My Top Tips Of 2020

I publish a newsletter called 5 Tips For The Unrelenting 20-Something every Tuesday. This page is a compilation of all of the links I shared in 2020.

Each newsletter is packed with quick, easily digestible tips that enable you to take quick action on the things you care about most in your life and career. Whether you spend 2-minutes or 2-hours exploring the newsletter, my goal is to bring you value in a clear and concise way that will help you grow.

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Financial Stability

Things to consider in a 9-5 Job. 
With the live music industry essentially on hold until we come out of the pandemic, I have connected with a lot of musicians searching for some financial stability until performances start up once again. Cutting expenses is one way to stabilize, but ultimately a lot of musicians have found a 9-5 job to gain some financial stability. The challenge is finding a job that allows you to continue to perform as things start to open back up.

Tip: While we are starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel in regards to the pandemic, it will still be some time before we get back to normal. In light of this, consider taking on flexible work that allows you to set your own schedule. Here’s an article to help you as you consider taking on work to stabilize your finances.

How to live in a city with a high cost of living. 

I live in Los Angeles, which has one of the highest costs of living in the country. Our decision to move to LA was, in part, prompted by the decision to get away from the Midwest winters, but also to pursue a job that brought great meaning and joy to my life. As an artist, making the move to a city with a high cost of living when there is no guarantee of a stable income can be difficult. The trade-off is that you become a part of a vibrant community of artists and, with a much larger population than in other parts of the country, there are just more opportunities to create.

Tip: Considering a move? Check out a cost of living calculator and find every opportunity to cut costs in the first year so you can find financial stability. That includes having a large enough savings to shield you from any financial headwinds that might come your way and coming up with a plan to live beneath your means.

Set a budget you can maintain.
One of the biggest challenges creators have is setting a monthly budget because it is difficult to know how much income they will bring in each month. In my twenties, I lived full-time as an artist but chose to ignore my budget all together. That decision got me into deep trouble from a financial stability perspective and I was well into my 30s before I set a budget that I knew I could stick with each month.

Tip: Setting a monthly budget is necessary to your long-term financial stability. Take the time to put a budget together now and don’t let it sit on a shelf and collect dust. Along with your budget creation, adopt a daily practice of managing the budget you have set. Here’s a post I wrote to get you started.

Adopt the $10,000/hour Mentality
We spend too much time focusing on small financial decisions (like cutting our Starbucks spending) which we believe will have a huge impact on our overall budget. While that helps, Khe Ky argues that we should forget the small decisions and instead focus on making $10,000/hour decisions: smart, daily financial decisions that pay off in dividends in the long run. My $10,000/hour decision would have been to pass on the purchase of a new car in 2002 and instead, opt for a used car within my price range. That decision put me further into debt and took me years to pay off.

Tip: Focus on making your own $10,000/hour financial decisions now by setting a budget and looking for opportunities to become more financially stable.

Set A Budget
When 2006 rolled around, my wife and I had over $126,000 in debt between the two of us, not including our mortgage. Between student loans for two doctorates, car loans, and credit card debt, our minimum monthly debt payments equaled about as much as we were paying for our mortgage. It wasn’t until I landed my first position as a college professor in 2007 that we began the 10-year process of paying down our debt.

Tip: We were finally able to start digging out when we set a budget that included a plan for tackling our debt, head on. If you are not already setting a budget each month, it’s time to start. Here’s a post I wrote about creating a budget that you might find useful and I strongly encourage you to start using You Need A Budget (YNAB)an online budgeting tool that I use to this day.

Know what an hour of your time is worth
Performing artists and creators need to know the value of an hour of their time in order to best make decisions about the type of work they take on. I’ve known artists who would drive for more than 2-hours for a gig that seemed like a well paid opportunity on paper until they factored in their travel time. At some point you have to ask if the time committed to a gig outweighs the value of taking it on in the first place.

Tip: If you are being paid for a service you provide, your pay is dependent upon the time you commit to the job. With every job you are offered, take time to determine your hourly rate and the actual time you will dedicate to the endeavor before you say yes. Here’s a post I wrote to help you think about the value of an hour of your time.

Work/Life Balance

You won’t always need to split your time with others. 
One of the biggest challenges with attaining work/life balance is effectively dividing time between our co-workers, significant others, children, extended family, and friends. This incredible article shows that how we distribute our time is a constant balancing act in our 20s, 30s, and 40s. What I find most fascinating about this article is that striking a balance between all of the people competing for our time earlier in life makes having alone time a real challenge.

Tip: Based on the article above, if you crave alone time, you have to come up with a plan to combat all of the competition of your time. Schedule a two-hour block of time aside in your calendar at least twice a week just to be alone. I’d also suggest that you embrace the ride you’re on right now in your 20s, 30s, and 40s because it will fundamentally change as you get into your 50s and beyond when the kids are likely out of the house and the grind at work starts to slow just a bit. Enjoy the race now for what it is.

It’s ok to downshift.
Work has been a real challenge over the past ten months. I had to repeatedly refocus myself on the tasks at hand and I regularly felt overwhelmed. It’s in those moments of feeling overwhelmed by, well, everything, that I had to remind myself that everyone was going through the pandemic at the same time and that all of us were struggling in one way or another.

Tip: I had to slow my workflow down and I give you permission to do the same! Seema Rao frames our current state perfectly in her latest blog post, “We are living through a terrible, horrible, no good year.” Accept that this is the case, take a breath, and know that the push towards creating something new will come soon enough, but it has no chance of happening if you are utterly burnt out in life and at work.

Your work will still be there tomorrow. 
My workaholic tendencies have gotten me into a lot of trouble with my family over the years. Although I am now able to set clear boundaries, I still occasionally extend my work-day into the evening. Thankfully, my family helps me keep these tendencies in check. This mentality is connected to the fact that I feel a constant pressure to produce a high volume of work and I don’t want to let anyone down. Nobody is putting that pressure on me, but me.

Tip: Set a hard stop time on your calendar each day when you will wrap up your work. This allows you to provide clear lines of communication with your loved ones (I’m leaving work at 5:00pm), and forces you to work more efficiently within your budgeted time (2-hour block to complete project). This Harvard Business Review article, by Art Markman lays out several strategies to tackle the guilt and shame you feel when you don’t complete your work by the end of the day.

How to combat time confetti.
Author Ashley Whillans describes time confettias “little bits of seconds and minutes lost to unproductive multitasking.” Coined by Brigid Schulte, I think time confetti is one of the biggest threats to our ability to achieve work/life balance. It’s not the interruptions on an individual basis that cause great distraction, it’s the intermittent pings from our phone, or the “urgent” email from a colleague that has to be handled right then and there that are cumulative. These distractions weren’t present 50 years ago and, while technology has done a lot to help us become more efficient in our daily routine, it has also made it really difficult to engage in deep thought and contemplation.

Tip: First, turn off all notifications on your phone and computer. The pings you receive are disastrous for your ability to concentrate. Second, meditate just a bit before you start your big projects to focus your energy on the task at hand. Even 4-5 minutes of meditation can help you get into your most important work more quickly. Finally, check out this great post by Ashley Whillans about Time Confetti.

How to say no.
I have a huge problem saying “no,” especially when there are so many things that interest me. While nothing makes me happier than supporting others as they build their career, sometimes I make it to the end of the day without being able to settle in to the work that advances my own career. That can be very frustrating.

Tip: Set some boundaries and embrace the word no so you have time for your most important work on a daily basis. Come up with a plan now for what things in life you will politely turn down and stick with your plan. For advice on this subject, check out this amazing guest post over at Science On A Postcard by Alex Holmesin.

A look back at 2020.
I generally consider my New Year’s resolutions as a commitment to the future me. Running a marathon, gaining better work/life balance, or even paying off my student loans have been resolutions that I’ve committed to in the past. The resolutions I have been able to keep usually happen when I can reflect back before making plans for the future.

Tip: Check out this amazing year in review template from the folks over at nesslabs. The process of filling out the template takes about an hour, however by the end you’ll have an incredibly clear picture of the goals you need to set for 2021!

Meaningful Work

Understanding emotional flexibility.
“LIfe is Messy,” says Brad Stulberg in his post about holding everything together. No words could be closer to the truth for me these days. Stulberg argues that the secret to managing the highs and lows of life comes down to the concept of Emotional Flexibility. He defines this as “the capacity to produce context-dependent responses to life events, and to respond flexibly to changing emotional circumstances.”

Tip: Emotional flexibility is something you can develop. The simplest way to improve this skill is to live in the moment without letting past or future challenges weigh you down. Try putting down your phone, getting off the computer, and focusing on the things that matter most in your life and see if you are able to gain some emotional flexibility in the process.

Steps to a fulfilled life. 
Feeling fulfillment in life is something that many of us crave. One thing that I am realizing these days, especially when sheltered in place, is that my definition of fulfillment is often largely based on someone else’s plan. Additionally, I can be a bit impatient with the pathway that leads to fulfillment and it makes for some unsettling times on the personal development front.

Tip: Accept that the path towards fulfillment is as meaningful as when you actually attain fulfillment. Embrace your personal hero’s journey, work through the challenges, and celebrate the wins. In his last poignant post for the Guardian, Oliver Burkeman has some great thoughts about finding fulfillment.

The best way to find meaning? Volunteer!
Some of the most profound work I’ve carried out in my career had nothing to do with my actual job, it came from my volunteer work. My work as a board member and advisor for several non-profit organizations has been a profoundly meaningful experience. The roles filled me with joy and were a nice departure from my day job.​

Tip: If you are searching for meaningful work, I highly encourage you to volunteer for a non-profit organization. Before you dive in, understand the community you would like to serve and get to know the people doing the work in order to figure out if the organization is the right fit. Here are some additional thoughts about how to serve your community.

Overcome pandemic fatigue. 
2020 has been a crazy year for so many reasons. On a personal level, I lost my father in the spring, which only compounded the stress of our stay at home orders due to the pandemic. My summer was spent grieving and leading a deep internal discussion about Equity, Diversity and Inclusion at Colburn where I work. It was Labor Day before I realized that I was exhausted and burnt out. Pandemic fatigue is a real thing and all of us are dealing with it in our own way.

Tip: Be aware that you may have some personal work to do before you feel “normal” again during this pandemic (whatever normal means). This article provides some incredible take-aways when it comes to overcoming pandemic fatigue in the workplace. Check it out and make sure you take some time for some pandemic self-care this holiday season!

Set spiritual goals.
If I had to describe my spiritual journey, I would say that I’m a work in progress. My spirituality is driven by my deep desire to help others and the constant search to find beauty and joy in the world. I live by these words: Your success is my success. Setting spiritual goals is something that I’ve been thinking about lately, especially as I’ve had a bit of time to reflect on my life and career.

Tip: Think about how the most important things in your life fit into your spiritual journey. The newsletter, The Examined Life, is an incredible resource for contemplating your spiritualityIn a recent post, author Amogh Pant lays out 7 ways to nurture a conscious, spiritual attitude in our daily lifewhich is a great way to think about your work from a spiritual perspective.

How to find balance in a multi-faceted career
Artists and creators often blur the lines between a traditional career that involves a 9-5 position and more flexible, creative work. For many creators, traditional work becomes the way to make ends meet while building out their ideas. Finding this balance makes for a more meaningful career and provides long-term financial stability.

Tip: Check out this week’s podcast, where I share the benefits of forging a multi-faceted career, including lowered financial risk, more time to transition fully into flexible work, and having more headspace to focus on work that propels your career as a creator forward.

Field Notes

Treating artists as workers. 
One of the biggest challenges in our field is that society continuously undervalues the price of bringing art into the world. The worst culprits are often the artists themselves. The utopian belief that we bring art into the world as a creative outlet without simultaneously considering the fact that we need to get paid to create is something that needs to shift. If we value art, we need to pay our artists.

Tip: Start being more comfortable with discussing your finances in public. (For example, I took on crushing debt to build my career and I’m still paying it off, fifteen years later.) We have to build awareness that the career of an artist doesn’t magically happen without financial stability. Author William Deresiewicz points out in this post that “wanting to get paid does not mean that you’re a capitalist. It doesn’t even mean that you assent to capitalism. It only means that you live in a capitalist society.”

Tips on writing through the lens of Rudolph. 
So many great stories are delivered by formula. The hero’s journey has been utilized for centuries and we often look for patterns in order to fuel our creative process. This newsletter has become a great opportunity to hone my skills as a writer using a formulaic approach. The personal account on a particular subject matter, followed by a tip and a link have worked well as a primer for my writing.

Tip: If you’re having trouble figuring out how to start writing for a blog or knowing what to say from the stage, start by telling a story. Roy Peter Clark lays out an incredible process for writing and storytelling from the perspective of how Rudolph The Red Nosed Reindeer was written.

How to build YOUR community. 
One of the biggest challenges artists face in the pandemic is that their traditional pathways of engagement have been completely disrupted for months. Artists typically rely on gatekeepers in different parts of the country to open the doors to their community for a performance. This sets up a win-win scenario: The artist has a clear pathway to a deep relationship with a new community, while the community itself is introduced to the great artist. Without gatherings in public spaces, building community in this way has become incredibly difficult.

Tip: Start building your own community today. This will take time but, as artists, we’re used to this type of painstaking work! Start small with your close friends and family and grow from there.

A way to support your favorite artists.
Last week, Spotify released their “that’s a wrap” app which gave me a list of my most listened to artists over the past year. It reminded me that there is a ton of great music being made, even during the pandemic. I love Spotify but unless you’re a major recording artist, musicians can’t make a living through streams of their music. There has to be more we can do to support the careers of the musicians we care so much about.

Tip: Instead of relying on Spotify to support the careers of performing artists, we should provide direct financial support to the artists we love. I recommend that you check out the online merch table established by most artists. The purchase of a new t-shirt shows the world you’re a raving fan of a particular artist, while simultaneously supporting the artists themselves.

Virtual Touring
Many musicians I work with start their careers on tour, giving performances in a different community every night while simultaneously seeing the world. While many emerging artists love to be out on the road, this lifestyle is not without its challenges and I find that it doesn’t take long before life gets in the way of an ambitious tour schedule. A member of the band wants to spend more time with their family, while another really just wants to be home so they can write more music or record their next album. Add the fact that the pandemic has shut down the live performance circuit in this country and it really gets me thinking about pivoting away from live performance towards intimate, online performances. I’m not even sure what that would look like and I’m not suggesting that we abandon live performance, but what if this is the performing arts opportunity to balance how we engage with our audience?

Tip: In order to have a chance at a thriving online career, you have to start building your online community, now! Choose a social media platform and start creating. The content you create OFF the stage is as important as your actual performances. This article by Nathan Baschez has some great perspectives on ways to think about virtual touring. I think the concept of virtual touring is in its earliest stages so it’s a wide-open space to create.

We’re living in the transition economy.
Our workforce has shifted dramatically from the systems that were in place in the 1950s. Members of the workforce between the ages of 24-34 have always specialized in transitioning into new roles every 2-3 years and this trend seems to be becoming the norm in America. The problem is that the systems in place, like our American education system, have not caught up to this new way of working.

Tip: Check out the article by Blair Miller and come up with a plan for how you will combat the current economic environment. One great way to do this is to create a strategic plan to help you navigate the transition economy.

The Way Things Work

Getting to the heart of a problem.
There are so many things going haywire in our world right now. One of the biggest challenges I face is understanding what to tackle that will allow me to best get to the heart of a problem. This is especially true when outside forces are constantly dictating the things in which I should be focusing.

Tip: Take a moment to get to the heart of the problem. I find that I often end up wasting a lot of time working on a solution to something that wasn’t actually the problem. Then I focus on creating the easiest solution to the problem at hand. Too often, my solution is too complex.

How to crush it on Twitter. 
For anyone trying to figure out how to move their social media channels from passive consumption to an active community, I am a firm believer that Twitter is the platform in which to build your skills. The fact that Twitter is text based and you are limited to 280 characters per tweet means that you have to be very specific with your message. If you can get your message right on Twitter, I’ve found that it’s fairly easy to expand to other platforms.

Tip: Before you take the steps to build a community on any social media platform, understand why you are building in the first place. After that, it’s about how specific you can be for your audience. Start small and grow from there. Here’s a great post on how to crush it on twitter.

Understand the basics of marketing.
I identify as an artist first, creator and maker second. As an artist, I admit that I am horrible at marketing my creations. In fact, in most of the circles in which I run, the idea of marketing is actually frowned upon. As artists the conventional wisdom is that if we create beautiful things, marketing and selling our art is unnecessary.

Tip: If you are going to build your own community, you have to learn how to market yourself. Last week, I stumbled upon this incredible article by the folks at Morning Brew that provides a great list of articles and resources about marketing. Check it out!

Understand the online resources available to you as a creator. 
Being a creator in the year 2020 isn’t just about making beautiful pieces of art or helpful YouTube videos. It’s also about understanding the multitude of resources available to you as a creator. I used to look at social media the only tool needed to build a community. I would go to Instagram, post a photo I liked, come up with a pithy caption and hit send. Creators understand that their social media handles are one element of a much larger structure when it comes to building a community. Effective creators have tapped into the incredible resources available to them that go far beyond social media platforms.​

Tip: Know and understand which tools you will use in order to build your thriving online community. Hugo Amsellem created an incredible resource, which maps out every effective and important element to building an online presence as a creator. If you’re thinking about building an online community, this article is a fantastic place to start.

Twitter inspiration.
As some of you know, I’ve been all in on Twitter for the past few weeks. After having an account since 2009, I finally understand its value. Long story short, if you follow the right people and use the platform truly as a way to learn, while developing how you communicate with your audience, there is no better social media platform. I’m on week four of a five month commitment to post regularly on the platform and I’ve already learned so much.

Tip: Regardless of your social media platform, set a plan for when you will post and use a site like Buffer to schedule your posts in advance. I can now bank about a weeks worth of tweets in just under an hour. The biggest challenge I’ve found is knowing what to tweet. Fortunately, I came across this amazing post that provides marketing examples for every type of tweet/ social media post you can imagine.

How to find simple solutions to hard problems.
I will admit that I overcomplicate things. When there is a challenge at work, I often muse for days about the best solution to the problem. Inevitably, the solution I come up with is complicated and takes a number of revisions to simplify the plan into something that easily works with the systems that are in place. More complex does not equal better strategy.

Tip: Nat Elaison wrote a great post about why we often suffer from artificial complexity when it comes to solving the most common problems in our lives. Before you set out to solve any problem, ask yourself if you are choosing the most simplified route to achieve your desired outcome.

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Nate Zeisler is the Dean for Community Initiatives at the Colburn School in Los Angeles. He envisions a world where students majoring in the arts have a clear path to a sustainable career, where creative minds are empowered and inspired to rule the workforce, and where access to the arts is not just for the privileged few, but for all.

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