Altruistic Action And Selfish Motivation

The best relationship lesson I ever learned.

Believe it or not, the best lesson I ever learned in a relationship tied directly into a lesson that it took years to integrate into my playing.

Years ago, I was in an absolutely intoxicating relationship with a remarkable woman that I thought I was going to marry.  But there were a lot of difficulties in that situation.  I had just come out of my undergraduate program by the skin of my teeth and entered the workplace in a field that had nothing to do with the skills I acquired…to pay off the student loans associated with those skills.  I threw myself onto this ready-made family and was completely  in over my head.  (I eventually learned that, “No, no…I got this.” is the mantra of the drowning person succumbing to their own delusion.)

But I really wanted to make the relationship work so I did whatever I could to accommodate the other person (generally at substantial discomfort to myself).  The more I became a martyr, the more miserable I became and as I became more miserable I simply poisoned a doomed relationship that much faster.  I doubt that you’d be surprised when she broke up with me.  I, on the other hand, was gutted.

And the first thing I did?  I threw all of those things I did “for her” back in her face.  And I did that because I was immature and I didn’t understand the situation.

I didn’t understand that she never asked me to do any of those things that I did.

It took me months to learn the lesson that in any relationship, you need to do things that you want to do.  You need to be selfish in certain things because if you only do things that you hate doing, you’re going to be miserable and you’re going to be miserable around.

When I did get married years later, I was grateful for that lesson as I was for doing things for my wife because I wanted to do them for her.  There are a number of other lessons that I’ve had to learn since then, but I am thankful that I got that first one out of the way…

Perhaps you’re thinking, “Nice story Scott.  Bully for you – but what the Hell does this have to do with guitar playing?”

A lot actually.

In your relationship with music you also have to be a little selfish.

If every action that you take is going to be dependent on someone else’s approval for you to feel good about it – you are on a road to artistic ruin.

Piggybacking off of my last post, there are many things that you are likely to work on that will not pan out for one reason or another but (in a “it’s the journey not the destination” variation) the only reason to get involved in any project is because you can invest yourself into it emotionally as well as physically and/or financially.

Be 100% clear – you may play guitar – but if you are not in the business of moving people with your music all the finger exercises and hours with a metronome in the world won’t help you.

You move people by writing and playing honest music.  It’s a critical step in connecting with people.  If you’re sincerely invested in what you’re doing, that’s going to come across.

To be clear – I’m not saying that you have total license to be an ass.

Have you ever seen a band or a movie that has no regard for it’s audience at all?  You’ll know it when you do – because it comes across as self indulgent and you’re going to feel kind of icky when it’s done.

If you get a call to play light background music at a wedding and you show up and play Black Metal for a bunch of blue hairs – you’re being an ass.  The point of this isn’t to alienate an audience, it’s to bring people in and engage them in what you’re doing.

When I wrote my GuitArchitecture books, I wrote about things that I thought would be useful for people – but I did it based on books that I would want to read.  If it passed the test of me picking up a book and saying, “wow that’s really cool!” then I figured that someone else would dig it as well.

I released it for other people, but I wrote it for me.

If I was dependent on accolades, then I could never release anything because I’d be too petrified that someone wouldn’t like it in one fashion or another.  Instead, I invest myself in doing the best work I can and know that if I think it’s good that someone else probably will as well.  I put myself in the mindset of asking how I would best learn a particular lesson and then use that as a model for communicating those ideas to other people.

The worst moments I’ve ever had in my playing are the one’s where I start second guessing what I’m doing and editing myself instead of just committing to what I’m doing.

In helping other people you help yourself.

In helping connect with other people, I better myself as a person.  It’s a key reason why I spend time on this site posting free content.   In sincerely trying to help people, I also build trust, make connections, develop friendships and ultimately earn fans.

Helping people helps you in the long run, but only if you’re offering help for the right reasons.

Again it comes back to balance.  I come from a working class background and I learned quickly that I don’t trust anyone who doesn’t act in their own self interests in some way shape or form.  It’s okay to be a little selfish in your motivations, but you have to be sincere in what you’re doing.  When I see people “networking” I throw up in my mouth a little but when I see people really engaging with other people and then building off of those connections it doesn’t bother me at all. In whatever you do, if your actions aren’t altruistic they’re not going to take you very far.

I hope that helps!

As always, thanks for reading .


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