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Stolace — two months later

January 19, 2019 | Michael | Updates

Back in November of 2018 when I was out on a hike, I had a huge epiphany, enlightened by the personal application of a Stoic principle. Recently I had read about Epictetus (a first century philosopher) and the dichotomy of control, which is a practice of asking yourself the question, “Is this something in or out of my control?” I decided to put this principle to practice in my history with music, and for me the results were amazing.

Over twenty-five years I have been writing and recording music, have been in a variety of bands, and have put myself out there as a solo artist, too — and all this time have wanted nothing more than to be a career musician, singer, and songwriter, to have alignment between my passion and my vocation. Part of the measure of my success was this intangible goal — some level of notoriety and acclaim with my music being purchased and listened to on a wider, more global level. But up to this point, that goal seemed ever elusive.

Back in 2011, after releasing five full-length acoustic improvisational albums under the pseudonym Michael Miles and achieving only low levels of visibility and sales, I became frustrated and hung it up. That perception of failure was accompanied with extreme disillusionment and this thought: “if no one wanted to listen to (and even buy) my music, why bother.”

So I quit, and my guitar collected dust in the corner of my home office.

Fast forward back to November 2018 on my hike, I began to meditate on all the things that were out of my control — album sales, acquiring more listeners, increasing notoriety and influence, whether or not people will actually like my music, and a whole host of other variables that were distinctly out of my control. No matter how much effort I put into it, at best I could mildly influence the odds of success but ultimately have no control in the end.

I then began to meditate on what it is that I do have control over — the amount of time I put into practicing, the time spent recording my music, the attention to detail and quality, and where I make my music available (but even that last item isn’t entirely in my control) — and that’s it. Once my music leaves my computer and heads out into the vast, open spaces of the internet, it’s completely out of my control. I can “share” it all I want, I can promote it on all the social networks, blow a bunch of money on advertising, and do all the things a marketing firm would do — but in the end, I still cannot control how people will respond.

At that moment, a switch flipped inside with the revelation that I really have no business devoting so much emotional energy on all that I cannot control. If I wanted success, I would have to be content with success only in the areas within my control — at best, everything else beyond that can only be marginally influenced and is up to fate or chance.

Running parallel with this new thinking was another philosophical practice, the concept of memento mori, a Latin phrase that means “remember you will die.” It’s not intended to be a morbid thought, focused solely on the inevitability of death alone — instead it’s meant to be a motivator. Death is inevitable and unpredictable, so seize this moment, live this life fully and virtuously, and don’t squander away the time you’ve got left on this planet. Those two thoughts together lit up a flame within me with a renewed desire to create music again, but this time for my own gratification and my own pleasure. I’ll still share it as I always have, but this time the measure of my success is only on what I can control — practicing often, spending the time necessary to compose and record my music, and invest the energy and time to making the end result as high of a quality as I can. If I can do that, I will be successful.

Of course it would be wonderful to have my music widely received, listened to and loved by many, and to sell enough units to make a living off of creating music. But that just cannot be the measure of my success or the thing that determines my happiness. If I can create great music that makes me happy, then I will have achieved success. Whether or not my music gets out there and is well received by people is just icing on the cake.

With this mindset in place, I set my focus solely on that which is in my control and so far, I think the results have been awesome. I’m making the best music that I’ve ever made, my attention to detail and quality exceeds that which I’ve ever done, and as an interesting byproduct, friends and family seem to really like what I’ve made so far.

The plan is to just keep making music as long as I’m able — it brings me great joy, is super gratifying, and the process is just fun seeing something new come to life.

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