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My Favorite Mistakes

Article by Sean Mitchell // July 02 2009
My Favorite Mistakes

What do George Washington, Florence Nightingale, Abraham Lincoln, and Joan of Arc have in common? None of them ever had the luxury of eating a chocolate chip cookie. The incredible gooey goodness of the chocolate chip cookie did not see the light of day (nor the inside of the oven for that matter) until 1930.

Ruth Wakefield did not plan to invent a cookie. She was busy with the chores of running the Toll House Inn in Massachusetts. While mixing a batch of chocolate cookies, she found that she was out of baker’s chocolate. Ruth substituted some sweetened chocolate broken into small pieces and added them to the cookie dough. She expected that the dough would absorb the melted chocolate, thus making chocolate cookies. Of course when Ruth scurried across the room to retrieve her pan of cookies (lest she burn them) she found that the chocolate chunks in fact did not melt completely. Ruth unknowingly made history that very night. And this little mistake led to a financial empire for the Nestle family.

By now I am sure you are thinking, Mitchell, of all your crazy metaphors and ramblings this time you are way off your rocker. Cookies? Really? Be that as it may, there is always method to my madness… bear with me. A recent conversation with my brother Brett left me with some great insight into life and drumming. As my younger sibling and his wife traverse the landscape of parenthood with three young children all at challenging ages (three-year-old twins and a five year old going on ten) he expressed his respect and admiration for any parent at wit’s end. Regardless of your skill set or experience, it seems sometimes your best intent and effort shows very little result and in fact has little to no effect on a three year old who thinks running around the house at 12:30 am giggling and squealing is hilarious. It would appear that Brett—once a hyperactive child himself—has been given the gift of a child with the energy level and social graces of the Tasmanian Devil.

What struck me was Brett’s ability to deal with my little niece in a manner that is completely beyond any patience I could hope to have. What gives my little brother this endless stream of understanding is an unteachable skill—the ability to make mistakes. Not only make them but recognize them, adjust and then move past them, quickly. Brett accepts that he will no doubt get it wrong as much as he gets it right, but he will move forward all the same, and take what he can at the pace his kids will allow him to learn, until he moves on to the next set of life’s lessons. That it is all part of the process. In all reality, a mistake is your best lesson; the damage is in practicing them. It is then that they become your consciousness.

I sit here writing this article in the dim light of my flat as a small (but rather convincing) tropical storm pounds relentlessly at my door. Having moved from the sanctity of the Canadian prairies to the country’s Atlantic coast, I find myself at a stalemate. It would seem that my life skills have been put to the test, and this article finds you reading my process as it happens.

This past June marked my one-year anniversary in my newfound home province of Nova Scotia; however, all is far from well. I feel that I’m taking on the role of a hypocrite as I write out yet another piece that is suppose to inspire you, but the truth is that after a year of solid dedication to hours of practicing, emailing and phoning over 1000 possible contacts, agents, friends of friends, and anyone who could possibly want to book my band (or me for that matter) I have played exactly four gigs. For every 50 emails or phone calls I make, only one garners a productive response. In this day and age that response is generally, “We will get a hold of you if something comes up.” For the most part I get: “We have no opportunity for you at this time,” or “This is the fifth time you have contacted me. Please take me off your list.”

Recently I received an email from a fellow musician named Jack who seems to be experiencing the similar results over a much shorter time period. As in any big city the music scene can be cliquey, to say the least. While my new hosts are not completely unfriendly to outsiders, we who are from other parts of the country are referred to as “those who are from away.” I will let you be the judge. In my response to my fellow newcomer, I detailed some advice and tips on how to go about getting a bit of a head start in this town. That is when I had my small epiphany.

First I detailed for Jack a list of who to contact. Not those that paid lip service—We should get together… I’ll call you—but those who actually called me back. Second I gave him a number of names in the music association here that could help him get gigs, rather than the name of a bar or pub manager. Of course this list wasn’t based on my past successes, but rather it was based on the mistakes I have acquired over the past year. The bar owners I annoyed, the venues that ignored me, and the agents and players who wouldn’t take my calls, these were valuable lessons in persistence, patience and above all staying true to my path. I was never closeminded or short-sighted in my dealings with anyone. I was always courteous and professional. I wish I could say the same for a lot of my counterparts, but such is life. Blame is a useless game.

In creating my mistakes I also took comfort in the knowledge that for every failure I had accomplished a new seed of opportunity would always present itself. I use the word “accomplished” here because I don’t see my failures as a setback. During every single step along the way, even though I bitched and complained about the lack of work, the lack of interest in my project and often the lack of help from local agents/players, I managed to turn every situation into a “what not to do” list that was now ironically going to benefit Jack. If I have learned anything in life, it is easier to start with a list of things not to do.

Sometimes even with your best intent and knowledge, things never go as planned; in other words, shit happens. It’s not your fault, but it is your responsibility. The thing is, in order to fully master anything you have to know all sides of the monster. You have to know why your meter has to be solid, why your timing has to be precise, why you can’t anchor your body weight on your feet when playing. Brothers and sisters, the only way you can ever know what you are not supposed to do is to do exactly that: what you are not supposed to do. The proof of your success will always lie in your ability to make mistakes. If you aren’t busy making mistakes, you aren’t getting anything done.

In the boxing world there is a saying; “Everyone has a plan until they get hit.” It’s what you do when life lands a left hook (and your game plan ends up in the toilet) that counts. You will no doubt set out on many journeys, whether gigging, touring, or becoming the next Nashville cat, and you will inevitably have the wind knocked from your sails a time or two. Your rites of passage are going to be those lessons that sometimes sting the most. But in these lessons you will find out not how little you know, but rather how much you know.

I won’t tie this article up with a neat little bow and tell you I am doing well and that all these lessons have enriched my life thus far. Plain and simple, they are hard, and it can be real ugly sometimes. I can’t tell you that I have succeeded in this journey… yet. To those looking outside in, I am still really struggling. I have made some heavy sacrifices and mistakes, have had to live off very little money, have often looked for employment in some very humbling (might I add, non-musical) jobs here, and still witness few results despite many months of hard diligent work. Yet I am not a victim of my circumstance, nor am I seeking to bond with anyone over self pity. This is what I signed up for when I chose to pick up a set of sticks to earn a living, and I won’t stop until all my goals are realized. I can only tread the path on which I know I can authentically be myself. In fact, things could be worse. I recently read that it takes six years for bamboo to sprout above ground. Six years! Better a drummer than a bamboo farmer!

I will however leave you with some of my knowledge as of late. There is no honor in struggling unless you struggle to achieve the goals that help you grow. There is no glory in sacrifice unless you do so with foresight that the person in the mirror will have more to give because of it. Never look upon rejection as a sign that you’re not headed in the right direction; you will hear “no” more often than not. Mistakes are proof that you are not only pointed in the right direction, but that you are ultimately sowing the seeds of tomorrow’s success. No one but you will ever believe enough in your vision to make it happen. Listen to what your heart/gut/instinct has to say and always find the courage to follow it, especially when all the evidence is to the contrary.




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About the Author
Sean Mitchell

Sean Mitchell has been an active participant in the drumming industry for over 20 years. He has studied under Crash Test Dummies drummer Mitch Dorge and Drumming's Global Ambassador Dom Famularo. Sean is also a songwriter and regularly performs with his wife (and singer) Jill Mitchell. Sean proudly endorses Aquarian Drumheads.



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