The "Surviving Mentality" vs. The "Thriving Mentality"

The Surviving Mentality vs. The Thriving Mentality:

I grew up learning an old fashioned work ethic.  It involved “putting your head down,” not asking for much, and enduring for as long as possible.  Being stressed out was a mark of pride.  Hardworking people said things like  “I have so much to do” and “I’m so busy.”  

I noticed as I started working with more and more successful people, most of their attitudes and work styles were markedly different from mine.   I was used to working 12 hours straight to get a job done obsessing over every detail. Too often, I sacrificed my health and all of my other interests to devote myself to the task at hand. And after all that I still felt like it was not good enough when I had to hand it in.  I would marvel that the new people that I was working with would take frequent breaks to do things like play xbox, watch watch basketball games, or to go to the club(I’m in the music industry.)  I would wonder “how are they so successful when they are so relaxed and are having so much fun?”   I began to reconsider the ideas about money, work, and success that I had accumulated.  To further this study, I started reading autobiographies and listening to podcast interviews of people that I admired I realized that I was holding some false ideas about success, work, and money.  In these books and interviews I heard these people repeatedly talk about “following their passion and curiosity and about having fun.  They spoke about not focusing on the external rewards of “success,” money, fame, etc.  They spoke of their work being something that they would have done for free.   I finally understand this now:

when you are naturally passionate or curious about something you excel at it!  When you are working for intrinsic motivation you can dive in fully and unselfconsciously!   Fun is also important because it connects you with other people. The more connected you are to yourself or to others the more you can excel in your career.  

We get bonded to the survival mentality through fear while the thriving mentality requires a degree of self-trust.  

Here are some ways to tell if you are surviving or thriving:

If you are SURVIVING you are:

  • worried about losing time/falling behind. Usually hurrying/rushing or trying to catching up.  

  • focused on pleasing people outside of yourself. 

  • not enjoying what you are doing.  

  • experiencing the idea of success as distant and outside of yourself.

  • jealous of others who you see as more successful. 

  • perfectionistic.  

If you are THRIVING you are:

  • enjoying what you are doing most of the time.

  • having fun.

  • feeling passionate about what you’re doing.

  • able to be creative, try things, make mistakes.  

  • feeling a sense of control in what you are doing. 

  • feeling successful or on the road to success

  • primarily focused on the value of the work you are doing and not the external rewards that it will bring you. 

Are you surviving or are you thriving?  What is one thing you can do to help you thrive more? 

The Value of Journaling for Creative Artists


One of my best teachers told me that “every creative artist should journal regularly.” After years of journaling I feel that I understand this now.  Artists are on a path of growth and journaling allows you to see this path in a more linear fashion. This way, when you are lost you can get back on the path and reorient towards your deepest desires and goals.  Any path of growth will have confusion, uncertainty, and steps forward and backward. Looking back at where you were in the past will allow you to see your present situation more clearly.

What should you journal?   Here are 2 major components of useful journaling.  

1. Stream of consciousness writing - “morning pages” from Julia Camerons classic book “The Artist’s Way” is a great example of this practice.  The basic idea: just keep your pen moving until you fill 3 pages. Don’t worry about it making sense. Don’t worry about reading it over afterwards.  Its just to clear your mind in the moment. Once you dispense of your surface thoughts you can get to deeper and more substantial ideas and inspirations.

2. Write about the things that you are most focused on and have a way of expressing "where you are at” with them.  When you journal consistently you will find that certain themes have a way of repeatedly coming up. Those themes are relevant to the core work of your life and of your art.  If you can consistently track your progress with them, your journal will become a friend who will help you to move steadily along the path.

Self-Actualizing using Role Models and Avatars

We get molded by our upbringing.  We learn to please our parents/caretakers/peers and in doing so we sacrifice parts of ourselves that later in life we need to reclaim to actualize.  We grow up and at some level we know that we are not fully our true self. Something is missing but we can’t put our finger on what it is. How can we find our missing pieces if we don’t know what they are?  A useful tool for this situation is to use a role models or an avatar.



A role model/avatar is someone that you know in your life or from the media that you admire and are drawn to.   Who is someone that you see as great and inspirational? Pick someone who has a lot of “charge” for you? When you have chosen this person here are some exercises to do:



  1. make a list of the things that you admire about them.  

Example traits:  loving, powerful, intelligent, creative, brave, strong.


 2a. Pick the trait of theirs that you most admire/ want to possess.   

 2b. Ask yourself - how can I embody that trait of theirs?  


What would it look like if I embodied this trait in specific situations in my life?     Mentally run through a scenario or two. How would you act differently? What different results would come from this behavior?  



3. How would your avatar/role model respond to a situation that you are currently challenged by? Imagine they inhabited your body while dealing with this situation and responded their way .What would they do?  What would be the result?



4. Have an imaginary dialogue with them. Ask them for advice about something.  It doesn’t matter if you don’t know exactly what they would say. Use your intuition to fill in the gaps.   You are really dialoguing with a version of them that you have created. Take their advice.


It DOESN'T Get Better (music/life blog crossover post)

  We love movies with stories that move forward towards a goal or towards a great achievement.  In our careers and personal lives we work towards goals believing that they will bring us happiness.  


What if what you are doing now is as great as anything that you will accomplish in the future?  

What if wherever you are in your life and career right now is essential and inseparable from whatever you will achieve in the future?  

What if this part of the journey is as important and as great as any other part?  


What happiness can be gleamed from the simple fact that you are on the path* right now?  For example, what if playing music today for a few people in a small bar is as great as playing for thousands of people in a stadium?   In my experience it can be.  The gift and joy of being able to express ourselves through our art does not necessarily change or get better as ones career progresses.  You don’t need to look for happiness at the end of the rainbow.  To be on the path at all is a cause for great happiness and appreciation.  


*The path refers to any path of growth, self-actualization, self-realization, artistic development

The Idea of Basic Goodness

Some western philosophers (notably Augustine and Hobbes) postulated that our nature is evil and destructive and if left alone, we would act selfishly and hurt others. When we take a mystical path (a path based on looking inward for truth) the belief that we start with is that our nature is good.  The Shambhala school of Buddhism calls this idea “Basic Goodness.”   Basic goodness tells us that we don’t have to impose rules on ourself to act well and to express the best of our nature, we simply have to release layers that obscure that nature.  In other words, when we act from a conscious and unconflicted place we will be our best selves. With this understanding, the practitioner can freely explore and examine their own deepest thoughts and sensations without judging and without picking and choosing the “good” ones.     Meditation and Yoga are examples of practice that strip away layers to reveal our nature - Meditation strips away layers of mind and habitual thoughts, while yoga strips away layers of tension from the body that prevent it’s full expression.

Experiments in Personal Growth: What I don't Like About You

It’s not skillful to be completely honest with everyone you meet.  But it’s important to have some place in your life where you can be completely honest with someone.  It’s the only way to truly know yourself.  When you witness people in their vulnerable honesty, you learn what human beings are truly like and you learn what is underneath the exterior that many people show in their daily lives.


 My first structured experience with this was at an ashram(yoga center) that I was working at.   All of us who had been working side by side for months got together and sat in pairs.  The instructions were simple - give the person across from you honest feedback about themselves. Tell them three things you don’t like about them. 

In daily life we tend to silently put up with the negative characteristics of the people around us.  Once we get a chance, in a safe environment, to express what we don’t like about someone and to hear what they don’t like about us, an incredible chemistry can happen.  We can see what fears and challenges are underneath that persons negative behavior. With this knowledge, instead of merely tolerating the things we don’t like about someone, we experience true compassion.

On Finding a Good Teacher (based on my experience with teachers of martial arts, meditation, and music)

Being a teacher and Being a practitioner are two completely different skills.  Many aspiring learners try to find a teacher who is a great practitioner - this of course makes sense because they want to learn the skill from someone who has that skill.  The problem is that some of the most skilled people are not great teachers.  They may have mastery over the subject/activity but they may have no skill at communicating how they got it or how to break it down into achievable steps.  Instead of looking for an expert in your field as a teacher, look for someone who is skilled in the field AND is skilled at seeing what you are looking to achieve and how to help you achieve it.  If you spend most of your lesson/class marveling at how good the teacher is, you should probably find a different teacher.  A great teacher will take you right to a learning edge (something you understand but haven't mastered yet) and will help you get over that edge. 

#20 Coming Back to the Mystery + Letting the World in Consciously

Every morning when we wake up, the world is created anew.  When we are dreaming, in a sense, we are outside of the world.   Most(if not all) of our daily concerns are gone during sleep.  Upon waking, each thought we have slowly “brings the world back in.”  A morning ritual helps to make this a conscious process where you can decide what is important and what kind of world you want to live in.  While practical concerns can inundate our brain, it can be a relief upon waking to remember the great mystery that life is.   Ultimately, we are on a floating ball in the middle of vast vast space.    After contemplating that, you can worry about anything that you want to. 

#19 Focus on One Thing and Be Great at It (Sharing some advice that I'm currently taking)

Cliche advice is often cliche advice because it works.  Here’s some advice that I am currently taking:  Focus on one thing and be great at it.  The yogis may talk about this as digging 100 shallow wells looking for oil vs. digging 1 deep one - only the 1 deep one will strike oil.  Someone from the business world might call it “The lead domino” - one thing you can do that will make all other things easier.   People may have many talents - but they typically initially become successful at one thing.  After that, it becomes easier to branch out.  I’m taking this advice because I have been in such violation of it.  For example, here are some of the jobs i’ve done in the past few years: 


Bassist with organ trio (Kennedy Center, Jazz Foundation of America Gala)

Orchestrator (for several televised events, galas, and documentaries)

Pianist/Composer hired to write and perform music in the style of Jazz piano virtuoso Oscar Peterson

Nylon String/ Classical Guitarist for one woman show

Film Composer 

Producer (pop, folk, jazz, film) 

Music Director for several shows 

Non-profit executive director

Venue executive director

Talent Buyer

Music Director of spiritual music festival in Hawaii

Jazz Big Band and Quintet arranger      


Show Runner for talk show


The point is, I will never be the best at all of these things.  And in this day and age you have to compete with the best in whatever you do.  It’s great to be able to try many things and to learn, but in the end commitment and clear priorities are necessary to advance.  If you don’t declare what you want, you will put out an unclear signal to others who will then use you for what they want.  As the saying goes: “If you don't build your dream someone will hire you to help build theirs.”

Ok, I’m gonna go back to focusing now. 

#18 'The Deeper Mind' + Thinking as an activity

Many spiritual practices focus on quieting the mind or letting thoughts pass without investing in them.  This can be very helpful in dealing with persistent negative or stressful thoughts.  Something that is not often stressed in these traditions (but I think is very worthy of mention) is the positive aspects of focusing on thoughts.  Once the practicioner has learned to unattached from the compulsive negative/limiting thoughts - there is room for what I might call ‘the deeper mind’ to emerge.  This is the mind that is endlessly curious about anything and everything.  The mind that enjoys exploring problems and their solutions.  When this mind is allowed to emerge one can enjoy sitting and thinking for hours.  Many creative people set aside time for thinking.  Do you make time for thinking in your life?  Time to let your mind revel in unlimited possibilities?  If you don’t, I highly recommend stopping to take 5 minutes to enjoy your thoughts and to see where your mind can go. 

#17 In The Future We Will Have An Expanded Experience of Music

Though we think of music as an invisible entity(that we hear and don't see), we know that it is a physical process.  A drummer strikes his snare drum, the drum vibrates rapidly making the air around it vibrate.  The vibrating air molecules reach your ear making your eardrum vibrate.  A psychological process then happens in your brain as it interprets the sound.   What if we could actually see this process?  What does music look like?  Will the way we make/experience music change when the technology that allows us to see it becomes commonplace?  

Here are some experiments in revealing the physical nature of music:

#16 Meditations on Identity 2

Exploring The Idea of Intergenerational Identity: 

is it fair to say that we’ve become a fairly self-obsessed culture?  Carefully cultivating our social media profiles and public image.  

We choose what we share with others and how we define ourselves.  Our sense of “roots” is also changing.  Many of us end up living far from our birthplace and from our families of origin.  When we have success in the world, our image and our name are praised.  We are rewarded with money and opportunities.  But are we separate from our roots?  

Would Mark Zuckerberg have founded Facebook if his father didn’t teach him computer programming as child? 

Would Brad Pitt be the well regarded leading man without his parents genetics?  

The person and these experiences/attributes are inseparable.  So why do we reward the individual for their accomplishments and not their ancestry?  How much of “us” IS our ancestry and our past experiences?    Can we truly take credit for our accomplishments?  In the same way, can we take credit for our failures?     This may seem like silly thing to ask but the implications are huge.  What changes would we see in our culture if we defined ourselves not as individual bodies but as an intergenerational aggregate? 

#15 Meditations on Identity 1

Exploring different ideas of identity:

We often think of “ourselves” as our personality and our body.

Are you really these things? 

If you are not trained in anatomy, then many other people know “your” body better than you do.

You do not make your heart beat, you don’t make your blood flow, it does that without “your” intervention.  

The idea of personality is an abstract concept. It doesn't actually exist anywhere.  It’s something created by thoughts and interactions.  

You may have a relationship with your body and with the idea of your personality but you are not those things. 

So who are you actually? 

#14 Two Sides of Learning an Art:

If we never play with abandon, - our expression will be too technical and will feel stale

If we never practice with discipline - our expression will be sloppy and limited

If you’re more on the technical side - experimenting with spontaneity can be helpful (a common practice is improvising for 20minutes in your medium)   

if you’re more on the spontaneous side - learning something very structured and exact can be helpful (a common practice is precisely imitating someone elses work)

Flow happens in that place where discipline and freedom meet.

#13 Don't Miss the Joy of Ignorance

After taking a Chinese Medicine class in college I would practice sets of qigong meditations designed to help the health of 5 organs in the body(kidney, liver, spleen, heart, lungs.)  The practice that I had learned required me to spend 10 minutes focusing intensely on each organ(50 minutes total.)   Although I followed the instructions, I had a very hard time ‘feeling’ my organs.  After a few months of what I perceived as failure, I gave up this practice.  Being older now, I often feel my organs without trying.  I look at it as their way of telling me that I need to make a lifestyle adjustment to take care of my health.   When I was trying to feel my organs I couldn’t feel them.  Now I’m not trying to feel them yet I can.  My somewhat comical point is this: you really only need to feel your organs when they are giving you pain signals.  If you’re young and healthy don’t try to ‘feel’ your organs.  Just go outside and have fun or something.

#12 "Waking Up" Experience #2

I was standing on the 4th floor of my college dormitory looking down at the courtyard.  Every few minutes a new group of students would pass through.   From this bird’s eye view it was easy to notice patterns.  The members of each group had similar physical characteristics.   First it was the big football players, then it was the African-American kids, then the nerdy kids, etc.  At that moment, the thought came to me: “if we are only comfortable hanging around with people who are superficially similar to ourselves, how do we really get to know ourselves or others?”   From that moment on I began a quest to know “otherness.”  I wanted to get to know anyone who appeared to be different from me.  This led me to prolonged situations where I was the only caucasian, the only male, the only non-something.  

We are the same at the core.  To understand the different packages that we come in helps us to understand different sides of ourself.  If we are scared of superficial, external differences then we will never understand our own humanity. 

#11 My first "Waking Up" Experience

My first “waking up” experience as a young man went like this:  I was walking around Harvard Square in Cambridge, Massachussettes lost in my own thoughts as usual.  I looked around and saw so many other people walking the streets.  Suddenly, A thought came to me that interrupted all my other thoughts: “if every other person has equally complex thoughts and experiences in life as I do, what makes my own life meaningful?”  Many years later, I was surprised to see that a word was coined that means exactly this.  The word is “Sonder”  and it’s defined as:  the realization that each random passerby is living a life as vivid and complex as your own—populated with their own ambitions, friends, routines, worries and inherited craziness etc.  

That realization was the beginning of my thinking outside of the box known as egocentrism.

How do you relate to the idea of Sonder?  


#10: Just a List of Some of the Things I’ll Be Doing This Week

Monday:  Writing music charts for Amateur Night At The Apollo.   

Monday-Tuesday: Meetings for my non-profit “Your Time To Shine”  (

Wednesday: Amateur Night at the Apollo (playing keyboards and guitars)

Thursday: Edit my podcast featuring Danny Goldberg (former manager of Nirvana, head of Mercury and Warner records, etc.)

Edit audio for tv/internet show I wrote/produced “One With Everything” (

Monday-Thursday: Producing 5 song EP for vocalist Nicole Vanessa Ortiz

Friday: Work on my music, work on music for an upcoming Broadway show

Saturday: Benefit concert for ALS (Music Directing, Bass, Keyboard)

Sunday: Fly to Los Angeles, California

#9: Insight Into The True Nature of Things

This video shows a series of extreme closeups of “ordinary” objects.  As we are able to look very closely at something, we see that it is has many imperfections and is broken down into smaller components.  What seems unified and perfect has many imperfections.  It can be good to remember that we cannot trust our senses to give us an accurate representation of the world.   When we are driving or operating heavy machinery, it helps us to block out a large amount of information to help us concentrate on the task at hand.  When we are not focused on a task or on our survival, we can look at things more deeply and perhaps catch a glimpse into the true nature of things;  Not only of objects, but of ourselves as well.

#8: The Illusion of "Tradition"

“Do not seek to follow in the footsteps of the wise. Seek what they sought.” Matsuo Basho

This is great advice for an artist.  Don’t let the medium become more important than the message.  Interacting with like-minded people in other mediums of art will show you this.  Traditions are created by free-thinking, risk-taking artists who use the materials of their time to express themselves.  If we try to emulate their art, we are missing the point that they were trying to express the intangible through the available mediums of their day.  Beethoven had the piano, Charlie Parker had the alto saxophone, today we have all kinds of electronic instruments.  We can look at the music of Beethoven and appreciate its genius but it helps us to remember that the piano was the greatest technology of his day.  It would be silly for us to neglect all of the new ways that we can experiment with sound because Beethoven wrote such great music for the piano.  Imagine what a radical and innovative artist like Beethoven or Charlie Parker would be doing today.  You can study their music and learn from it but don’t make it gospel.  They certainly wouldn’t.