Put your life in a picture frame.

Remember that your life is a story. It has a beginning, middle, and end. That’s why humans are drawn to stories. Our lives are finite. When you panic or get frustrated about something, take a step back and just remember it’s part of a bigger book. Whatever scene is in front of you, put a mental picture frame around it, like you’re watching a movie. And you’re a character. The main character, in fact. This works for happy things too, great successes, moments where you feel alive or grateful. They’re just scenes. And if you think of them as scenes, it adds a dash of magic to your life.

Pull the trigger.

After a while, there’s no sense in delaying a decision any longer. The only thing that matters is that you choose a path, and which one you choose doesn’t matter. The fact that you’ve gotten this far and remain at an impasse means you’ve eliminated anything that could be truly disastrous. You’ve left yourself with only good optoins. Now you must choose. But don’t flip a coin. Make the choice with your heart, in a moment when are feeling favorable toward one side or the other. Then just commit and refuse to slip back to ever reconsidering the path you have decided against.

Don’t just nod in agreement.

It’s lazy. And often it means that you’re not really listening hard enough. The problem with this is twofold. Not only is it disrespectful to the person speaking to you (and they will notice, trust me), but it’s also a disservice to yourself. Because you wind up just going along with things you don’t really agree with. You forfeit the chance to think for yourself. And often you’ll look back and realize that you’ve agreed to things that are not in your best interest, or undercut your work, or that you don’t truly understand. Better to lock in and engage. Listen hard enough to form a real thought you can articulate with words. Then you can be sure of what you’re agreeing to and why you’re agreeing to it.

Here’s what you gotta do.

Gotta go inside. That’s always where the answers are.

Gotta get smart. That’s how you make dreams a reality.

Gotta stay calm. Nothing’s as important as it seems.

Gotta be honest. About where you are, where you want to be, and how to get there.

Gotta laugh. Everything is funny. Most of all, you’re own life.

Gotta decide. Experience can built or break you. Which will it be?

Gotta stand tall. Keep a song in your pocket that reminds you of who you are.

Gotta produce. It’s much easier to consume but far less… productive.

Gotta pursue. Knock on doors. Call in favors. Create opportunities. Proceed with fire or prepare to get burned.

Gotta remember. Family is everything.

Live every note.

You can’t fake it. You can’t pretend. It doesn’t work. When you’re singing, or writing, or playing you need to live every single note. That’s what gives it its value. There is so much meaningless stuff out there. So much that is glossy and fake. So much that is designed to deceive you.

To avoid contribuing to that noise, mean every word you sing. Every single one. It’s the same as having integrity when you speak to someone else. You have to mean the things you say if you want your work and your contribution to be worth anything to others. Stop simply singing pitches. Live the notes. Like Louis Armstrong said, “If you don’t live it, it wont’ come out your horn.” In this way, you need to become the song. You put everything you have, the whole of your experience as a human being, into it and then it becomes a gift for the audience. It becomes something you are discovering together, like the connection between a writer a reader. In this way, music your music will become a bridge that can connect people.

Don’t get hung up on stealing.

It’s an old tripe. Good artists borrow, great artists steal. But there’s more to it than that. You’re moving into a realm now where there is a passing down of ideas. Lyrical themes, chord structures, melodies, patterns, styles. It’s all part of a grand tradition. Think about the blues. It’s just 3 chords. The same 3 chords. Everybody is playing the same 3 chords from Howlin’ Wolf to BB King To Eric Clapton. What it boils down to is style. How will you personally express those time-weathered ideas? Use them, distort them, rearrange them, mutilate them, or just plain interpret them with your own unique ability and perspective. It’s like Dylan said, the old songs give you the code for everything that’s fair game, and everything that belongs to everyone.

You don’t need to pay it all back.

It’s okay to say “I could never repay you for all you’ve done for me.” That takes grace and courage. You can’t be a leech or a bloodsucker. But you also can’t tow around a whole bunch of needless guilt or tiresome I.O.U.s you’re never going to make good on. Not because you don’t want to or you can’t, but because you just may never get the opportunity. Now, paying it forward is a different story. That’s how you make good on all your debts. You give what you can. You help others to the best of your ability. Show people what you know. Guide younger folks who can learn something from you. Do the things that others have done for you without expectation.

Only deal with believers.

Why waste time trying to curry favor from people who do not have your best interest in mind? In my experience, believers may be few and far between but they are the people you need to surround yourself with. Don’t approach some critic or naysayer or somebody who you suspect has secret desires for your failure and try to elicit encouragement, help or praise. Deal directly with the people who you know understand what you’re doing and where you’re headed. There will be plenty of detractors and still more plenty of fairweather friends. Not to mention opponents disguised as allies. Share the work, but don’t ask for permission. Don’t ask for approval. The only person who needs to approve your work is you.

Produce, produce, produce.

Think about it. When you get depressed or overcome with anxiety it’s usually because you haven’t produced something recently. The production of work is what brings you supreme joy. Do the work. Make the thing. Each time you do this, you’re really bundling up all of your worries and anxieties and tossing them out to sea. It’s a message in a bottle, each piece of work. And it brings an unparalleled satisfaction and pride in one’s life. But the moment you complete a piece of work, these effects begin to wear off. And if you wait too long, you wind up depressed and anxious, mind darting every which way, fretting over trivialities and big “life questions” equally. Neither of these is productive, and productive is what you need to be. So produce.