How to Chase A Dream: Love, Fear, and Finding Paul McCartney In A Bathroom

It is December of 1993. I am twenty years old and contemplating the future arc of my life. The question in front of me is simple: Do I pursue music as a career, or do I listen to the persistent voices of my elders pleading for me to choose a safer path through the world? In the words of Jeanette Winterson: “Why be happy when you can be normal?”

At this point in my life, I had been playing music for over ten years. Averaging twenty-five hours a week of practice, (at minimum) that made for over 10,000 hours total, surpassing the fabled requirement for “mastery of a skill.”

Indeed, I had become proficient enough on guitar that it was akin to speaking a language fluently, especially taking into account the young age at which those ‘words’ entered my elastic, fantastic brain. My hands would reach reflexively for the right notes. I loved to improvise, with myself and with other musicians, and my connection to art was fulfilling on a deeply spiritual level. Practicing for four to eight hours a day, it turns out, is a lot like meditation.

The influence of the “hamster-wheel within our minds” has no sway while in the flow state, and learning this type of deep focus when I was a child has had a profound and lasting positive impact on my mental state. To this day, entering a flow state requires nothing more than a guitar, five minutes, and a chair.

And if there is no guitar, I simply imagine playing one, as I often do in waiting rooms and parties.

So, why would I be contemplating, at twenty years old, severing my ties to the enchanting and soul-fulfilling world of music? Why would I entertain abandoning a future where my career and work could be playing music full time? Wasn’t that my dream?

The reason I was even considering pursuing another path was because there were influential people in my life that I respected who were afraid for me. Who did not want to see me struggle in life. Who perhaps saw others try to make their living doing something they loved, and failed, only to live and ultimately die in poverty.

Do you know what the opposite of love is? It is not hate. Nor is it apathy, though that is closer to the truth. The opposite of love is fear, and it seemed my two choices could be better understood through that lens. My choices were not about music versus practicality, or dreams versus reality; they were between love and fear.

And this leads us to a moment in all our lives, perhaps several moments if we are very lucky, when we must make our leaps of faith.

Look After You Leap

What is a leap of faith? I think anytime we prioritize love over fear, we are making a leap of faith, for to love something is to become both acutely vulnerable and immeasurably strong. That’s quite a paradox, isn’t it: becoming vulnerable and yet… strong. It does sound like a paradox until we look at what vulnerability actually means.

I won’t dare to go to Brené-Brown-town here for you, for she has brilliantly written on the subject, but I will say that being vulnerable means simply to have courage. When we are vulnerable, we have chosen to be courageous in the face of fear.

To love is to have courage. Though it may look like we are loving “something” or “someone,” when we love, we are really saying to ourselves “I love myself enough to claim the love before me.” I mean, that’s a bold thing to do! Pluck that big fat juicy apple from the tree and choose to love.

Get a puppy. Yes, it will die one day, and you’ll be left to confront a black hole of grief and despair. But have courage, friend, and don’t let the inevitable forces of change inherent in nature stop you from loving something.

The waves go up and down. That’s how it works. The only way to protect yourself from heartache is to lock yourself in a box and never answer the door or phone. That’s not living though, is it.

Courage is one of the ‘C Words’ lauded by therapists and sages. Some other ‘C Words’ are: compassion, curiosity, creativity, connectedness, confidence, clarity, and calmness. Taken together, they describe someone who is operating at their optimal human potential, and certain amounts of each are available to us at any given time.

The twenty-year-old me had plenty of courage, creativity, confidence, curiosity, clarity, and calmness (it would be many years before I understood what compassion was, yet I was an extremely empathetic and sensitive child).

To the elders around me, guiding me to the best of their abilities, their courage was not so readily accessible. I think they wanted what was best for me, but their judgement was bound by the limits of their own ability to suffer. To them, it was a sensible choice to make, an acceptable compromise: “Choose safety, for god’s sake, you need money! Don’t end up homeless and destitute like Uncle Frank!”

A good question to ask ourselves when confronted with a difficult decision is: “What would it look like if I was motivated purely by love, and not by fear?” The twenty-year-old me didn’t think in these exact words, yet I acted as if love was the only acceptable path before me.

It was, in fact, the only road before me -until I was told it was a perilous path full of danger and heartache, grief and despair. Lose hope, all ye who tune a guitar. And that meant I had to make a choice.

 

It is thirty years later. Typing that, I want to cry. How has it been thirty years? I want desperately to go back, to see the world again as the wave is moving upwards, not having already crested. The things we think about at fifty are so different than at twenty, and yet, life has proven to be basically high school repeating over and over. It is still hard to talk to girls and I am not cool yet.

Each day is a chance to move closer to inhabiting ourselves fully, and yet, who does that? Are we just waiting for permission?

Well, if you’re waiting for permission, consider it granted. Because I chose music and have been a professional musician for the last twenty-five years.

I’ve toured and recorded with artists like k.d. lang, Sheryl Crow, Beck, Dwight Yoakam, The Dixie Chicks and many others. I’ve been onstage in front of 100,000 people. I met Sir Paul McCartney in the bathroom at The Tonight Show (he punched me, quite hard on my arm). I shook the meaty bedazzled paw of Sir Elton John backstage at a show, asked Neil Young to please turn his car stereo down, and declined a joint from Willie Nelson.

I’ve been around the world many times, seen the never setting summer sun of Oslo on Solstice, drank Absinthe in the lilac dawn of the mountains of Switzerland, and made lifelong friends from faraway countries. My life has been a remarkable mixture of joy and exploding heartache and it’s because I chose to love. I chose the unknown, to love and to hurt, and to be vulnerable.

I took the leap of faith and learned something interesting about the world. All this time, I thought it was a choice between love and fear, but it’s not that way at all. You choose both.

Whoever you are, whatever you are, you’re a part of nature, and are bound by the same laws as a tree, the sun and planets, and that means that you will go up and you will go down, over and over again. Either way, you will go down sometimes, so why not go down doing something you love?

I’ll meet you there. Bring cheese.