easy to write five non-important emails and feel like you’ve accomplished something, but it’s more rewarding to organize your day in a way that gives you the satisfaction of working towards your larger purpose. If you know that by completing these few tasks you’ll be a few steps closer to your bigger goals, then every day feels like progress.

A helpful tip here is to avoid social media as much as you can while you’re working on your daily goals. I don’t know how many times I opened my phone to do a certain task, and then wasted twenty minutes on Instagram. When you check off all of your daily goals, then scrolling through social media or watching Netflix doesn’t feel like you’re procrastinating, but instead becomes a reward for a day well spent.

If you’re unable to get all six things done, move whatever you didn’t complete to the next day. However, don’t add an additional six goals until you complete the previous ones. Otherwise, you might end up with nine or ten goals for the day and only end up accomplishing one or two things. Less truly is more, and focused action helps eliminate distractions. If you can take one step every day, you’ll eventually arrive to your destination.

The artistic journey is a series of plateaus

In his book Mastery: The Key to Success and Long-Term Fulfillment, George Leonard describes mastery as a journey that doesn’t have a final destination, but rather consists of a series of plateaus that gradually get higher as you become more skilled. It was his belief that someone begins to master something once they start to enjoy and accept the long periods of time during which it seems like they aren’t making progress.

The reason the artistic journey is a long road is because it doesn’t end, and in ways it isn’t a road at all. It only appears to be a road because of how long we might stay on one plateau. However, if you look back at your career and your progression as an artist, you’ll surely see how far you’ve come and have a clearer understanding of who you were, what you knew, and what you still needed to learn. One day, you’ll look back at this current moment in your life with the same vantage point.

As artists, we love when we reach new heights or accomplishments, but then become burdened by the seemingly endless moments of stagnation between breakthrough moments. If you listen to GRAMMY-winning producer !llmind’s podcast or watch his videos, he always speaks about trusting the process. Developing strong and productive habits will help you fall in love with the process.

I personally try (although I often fail) to stick to a weekly beat quota. The idea of consistently producing beats that could one day turn into full songs or land a placement with an artist excites me. It doesn’t mean I’ll drop an album tomorrow, or necessarily get that big placement either, but it means that every day and every week I’m creating content and developing my skillset to reach my goals.

Surround yourself with greatness

Your environment isn’t just where you are, but also who you’re around. Even in our current socially-distanced reality, whoever you spend the most time interacting with can have a great impact on your motivation and drive. Are any of your friends trying to achieve similar goals in their own lives? Do you regularly speak with people who offer encouragement or meaningful criticism to your creative work?

If you’re not physically around people who inspire you, then go find inspirational people via YouTube, books, or whatever resources you have at your disposal. Curate your workspace with images that look like the future you desire to achieve. The more you start to live each day as the success that you hope to achieve, the sooner it will come.

Athletes don’t solely practice to perform in a game – they curate their diet as well. That’s to say that their performance isn’t solely based on their output, but also their input. And as artists, we have to curate the information we take in, so that we can also maximize our output.

Put in the time

No matter what the case may be, you must be willing to pay the price for the life you want. You must make those beats, even when you’re uninspired. You have to try to connect with other artists, even if you don’t feel ready. You have to be willing to do the daily work required to live the life you want.

If you do this, you’ll find pleasure in the journey and the road won’t seem so long. In fact, you’ll stop caring about the destination entirely because you’ll fall in love with the process. If you’re feeling overwhelmed or unfulfilled by your current career stage, just try taking a moment and identifying the exact thing(s) you desire in very specific detail. If you can make a daily commitment to make some effort towards the goals you identified, I guarantee you’ll feel reinvigorated and more productive. Remember that your imagination is your greatest tool in shaping your reality, and your daily actions are the tools that transform dreams into destinations. Trust the process.

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March 19, 2021

Charles Burchell Charles “BLVK Samurai” Burchell is a music producer, rapper, multi-instrumentalist, and educator from New Orleans, Louisiana.