The Rule of Four

Of course!  You chose the arts in order to pursue meaningful and gratifying work. Sure, paying your dues and taking on a fair share of lame gigs along the way is permissible.  You might even temporarily accept a “day job” to, you know, help out with the bills. But this is all leading somewhere. Somewhere important.  Ultimately, the vast majority of your projects will be artistically fulfilling, personally rewarding, and/or helpful to society. Right?

Unfortunately, many artists get stuck or lost along the way.  Suddenly, they’re 40, 50, or 60, yet still haven’t fulfilled their calling.  Instead, they find themselves trapped in a life that has little to do with the reason they went into the arts in the first place.

Don’t let this happen to you.  Follow The Rule of Four!


Re-assess your professional progress four times a year.

Scheduling an afternoon for reflection and goal planning every three months is one of the best ways to ensure you don’t stagnate on the journey towards your professional aspirations.  Whether you’re still a student or in the prime of your career, this practice will propel you forward.   

When doing this, don’t just think things through in your head. Write down your ideas.  Study after study has shown that people who map goals on paper are much more likely to accomplish them than those who don’t. Somehow, putting them in writing makes these objectives feel more real and urgent, greatly increasing the odds they will be realized.  After your session, keep the notes in a visible location so you are regularly reminded about them. 

During each session, address the following:

  1. What are your top three large-scale goals as a professional? And have they changed since your last planning session? Three is a good number, since too many objectives can feel overwhelming, causing people to spread themselves too thin or suffer paralysis. 
  2. How are you closer to realizing these goals now than you were three months ago? What specific actions were taken since the last planning session? Did unexpected opportunities or obstacles arise?   
  3. Where are you spending time that detracts from goals?  The problem with a day job or work unrelated to your vision is that it robs time and energy from your core purpose.  While few musicians have the luxury of only accepting dream gigs, it’s important to weigh the pros and cons of each commitment.  Be careful not to get sucked into a cycle where all you’re doing is less fulfilling and energy draining work.
  4. What pro-active steps will you take in the next three months? Be realistic, but also ambitious.  The more specific you are when outlining actions, the better.  For example, don’t just write “market teaching studio.”  How will you do this?  Set up a website?  Network with local band directors?  Mail out a press release about your unique teaching philosophy?  Then, be sure to execute these objectives, so you’ll have progress to report for this 90 day period.

It’s impossible to know exactly what life has in store.  But by charting a course and recalibrating regularly, it’s much more likely that you’ll arrive at a desirable destination.

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