Comfort and stagnation, a fine line

Posted by Jamie Henson on May 10, 2016

Whenever I read an article or an interview about the likes of Alex Turner or Miles Kane it makes me go a little funny inside. A multitude of feelings: admiration, envy, regret, motivation. They represent two of my teenage musical icons, two of the voices I went through my most tumultuous years with.

My largest influence was probably The Smiths, coming out of nowhere to achieve a difficult victory on a rainy night in Stoke, but I could never really connect to Morrissey. I couldn’t empathise with his nihilistic commentary of working class 80s Manchester, because I wasn’t born into working class 80s Manchester. Thatcher was just someone I’d heard about. I gleaned some connection from his cynical reporting of troubled relationships, but for me it was usually a lot less complex a matter than his. I had quite a nice upbringing, truth be told, and nothing really went so wrong as to write critical chapter and debilitating verse about it.

As for Turner and Kane, they’re older than me, but they’re a part of my generation. They grew up in the 90s, around a reasonably populated Northern (well, not Southern) city, just like me. They described the stuff I was going though, and their trajectory to fame mirrored one I also could have taken had I made different decisions, worked at them, and put myself in the right place at the right time.

The first time I heard “I Bet That You Look Good On The Dancefloor”, it changed my life. It made me realise that music was something to be pursued, to be created with friends and shared, and not just listened to and experimented with privately. I bought my first guitar, a white Fender Stratocaster, to look like Turner’s in that video.

My musical career has not yet flourished, and I can’t honestly attribute that to a tale of being trampled by the dice roll of life (in true Millenial fashion), I just didn’t put much effort into it. I didn’t take much initiative, it was never a true priority when it demanded that other things be sacrificed instead. I was very focused on my studies, and always have been. If following musical pursuits meant compromising something academic I wouldn’t even have entertained the thought. Nonetheless, I loved every musical avenue I was involved with.

It’s worked out pretty well in that I have a decent job, live in a nice spot, and am financially independent. When pondering this topic it’s reassuring to realise that it’s generally not possible to have it “all”, that you’re entitled to nothing, and that as you get older you have to make more and more decisions about what you’re going to focus on in life, what your priorities are, and also what you leave behind.

I compare my current 24-year-old working self to the emotional maelstrom that was my 16-year-old self. Maelstrom Me was looking at the then 22-year–old Turner and Kane release the first Last Shadow Puppets album and thinking “I’d like to do that someday”, but Mail Merge Me realises that choices are made in life without you even realising it. Choices are made by action, and also inaction.

Turner and Kane were/are fortunate. They possess a great deal of talent, but I know of a lot of people who are just as talented who haven’t caught a break. Friends of mine have dedicated their full time to musical pursuits and it takes guts and grit to do that, knowing that the whole venture could either get them very well known and comfortably compensated for doing something they love, or could leave them heavily in debt and critical about whether they wasted their time. I was in a few bands at University, but the difference lies in whether or not you’re willing to sacrifice other things for it. At the time, I wasn’t. But I still love music.

This harks back to an earlier point, that adulthood partially consists of the realisation that you have to streamline your priorities and really focus on something - because you have less time, more clutter in your head, and also because focusing more on a particular thing requires more dedication in itself.

Having spent a year on a half entrepreneurial/half technical scheme, I became exposed to several successful executives sharing their wisdom about the payoff that starting your own business provides - encouraging me wholeheartedly to dive headfirst into that rocky pool. You might hit a rock and die (professionally, no mutilation here), you might not and get a buzz out of it, but unlike that haphazardly selected analogy you can usually try again. For them, it was worth it. For many others, it was not.

But it demands sacrifice. It requires a long term commitment to something that is unambiguously uncertain. It shapes you, your future choices, and your responsibilities, irreversibly. This is a path that runs parallel to a musical one - at this point, they both drive relentlessly forward and never intersect. And it’s scary to dive into that commitment.

My dilemma, and the point of this body of text whilst I wait for Uncharted 4 to install, is what to do when you’re comfortable in your mid-20s, thankful for all you have, yet consciously aware of the multiple mutually-exclusive paths described above. A downside of this highly interconnected generation is that everyone is fully aware of how successful a lot of strangers are, and everyone is bombarded with snapshots of their success without also taking into account the work and sacrifices that go into them behind the scenes.

Of course you can feel superficially inadequate next to these people, but we live in an age where normality isn’t seen as normal. Normal isn’t sexy, nor is it marketable in a genuine fashion. If you remove all external influences, is there anything wrong with living a decent life, playing music as a relaxing hobby, and keeping an eye on tech, maybe with a view towards starting a business? Of course not. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with that.

But, it also pays to have a long-term goal and some sort of plan of action. We all did it as children choosing Charmander, Squirtle or Bulbasaur. It pays to have foresight, and that’s something that’s bloody hard to get. There’s a fine line between comfort, and stagnation. However, like any venture, what’s most important is to protect your most valuable asset, yourself. It’s easy to give advice to someone to tell them to go for something when you’re not accountable for anything they then go and do.

Your gut feeling usually tells you most of what you need to know. Sometimes it’s good to go all in, others it’s time to fold. Sometimes, it’s good to avoid poker analogies when you know absolutely nothing about poker, and instead sit back and learn.