Lessons in Mastery: for creators and worker bees

This morning I sat in on a beautiful keynote talk given by the composer, record producer, multi-instrumentalist, songwriter, music director and vocalist Patrice Rushen. If you need a hint, despite all that experience just mentioned, think of the song “Forget me nots”, which was used as the theme for Men in Black.

Ms Rushen told us about her life, from the age of 3 until today, sitting in the chair before her audience of students, professors and staff at <a href="http://valencia.berklee take a look at the site here.edu/” target=”_blank”>Berklee College of Music Valencia.

And what an interesting life. Not a straight line, not specialized (unless you want to say, as she emphasized, that through it all, she was a musician), and complete with a work ethic that gave her faith that even the accepting of an opportunity that wasn’t exactly what she wanted would lead to where she wanted to go. Or in a surprising new and richer direction.

I’d like to share some of the nuggets of wisdom from her experience that she gave these students this morning, and that I think ring true for any artist, any creator, for their own career and life. The questions she responded to involved how one knows when to say yes or no to an opportunity, about time management for creation and work and life.

The extraordinary and the ordinary co-exist in the same moment. In order to know the difference, you have to be present.

Ask yourself “why” you want to do something. Instead of seeking a result, make sure the why resonates with your being, at your core.

It’s like playing a solo. Be in the moment. Give it all. Show your mastery. The next moment will reveal itself to you.

Just eat the apple. Bite it. Enjoy it.

My favorite:

Mastery trumps marketing. Bring your best self to what you do, every time you do it.

And finally:

Relax. Go make a cake. The solution will come as you whip the batter.

In all of these cases, I’ve synthesized her words. These are mere “clippings” of much longer sentences, with more elaboration and feeling. But I hope the ideas come through and capture your imagination as they did mine as you focus on your work, your creation, and your daily life.

Interestingly, as I stepped out of the talk, I received an email from a friend, who forwarded me a NYTimes article on mindfulness. The article expresses the value of mindfulness, from its Buddhist source to the present day as it has been scientifically researched and shown to be useful in a variety of circumstances and communities. However, where in some ways mindfulness is beneficial, in others the strict application of this focus may stunt creativity. So: the key is the balance between “mindfulness and mind wandering”. Sure, focus on that apple, and only that apple, but let the juice seep in.