IT’S THE NEW YEAR. Time to Level Up.

“Leveling up is a concept in gaming in which a character experiences some sort of progression that usually entails unlocking new abilities, skills, access to new items, access to a new area of the game, or as a benchmark of how far into the game a character is.”

It’s a New Year. I am not much for resolutions. I do like the idea of Leveling Up. I am not much of a gamer either. I do, however, know plenty of people who love gaming, take it very seriously and are really good at it.

It’s fairly easy to stay where you are, especially if it’s working for you. In the gamer world that means if you always stay on the safe path, the one you know you have the skills and strengths to accomplish what you want, then no problem. Well, actually, one problem. You won’t advance through the game, and that is the object of the whole deal, to get through the game. If you get through the game, you win. So, without the ability to Level Up, you can’t win. If things are working really well for you, there is no need to change. But, if things are not going so well, then maybe something needs to change. It could be time to Level Up.

It used to be important for me to look for validation. That validation could come from many sources. Professionally, it meant that I had the validation of the gatekeepers. You know, those “exalted ones” who had the power in the music biz. The record companies, the successful management firms, etc. It worked for me up until I realized I became a gatekeeper. It I was a gatekeeper do I now have to look for a more powerful gatekeeper for the validation? It was all an illusion. The gatekeepers were important but without the artists the gatekeepers had no one to keep from getting through the gate. If you spent your time trying to be a gatekeeper, you had no time to do the real, hard emotional labor of the creative process. The creative process was, and still is, where the real value is. As I would always tell any artist I was working with, “ You’re already an artist, but if you want to be an artist who sells units, you are going to have to compromise and collaborate.” That line was my way of establishing that there had to be collaboration in order for me as a creative facilitator to properly represent both the business and the creative side. I was playing the role of the gatekeeper. I always, in my mind at least, did everything I could to realize the artist’s creative vision while keeping in sight the objective – make the most excitingly vital, “true to the artists vision yet commercially acceptable” music I could. And I think I got there just about every time I tried.

So, I am not interested in being a gatekeeper and I am not interested in the validation. Gatekeeping, as it begins to go away, takes away the power of validation. Validation was the thing that the gatekeepers offered. If you got the record deal or you signed with a CAA, or you were on the Paramount back lot you had been validated by someone who had some “power”. Now, it’s up to you whether you want to deal with the gatekeepers or not. They are still there and they are still trying to keep the power.

Leveling Up, for me, means spending more time on the cliff and less time looking for validation. It’s also not doing things the same way I had been doing them in the last couple of years.

And you need to be on the cliff to do something that matters. And you have to do it without the reassurance of others. If you are looking for someone to tell you to get down from the cliff, there are plenty of people out there that would be happy to oblige. By you being on the cliff, it points out that you are making the effort to kick some ass and that makes people some people uncomfortable, especially the people that don’t want the status quo to be disturbed. They want the reassurance that it will be ok.

Reassurance is like the evil stepmother of validation. If you need reassurance, then you can’t be on that cliff. I know I have tried it.

There is not enough reassurance in the world to help you. You have to be on the cliff without anyone telling you that if will be ok, because it might not be ok. Reassurance is pointless. Tension is the objective. Tension is the evidence that you are on the right track. The tension is what regulates the “process”. The process is what is most important. Trusting in the process is really hard. Mainly because of the tension necessary to get to what is valuable. The process can be anything from working on a new musical composition or deciding that this year it’s time to find a new way to approach your work, or putting your fears and ego aside to make the changes so the universe can conspire to give you the income stream you deserve, whatever it is. All of it creates pressure, strain, stress, and anxiety. The discomfort has to exist in order for there to be a progression. The secret is to not relieve the tension or uncertainty by doing crap work. That’s the cliff. And it’s scary.

Why go to the cliff when it’s scary and it’s easier to not be there? Because it bleeds over into everything you do. Spending just a little time on the scary, uncomfortable cliff, doing the hard work of the emotional labor because it feels exactly the same to you as it feels to anyone of your favorite successful artists. Not that you are going to go out and automatically make hit songs or paint a masterpiece, that’s not the point, the process is the same. It doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks, it’s only about you facing the cliff and the tension that comes along with it. As soon as you realize what it feels like to be on the cliff, you can now bring that to whatever it is you want to do.

Leveling Up has got to come with effort. And sometimes it comes with mistakes. Sometimes there are missteps that you wish you could take back. One of my “cliffs” is making an effort to engage with people as much as I can. It is not easy for me. I have to always remind myself to not be the kid in the corner at my parent’s friend’s house reading a book while all the other kids are out playing touch football. Engaging with people in a way that is positive and fun and also creates some kind of meaning was a Leveling Up for me years ago. Now, I love it.

I especially dig engaging with people and helping them see things differently. Not necessarily better, not necessarily the way I see things, but differently. It’s the reason I write this blog

Correct doesn’t mean right. Correct means based on what they know, how they feel, their experiences and sensibilities. The key here is whatever THEIR version of correct is. You would think that this would be an easy thing. It’s not. As a matter of fact I had an experience recently that really taught me a lesson. I made a comment on a social media page of an artist I not only respect, but also like as a person. I worked with him and his cool band a while ago. He posted something and thought it would be fun to “call’ him on his perspective. He reacted quickly and vehemently. I think there was even a “screw you” involved. I read the response and I was shocked. I continued to respond with the same “fun” attitude and his response was even worse. Then I re-read what I had posted. It didn’t sound fun, it read like I was an asshole. When I wrote that sentence, did it sound to him like it did to me? Nope, not at all. The “how dare you” of it.   I quickly shot him a private message and apologized. Too late, damage done. I mention this incident only because sometimes you can go over the cliff, and as I used to tell an old friend, “ You can look over the cliff, you can jump out and back, you just don’t want to be the guy who finds himself at the bottom of the cliff in the morning.”

The Leveling Up process can sometimes be really difficult and you might not get it right all the time but it’s critical if you want to unlock new abilities, access new areas of the game, gain more experience points and set new target thresholds. Have I stretched the gaming metaphor far enough?

So, here’s to having a great New Year for all of us. And thank you!!