Tips For The Unrelenting Creative: How To Paint Your Own Target

Hi everyone,

Happy Tuesday! We made it to the end of the semester here at Colburn and I’m excited for our largest graduating class of all time (62) to take the next steps in life. (The school gave every student the option of extending for a year on a full scholarship during COVID and there were a large number of students who elected to stay. Normally, we would have about 25 graduates!!)

It only seems fitting that my tips this week are mostly about setting goals that lead to a successful life and career. Although this is especially important for our graduates, I find myself thinking about the tips listed below in my own life on a regular basis. I hope you’ll find them useful and, as always, thank you so much for reading!


How To Expand Your Feedback Loop: I have a complex relationship with constructive feedback. During my formative years, I only wanted feedback from my teacher and chose not to give any performances until my end-of-degree recitals. I chose to keep my feedback loop very small, and in the process missed out on a huge opportunity for growth. 

Tip: Expand the network of people who give you feedback to gain different perspectives on your creative work. I recently completed a book and shared some early drafts with over 40 people to gain their insights. The process made my book objectively better and the feedback enabled me to improve my book quickly. Here’s a great post about getting over feedback phobia!

Related: 5 Reasons Creatives Should Build In Public

How To Paint Your Own Target: As a classical musician, I often grapple with the idea that there are only a handful of pathways to success in our field. In order to be successful in the traditional path as a soloist, chamber musician, or orchestral musician, you have to be extraordinary. When artists only focus on these three tracks, they potentially close the door on a different pathway that might be more fulfilling in the long run.

Tip: In a recent post, Ozan Varol says that we should “Stop aiming for the same obvious target as everyone else. Figure out your first principles as a person—the Lego blocks of your talents, interests, and preferences—and paint the target around them.” While the traditional path is still a viable path for some, I find that it is often the moment that artists expand their definition of success beyond those traditional paths that they find the most joy in their work. 

Related: 10 Steps To A Personal Strategy Statement

How To Avoid Climbing The Wrong Hill: I have had so many conversations with emerging artists that start with the words “I know that I’m the only classical musician that feels this way, but I’m not sure this is the right path for me.” After I explain to them that most of us feel like we’re climbing the wrong hill in this profession at one point or another, we get into why they feel this way in the first place.

Tip: Take the time to focus on the hill you would like to climb (AKA the career you would like to pursue) and go after it. This is not about what your mentor, your family, or friends would like you to pursue, this is about the path you would like to take. This post by C. Dixon provides a great starting point for this mindset shift.

Related: How To Jumpstart Your Creative Career

Things I Loved

  • Mental Supply was created to help founders but is also a great resource for creatives!
  • Zipline Drones are doing incredible work in Rwanda. Next stop, food delivery to your doorstep.
  • I stumbled upon this cat video and have since watched it 1,000 times.
  • This Guess The Year game was fun to play. (I scored 16 on my first try)
  • I love this list of 40 questions you should ask yourself every year.

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Photo Credit: Immo Wegmann
More Stuff From Me!

→ Enroll in Extending Techniquesa course designed for performing artists who want or need help developing non-performance skills needed for a career in the arts. Note: For a limited time, we are offering half off our beta version of this course. When you register, enter the code ExtendingTechBeta to activate the savings.

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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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