A while back I was asked the question “What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?”
After lots of staring around the room, deep thinking, and mulling over the question on long runs, I finally decided on an answer. If you know anything about me at all, you know I’m a big fan of a musician named Steve Moakler. A Nashville transplant like myself, Moakler moved here 10 years ago and is now an extremely talented and respected songwriter and artist, and someone who I look up to quite a bit. He once said something so profound I immediately wrote it down and made a mental note to blow it up and piece the words all over my wall:
“You can never control how many people are going to respond to you and what you’re doing as an artist, but you can control how deeply you are present in your work.”
This advice has such an echo into my life because of the path Moakler has taken in becoming so successful in his music career. I’ve only met him a handful of times at some of his shows, but he is by far one of the most down-to-earth and genuine artists out there. He has raw talent and is very skilled at what he does, but he doesn’t put himself on a pedestal because of it. (Despite the fact that his songs have been recorded by artists such as Dierks Bentley, Kellie Pickler, and Ben Rector- just to name a few). To him, I think, he’s just performing what he knows and singing about things he cares about deeply. Regardless of the record sales, he writes about his life and his experiences, and he isn’t much for aiming to fit any sort of country music mold. He’s worked hard to make sure he hasn’t compromised his talent in order to be successful on someone else’s terms.
In my goal as a striving creative, ultimately my work is about valuing authenticity over the sole aim of pleasing others. Yes, earning a living and supporting myself through a job I love is important, but at the same time I need to make sure that what I put into my work is my very best; that I’m leaving it all on the table. Working for others means meeting their needs and preferences, but it also means creating things that I believe in and work that I want to stand behind. Producing work that is honest and genuine is more important than creating mediocre work that you don’t believe in, just so others will like it.
As I’m learning during this year as part of the Nashville Fellows program, being present and putting your heart into your work isn’t just for creatives. Each week we hear from successful business professionals in Nashville about valuing the work in front of you. Whether that involves filing papers or re-filling the coffee machine, taking pride and ownership in what you do matters more than the outcome.
Similarly, Moakler’s music gives you a sense of who he is and what he stands for. I want my work to be like that, because at the end of the day your work should have your fingerprints all over it, creative or otherwise.