Alone, tired, and fuzzy from my almost empty Solo cup of merlot, I sat in row M of the Calvin Theater wondering if I should have just stayed home to watch Orange is the New Black and sleep. It had been a long week of working and thinking and planning and asking myself a lot of very cliché, very deep life questions. Is this what I'm meant to be doing? What are my goals for the next 5 years, 10 years? Will I be successful? Will I be happy?
But then the house lights went down, the stage lights went up, and Ben Folds emerged from stage left to meet the baby grand piano, instantly making me forget about life. He didn't have a band or back-up singers or any other instruments. It was just Folds and a piano -- and it was magical.
If you know anything about Folds, you know he's a pretty awesome dichotomy - conventional yet rebellious. It's clear from the intricate melodies of his songs that he truly understands music theory down to its classical roots. He pairs those melodies with quirky lyrics - often laced with cuss words - to tell a colorful story. He's basically a hipster Beethoven who's gone through a lot of angry break-ups.
Seeing him live in action was astonishing. The man truly wears his heart on his sleeve, and his talent is so uniquely amazing. He made slamming on piano keys and swearing sound beautiful. The resonance of the piano was so big that a band was unnecessary. He effortlessly moved from one song to the next -- songs that are one, ten, twenty years old -- he could play them all, intricately and beautifully, without skipping a beat.
I could go on and on about the reasons why Folds is amazing, but the point of this post isn't to advocate for his music. It is to explain the realization that I came to by watching his talent live in action.
Folds is clearly musical genius, like Beethoven or The Beatles or Etta James. He could take that talent and do anything he wants with it. He could write really poppy love songs and be on repeat on the radio, record classical piano songs that play at five-star restaurants, or write jingles for commercials - but he doesn't do that. He creates amazing music in his own way. His lyrics aren't always the deepest or the most poetic, and his songs aren't the conventional pop songs you hear on the radio, but they have depth and are popular because they are true to him. That's why I like him so much, why the audience members were applauding him just for walking on stage and existing: he is authentic to himself.
Folds doesn't try to fit into a mold that will win him the most approval or fame.
He doesn't eat, breathe, and live his musical passion and talent out of obligation because it's his source of income. He does it because he loves it; he became successful because he loves it. He didn't have a set plan for finding success.
This idea of pursuing my passions in my own style without a plan is scary to me. My mindset - probably stemming from a conventional education in the 21st century - is that I think I have to plan it all. If you first do A, then do B, then do C, you are good and right and amazing and will do big things.
Although I always knew this was true on some level, Folds made it clear for me: successful people usually don't have a perfectly mapped out plan. When you are truly being authentic to yourself, you'll seek out those opportunities that lead you to success because you are focused on what lights your soul on fire. One opportunity leads to another, and then eventually you're the amazing talent who other people are looking at with awe-inspired eyes. You might be on stage playing the piano, or giving a speech at a conference, or teaching someone organic chemistry. As long as it's what you love and believe in, as long as you are being authentic, it all comes together.
You don't need to plan the set list for the show to be amazing. Do the things that make you happy, and good things will happen. Thus, the law of attraction: if you seek, you will find.
P.S. Check it out: Ben Folds messes up too.