(This article is a part of our series on Inspiring Stories and is a gracious contribution by Mark Hermann from Rock and Roll Zen. Please contact me if you have a great story to share with our fine parents community!)
It’s been a wild and crazy ride in the 51 years of life I’ve lived so far as a creative spirit.
I’ve toured the world with real rock stars including Foreigner and Joe Walsh and gotten a taste of the life that goes along with it. I’ve felt the elation of playing my own music in a big arena, written songs that were placed in TV shows and films and produced Grammy nominated artists. It’s been cool. And though it hasn’t always exactly been a walk in the park, it certainly hasn’t been boring.
But without a doubt, my proudest accomplishment is my family.
With all the ups and downs and shifting sands that define the life of an artist, my family reminds me each and every day what it means to keep it real.
Like when my 4-year old son would rather do his best to tear the strings off my guitar rather than actually learn how to play it when I attempt to show him something. Or when my 9-year old daughter, who refuses to listen to anything else but Harry Potter audio books day and night, asks me who is Bruno Mars? (Whose kids are these anyway?) Still, I wouldn’t have it any other way.
But life wasn’t always like this.
The artist’s life has never been an easy life. Not exactly the ideal personality type to ensure a long, stable family relationship where dad’s always home for dinner from his 9 to 5 job with that steady paycheck in hand.
It’s one thing when you’re young and wild and free to cast fate to the wind and see which way it blows your creative fancy. You can try things, crash and burn when they don’t work out and then pick yourself up, dust yourself off and try something new. But it’s entirely another thing when there are others depending on you.
Remember the Tasmanian Devil?
That crazed Loony Tunes cartoon character spinning out of control, crashing into everything in his path? Arriving in a blur. Leaving chaos in its wake?
That was pretty much me and my approach to “living my passion” as a creative spirit.
Not too long ago I was seriously trying to accomplish all of these things at the same time:
- Play in a rock and roll band of middle aged men living in New York City, rehearse regularly, play live shows, tour, and still play dad to my family of four.
- Engineer and produce our own albums while simultaneously attempting to produce other artists to help them realize their artistic vision.
- Start my own blog to inspire awesomeness in other creators.
- Guest post for major blogs and write epic content to build up my own blog audience.
- Shoot my own videos, create graphics, and edit them for my blog. (though I have little to no skills in any of these areas)
- Write a novel and multiple eBooks.
- Design cool music themed apps.
- Stay gainfully employed (a day job I desperately wanted to quit to make more time for all of the above).
- Practice meditation and find the deeper meaning to my life.
The idea was that my brilliant plan would eventually pay off and sustain my family completely so that I could:
- Pay my New York City mortgage
- Put food on the table
- Make time for my two young children
- Spend some quality alone time with my wife and stay married
- Have the freedom to create more awesome art
So how did that all work out, you might ask?
Here’s a day in the life of a Tasmanian Devil.
I would commute to my day gig and write blog posts on the subway. Then I’d come home and have a quick dinner, hang out with the children, and pretend to listen as they would excitedly recount their day. But I wasn’t really present. I was thinking about what I needed to accomplish that night in the studio.
I was kind of a ghost to them during this period because our only time spent together was the rush of getting them ready for school in the morning and the couple hours at night when we were all too tired to have any real quality time together. Then I would dash off after their bedtime to my studio man cave to work on my music until the wee hours.
I would collapse into bed every night, only to get up a few hours later and do it all over again. At the end of my self-imposed exile of several months, I would finally return home victorious, the proud father of a shiny new CD.
But there was no applause in my household.
Only a very chilly reception from an ever more distant wife who understood my passion but couldn’t accept its all-consuming nature anymore or my many frazzled creative endeavors. The chasm between us was growing and heading to the point of no return, having repeated this scenario at least three times before since we had known one another.
After the completion of my last album, which coincided with the birth of my son four years ago, I realized that something needed to change, and quickly, if I was going to stay married.
Fortunately, this was around the same time I began practicing meditation.
You could say I finally caught my breath. Slowly over time, through the practice of quieting my mind, I began to find clarity. I became aware of my attachment to this desperate need to accomplish something important in this life and be recognized by the world for it; and how these external accomplishments were supposed to somehow validate me as a person, as though who I was already wasn’t enough.
It didn’t take long before I recognized the insanity in my ways.
Here I had attracted into my life this amazing family that provided me with a daily supply of love, support and happiness. And yet I had been ignoring them all these years while trying to juggle all these crazy projects that were supposed to earn me these superficial badges of success. Things that in the end bring you very little real happiness or true satisfaction.
Immediately, I abandoned all but the few projects that were truly in alignment with the message I wanted to deliver with my life’s work.
When I’m with my kids or my wife now, I try to really be present. To enjoy the now in each moment. Those clichés about how fast your children grow up are, sadly, all too true. I see my role as the father figure and a partner to my wife in steering our kids in a good direction. I think my wife and I have finally learned how to be friends again and enjoy each other’s company while participating in this crazy dance they call parenting.
As for my ongoing creative endeavors, I’ve learned to simply embrace the work now. It’s all about the day to day, not the end result. I’ve finally learned to let go of the outcome and just strive for excellence in everything I share with the world. I still do care a lot about my work helping to inspire others to unearth their own unique story and shine their brightest light in this world. But nothing else matters like my family.
I’ve learned so many valuable lessons about myself from dialing into my kids and just being with them, listening to all their struggles with growing up. I’m much more mindful of the things I say to them now because I realize how much they’re paying attention, even when it seems like they aren’t listening.
Sometimes, I’ll even go out on a limb and tell them things I wish my parents had told me when I was growing up, even when I’m pretty sure they don’t fully understand me. Like when my daughter was maybe three and started crying over something in frustration because she couldn’t figure it out. She screamed, ‘I can’t do this! I just can’t!‘
I had heard that refrain a lot from her around that time. I finally got very angry with her and told her I never wanted to hear her say that again in front of me. I explained that she was going to come up against a lot of difficult situations in life where the answer’s not always going to be so easy to find. But that she could do anything she put her mind to if she really wanted to.
I figured it just went in one ear and out the other. Still, my hope was that if some tiny piece of it stuck with her, maybe she could use it someday in her life.
But a couple years ago, when my son was around the same age, he too threw a tantrum over something he couldn’t do and uttered those very same words. To my surprise, it was my daughter who was quick to chime in, ‘Don’t you ever say you can’t! You can do this if you really want to.‘
She flashed me a sly smile and I smiled back.
You can’t always know when, where or how your efforts to succeed in life will ultimately pay off. But if you can learn to let go of the end result and simply show up to do your best every day, your frustrations begin to melt away and you open yourself up to a whole world of possibilities.
We’re all so brainwashed to get up there and swing for the fences and hit that big grand slam homerun in life. The media bombards us daily with these kinds of images of great success. But that’s all it is. An image. It’s not real.
When you learn to be present in life, as I am finally learning to do with my family, you don’t miss out on the moments that really count. It’s often in the little victories where we get to taste the true sweetness of success.
It’s great when someone tells me now and again that they really liked a piece of music I wrote or a post of mine that inspired them. But when I heard those words of encouragement coming from my own daughter?
Now that rocks!