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Leadership Thought #418 – What I Learned from 3 Famous Artists/Rock Stars

I’ve always enjoyed reading about music especially when it involves better understanding artists that I appreciate.   This was a good year for classic rock music fans with books from Rod StewartNeil Young and Pete Townshend.   I decided to read all three over the holidays and only just recently finished Pete Townshend’s book.  The writing pretty much reflected my impression of the authors.  Rod Stewart’s was witty, straightforward and an easy enjoyable read – I smiled alot.  Neil Young’s was interesting but all over the place and sometimes hard to follow.  It clearly felt like you were granted access into the mind of a maverick and genius but it was also obvious that he marches to the beat of his own drummer (and I couldn’t always grasp the beat).  Finally, Pete Townshend seemed to revel in the role of tortured artist.  His life comes across as a delicate balancing act between his personal demons/vulnerabilities, his boundless artistic energy, and the inherent burdens and temptations of fame.

When I started this reading project I had no ambitions of walking away with any great takeaways about life. I just thought it would be a fun way to learn more about musical icons from my past.  I was pleasantly surprised in each case about how the books made me feel and reflect upon larger issues.  It wasn’t always a revelation but instead often a validation of what I already believed to be true.  What follows is a brief summary of what resonated with me:

From Rod Stewart, my takeaways were the importance being driven and focused; that anything of consequence requires self-belief and hard work; that you should make the  most of your god given talents and aim high; that you should be ready for and seize the moment when it happens; that you shouldn’t be afraid of reinventing yourself – in fact it is probably mandatory to sustain long-term success; that you should do your best not to burn bridges; that you may spend alot of time chasing things you may later regret; that people aren’t trophies that should be collected; you should never trust someone who proves themselves to be trustworthy; that ultimately the shoe will end up on the other foot and actions have a way of catching up with you; that you should surround yourself with good people and listen to them; that you should be smart with your money; and the importance of enjoying your good fortune and success when it happens.  He also offers a great piece of advice handed down by his father, “every man should have a job, a sport and a hobby”

From Neil Young my takeaways were the importance of thinking outside the box; the need to be an authentic individual and carve  out your own path; that you should create your own definitions of success rather than conforming to what makes conventional or convenient sense; that you should appreciate the impact your actions have on other people; that talent just like people changes and evolves over time; that the artist should always be true to their muse and do what “feels” right rather than becoming formulaic; that some times you need to step back, reflect and do something different to energize your creative juices; have your own personal oasis or place you regularly come back to so that you remain grounded; the benefits of having a wide range of interests and hobbies; that you should genuinely appreciate the talents of others and to be generous with those who help you along the way; to stay vital you need to remain engaged; the importance accepting and embracing whatever troubles life inevitably puts in your way; to not hold on to grudges or anger for too long; that even wealthy people can spend money faster than they earn it; that it is critically important to care deeply about things bigger than yourself,  the value of unconditional love; and that long-term relationships are an important and essential part of life.

From Pete Townshend, I learned that the scars of childhood often run deep and can carry on far into adulthood; that pain can be turned into powerful artistic expression if you create the conditions for this to happen;  that self-expression comes in many forms and you shouldn’t limit yourself; that artists should understand and master their chosen technology; that most things have a story and/or theme; that life is meant to be lived and felt deeply but you can also think and feel too much, that being self-centered may have its benefits but it also has many costs as well; that your external environment and living conditions have a huge impact on your state of mind; that you should be the best you and not worry about competing with the talents of other artists; that you should always be looking to expand your circle of creative influences; that you need to ever mindful and protective against your personal weaknesses; that who you hang around with has a big influence on how you behave; that helping others is privilege not just a responsibility; that you need to own up to your mistakes; that you can push too hard  in one area and not enough in others; that avoiding problems will not make them go away; that you need to accept and appreciate people for who they are instead of trying to change them into who you want them to be; that complicated people often live complex lives; and that there is often a chasm between what you want to believe about yourself and how you actually act – reconciling this reality isn’t always an easy process.


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