Turning Obstacles into Opportunities

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Bad luck is the opportunity you are looking for…

As a musician you need a HUGE capacity for disappointment and failure.

Since I went full time into music in 2013, I have often faced obstacles and felt that they were insurmountable.  What is interesting to me is the amount of people that I meet that say things like, “I have always dreamed of doing XYZ, but I have never had time/ the right opportunity etc etc”.

What I have realised is that when you have a comfortable lifestyle, a well paid job, a nice car, nice holidays etc, then there is not a lot of incentive to chase after the things we really dream about doing.  Of course there is nothing wrong with those things, if those are the things you enjoy.  But maybe you are feeling like I was: “there must be more than this”…

I’ve been there. Most of my life up till 2013. I got too comfortable and when the little voice in my head said “what about that thing your really want to do?”, I just suppressed it and told myself I’d get round to it later.  Sound familiar?

So what happened in 2013?  A big obstacle happened.  The economic recession finally caught up with me.  I had 3 people working for me and was turning over 3 times as much money as I usually would.  These contracts would provide income for years. Or so I thought…  In just 5 weeks, I lost all the contracts due to funding cuts.

Initially I thought: “this is bad, but if I work hard enough, hopefully I can get some new contracts and carry on”.  And then I realised, that I had an opportunity to start fresh and focus on my life long dream to make a living composing and performing my own music.

The truth is that if things hadn’t have gone wrong for my business, I’d still be stuck doing something I didn’t really want to be doing.  Since going full time into music I have felt so fulfilled that I now feel huge gratitude that everything fell apart for me in 2013!

Here are 7 ideas that I have found useful:

1. Perspective

When I’m out rock climbing and I’ve fallen off the cliff, I take a step back to see if I can spot a better route.  You often can’t see it when your are on the rockface.  The same is true when facing obstacles in life.  Take a step back.  Write a list of pro’s and cons. Write a list of possible solutions.  I have a massive white board at home that I use for this very purpose.

2.  Blame or Build?

When something really bad happens to you, it is understandable that we want to look for someone to blame.  You know what?  Usually there IS someone to blame but unfortunately, blaming people and holding a grudge does nothing to solve the problem.  It is a bit like having a rat problem and then trying to solve the problem by consuming rat poison and waiting for the rat to die.

The best course of action is to take control and get busy working on a solution.

3,  Turn it on its head!

So the computer lost your work?  Its a chance to do the project even better.  All your music gear got stolen? Make your own!  In fact this actually happened to me.

A few years ago someone broke into our house and took all my guitars, amplifiers and music making equipment.  It had taken me years to build this gear up.  The insurance company were totally not helpful, so I was faced with a situation where I didn’t have enough money to replace the equipment.

I came up with a radical solution: I could build my own valve amplifiers for a fraction of the cost.  All I needed to do was learn how.  So I went on forums like www.wattkins.com and I learnt how to do it.  The upside is that I have built my own amp to give me a custom sound that really works for me.

4, When the going gets tough… the tough get…

Going.  I said earlier that its important to take a step back to figure out the route.  But its also important to not procrastinate.  Remember that assignment you had 6 months to do and you kept putting it off because you didn’t know where to start?  With two days to the deadline you finally got going and thought “I wish I had just made a start earlier cos its not as bad as I thought”… the problem is now you might miss the deadline and miss the opportunity.

5, If you are going to quit, quit early!

“What?”  I can hear you say.  “I can’t believe you are advising that we should quit”.  The truth is that sometimes quitting certain things early enables you to get on with what you are really supposed to be doing.   A lot of us fear quitting because of what economists call “sunk costs”. ie you have invested too much into it to just walk away and do something else.

For me it happened with an idea in 2014 of releasing a single a month as a way of funding my album “based on a true story”.  The first single sold really well, but the the second single didn’t and by the third single release, I had decided to quit that approach.

“a quitter never wins and a winner never quits” right?  WRONG!   I was tempted to persevere with the plan to release all 9 singles but I quit early.    I decided that crowdfunding was the solution. If I’d not quit the course I was on,  I would have never raised the $9000 dollar target to make my album.  Notice, I didn’t say “quit my dream of making an album” , I just quit the approach that wasn’t working.

Have you heard the phrase: “The Good is the enemy of the Great”?.  Ask yourself this: What do you need to quit that will enable you to invest your time into something great.

For more on “Sunk cost” check out this excellent podcast by Freakonomics  http://freakonomics.com/2011/09/30/new-freakonomics-radio-podcast-the-upside-of-quitting/

6, Ask for help.

Why are we so afraid of asking for help? Is it pride? Is it fear of being regarded as a failure?

Well, I asked for help and got my album crowdfunded. I’ve had music gear stolen, and asked for help and people have given me or loaned me stuff.  I’ve needed advice and experts have offered me their time and services for a nominal cost and often for free.   It was this TED talk by record breaking musician and crowfunder Amanda Palmer that changed my perspective on asking for help:  https://www.ted.com/talks/amanda_palmer_the_art_of_asking?language=en

7 Ask yourself: How is this going to help me grow?

Sometimes overcoming an obstacle is going to mean that for a while you are going to have to work harder, put in more hours and effort than ever before.

Recently, I have faced such a situation.  My best friend Mark plays keyboards in my band and has co-written many of the most epic songs on the album.  Recently his job has meant that he has to go all over the world on business.  This meant that he has not been able to play a run of gigs that I had lined up.  For me, Marks piano playing is the magic fairy dust that makes our music stand out.  I thought “I’m going to have to cancel the gigs”, but faced with the prospect of Mark not being able to do gigs for the next 6 months, I needed a different solution.  A radical one.

I decided to learn all the piano parts that occur when I’m not playing guitar. Like in the song below… Just one problem,  I can’t play piano!So I spent hours working out the songs note by note, You can see me practising them in the youtube video below.

A big factor in me taking this decision was the question: How is this going to help me grow?  The answer is that 6 weeks ago I couldn’t play piano and now I have acquired a new life skill that will help me be a better composer.  With out this obstacle I would have never had the motivation to put all the hard work in.

I hope this blog inspired you.  If it did, let me know below.

6 Responses to “Turning Obstacles into Opportunities”

  1. Nick Prudent


    This is a fantastic post! You are an inspiration for all of us who dream but haven’t (yet) made the jump into playing music full time. I love the story of you learning to play piano as an “opportunity” to acquire a new skill. This is exactly how i see things: life is great and full of opportunities, often disguised as “hard work” or “bad luck”.

    Keep up the great work, my friend & hoping one day you can bring your music to North-America!

    – Nick –

  2. Todd Niemi

    Very encouraging and inspiring, Dave! Keep going!! Wishing you a successful and prosperous 2016!

  3. Andy Worsfold

    Hi Dave,

    A great blog and so true. This year has been a year of real change for me. My 34 year career came to an end abruptly. A real shock. My wife had been nagging me to change for years. I was always too scared. I never got my Maths O Level at school, had always worked for the same employer and was 50. No income, a big new house to pay for and now unemployed. Sarah stuck by my side, I went on a course for over 50s to update my skills, applied for loads of jobs but one stood out. These things take time, and after being approached and interviewed I was offered the role of an Trainer/Assessor for Learndiect. I’m updating my qualifications and sharing my knowledge with apprentices and learners. My maths is also good enough for me to teach functional skills too. So whilst things looked bleak a few months ago, they are so much better now. I get my first proper Christmas off for years too! And next time is won’t seem so scary!

    • Dave Brons

      Andy that is awesome! Enjoy your Christmas… Now you’ve had practise at jumping in the deep end I’m sure you’ll be more confident to try loads of new things !


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