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Ellie Goulding, Shepard Fairey, Christian McBride And More Share Their Favorite Life Lessons


When you’re fortunate, as I am, to talk to so many great songwriters, you hear them speak often of being open. They say, if their antennas are up, the universe is speaking to them, feeding them song ideas.

That is a wonderful metaphor and idea for all of us. If we are open, we are always being given ideas, and, more importantly, the opportunity to learn. In everything we do and everyday life there are life lessons being presented to us, some big and some simple. But either way there are chances for us to grow if we only are open to listening to the universe.

People who heed these lessons are far more likely to succeed. I asked a number of people in music, food, business and more for their favorite life lessons. As expected the answers are wide ranging and fascinating.

Shepard Fairey. American Artist

A lesson that I learned in 2011 when I was invited to a gathering of people who had contributed in meaningful ways to many fields, including literature, film, music, science, and extreme sports, is that I was not the only one who felt like an unworthy imposter included in the esteemed group. Almost everyone I spoke to, including Susan Orlean, Lawrence Kasdan, Beck, T-Bone Burnett, and Callie Khouri, expressed disbelief at their invitation to the gathering. I’ve long felt insecure and in awe of what I see as a genius in people who have made their mark on the world in spectacular ways. I realized from the discussions at this gathering that we all saw genius in others in the group more than in ourselves. My main lesson was to recognize that we all need to push hard for greatness and that self-belief is essential to create or achieve. The important thing is to keep doing and pushing. If I could have told myself this when I was younger, I would’ve been less tentative, and the magic always happens in the doing.

Ellie Goulding, Platinum-selling Musician

Since music keeps me in the mythical and mysterious, the sensual and sentimental, but my fascination for the human body and the way we work as human beings takes me back to science and formulas, (and I am permanently floating between both) I am starting to feel like thinking about space is a good place to gain perspective. Quite fitting my new album is called Higher Than Heaven. We are bombarded with wisdom, advice and life hacks on social media but something Brian Cox, the physicist, said recently really resonated with me – probably because as a restless artist, I am tempted to want more and more – and can’t often get it, none of us can. Not always. He said “You want more? The ingredients in our bodies were assembled in the hearts of long dead stars over billions of years and have assembled themselves spontaneously into temporary structures that can think and feel and explore. At some point there will be no more structures left. So we just exist in a little window where we can observe this magnificent universe. Why do you want more?” I don’t think this is telling us not to always strive for more in life. Because we should. But it is certainly a decent reminder that we aren’t here for long.

Christian McBride, Grammy-winning Jazz Artist

Don’t ever be afraid to be embarrassed. Don’t ever be afraid to fall on your ass and fail miserably. I think that’s the way you actually learn. I see, what I think is a foolish quote on some social media things where it says failure is not an option. I happen to think the exact opposite. I think failure is necessary.

Qveen Herby, Indie Musician/Designer/Podcast Host

You are actually way cooler than you even know. Enjoy spending a lifetime uncovering this.

Samora Pinderhughes, Musician/Visual Artist/Filmmaker

Don’t worry about trying to fit in and compare yourself to others. Instead, find what your purpose is and what’s unique about you, and build a world around that.

Nick Noonan, Musician/Producer/Songwriter/Podcast Host

Be patient with yourself and fall in love with the process, because whether you are successful or not, you’re still you.

Marcie Allen, President, MAC Presents

The biggest life lesson that I learned early on in my career is that you cannot be afraid to walk away from a conversation, deal, or idea that does not sit right in your gut. There is no commission, award, or spotlight on a career that is worth throwing your core values in the backseat. There is nooone too powerful, famous, or influential for whom you should bend. In fact, sometimes those are the very people who need to hear No-Thank-You the most. There have been times in my career where I have made mistakes and not listened to that internal radar. We all make them. The key is to learn from those moments and become the leader you know you should be. I try not to dwell too long on mistakes nor do I let the people who have disappointed me live rent free in my head for too long. Move onward. And most importantly, upward. And take a woman with you. We have to lift each other up the mountain

Sage Bava, Musician/Poet/Actor/Journalist

“It has to come from you.” These words were told to me at a turning point in my becoming an adult and they really shook me. There’s so much in this world, make sure you stay connected to your intuition and have all you do come from inside of you. Have discernment with who you listen to and allow to sway your decisions.

Matt Horn | Chef & Restaurateur (Horn Barbecue, Kowbird)

Something I live by is learning to be more intentional about focusing on the present. Often times in life we consume ourselves with trying to accomplish and achieve so much, that we don’t take a second to stop and enjoy where we are. Yesterday is gone and tomorrow hasn’t come, therefore we must embrace the present and be in the moment. Always stay true to yourself. Staying true to yourself requires self-awareness, understanding your strengths and weaknesses, and acknowledging your limitations. It also involves being confident in your decisions and not letting external factors influence your choices.

Jamie Krents, President, Verve Music Group

When I started working at Verve and I was a temp and I was just answering somebody’s phone effectively, the guy who ran Verve was Tommy LiPuma, who was a great record producer and executive who worked with everyone from Diana Krall to Barbra Streisand to Paul McCartney. And he became a kind of a mentor to me. And he used to have this phrase, which was basically like, “If it doesn’t make your ass move, it’s not worth anything.” And we have so much data and so much information and it’s important and we have people here who are totally dedicated to that at Verve. But there still has to be this emotional component. And there have been a couple things that we’ve done at Verve where I didn’t feel that, and they all ended badly. And most of the time we really try to go with the movement of the ass quotient. And so far that’s served us pretty well. That was a big lesson for me, just hearing somebody that successful say that it still started with that for him. That is absolutely something I still think about because we get sent a lot of music and it always comes down to whether it strikes an emotional chord.

Emily Lazar, President And Chief Mastering Engineer, The Lodge

My favorite life lesson is: “trust your gut.” For me, this applies to absolutely every area of my life. Whether I’m making music, a business decision or thinking about a personal relationship, honing in on and honoring those very visceral internal cues always points me in the right direction. Conversely, every single time that I have talked myself into ignoring my instincts, it has led me astray – even when it comes to ordering dinner!

Joanne Haruta, Co-founder Lost Spirits

Find the joy, the love, and the care, in all you do. Hang onto it and look for it everywhere. Do things you like, be around people you like and seek to spread your enthusiasm. Tinker more, obsess more, make mistakes more. Don’t be afraid to f’ s**t up…iterate fast. Spend more time with people you love and admire, mentor people, help others, be kind. Let your mind dream and go down rabbit holes. Be your most authentic self by doing things that not a single other person in the world is going to do.

Michael Reed, Chef & Restaurateur (Poppy + Rose, Poppy & Seed)

*** current 2023 James Beard Award Nominee for Best Chef: CA***

Authentic is the only way to live. If you stay true to yourself and your path, I promise you there will be people who will come along to support you! Find your tribe and continue to be authentically you.

Anais Smith | Vice President PR & Marketing, af&co.

It’s important to practice gratitude daily. This simple act of reflecting on positive things each day – from family and friends you’re grateful for, to acts of kindness or little wins – can help you live a happier, more fulfilled life. It’s easy to focus all your energy on reaching your big goals and milestones, but focusing instead on all the little wins and simple pleasures in life each day, will inspire happiness in your life and the lives of those around you! Enjoy the little things now, as one day you will look back and realize they were the big things.

Craig Asher Nyman, VP, The Nyman Group/Director, Music And Programming Life Is Beautiful Festival

My father always taught me we’re only as good as our last assignment and that’s always resonated with me because it’s something to keep top of mind and not rest on my laurels. But in recent years one life lesson that’s truly stuck out to me is when you realize the moment you were born you were given a death sentence is the time you start truly living. What I mean is, don’t wait for tomorrow, live for the 24 hours in the present. We are not promised tomorrow and the whole “when I get older I’m going to….” is happening now! Don’t hold back from the life you dreamed of, start living it each day right in front of you. Time is precious and it’s the one thing you can’t get more of, stop, etc. so living in the present and for each moment in front of me has become the beacon and I am thankful for.

Dave Graham, CEO, BottleRock Napa

Sometimes you need to slow down in order to speed up. Most of my creative ideas and solutions to complex situations or problems don’t come to me when I am at my desk or in a meeting. They come to me when I am not technically working. They come to me when I am taking time off, exercising, fishing, doing yard work, or reading. The thread that connects all of these activities is that I am not on-line or at work. When I am at the office, I tend to be very task oriented, going from one meeting to the next making mostly tactical decisions for my areas of the business. The mindset that comes with that kind of work is not conducive to generating big picture ideas or solutions. You have to step out of your tactical environment, slow down and perhaps an idea or solution will come to you. And when it does, the result can be incredible.

R. Wayne Martin, President and Founder: mthree | martin music management

The musical professionals I work with aren’t the only storytellers I know. Every human, regardless of predisposition for outward creativity, lives the life of an active storyteller. Each one of us is a complex network of neurons continually telling itself a narrative – ambiguous or precise, biased or unbiased, positive or negative. The powerful stories in our minds crystallize into our feelings, our actions, our relationships, our careers, and our legacies. Two potent concepts about self-stories have both lifted and amplified my life experience: 1) our perception creates our reality, and changing our perception or “story lens” changes our reality and 2) no matter our feelings toward our cognitive storyline, we can always find evidence that supports the stories we believe. If any one of us is incapable of finding alignment with the story that our mind is telling us, we hold the innate powers to change it until it does – that is to say that we are capable of changing our default perceptions, capable of choosing our story lenses with absolute intention, and capable of living a story experience from any place of our own choosing. Each morning when we wake to another sunrise, our mindset awakens to write our story. Change your mindset, change your story.

Jen DiSisto, Art Manager, Art Duet

One of the biggest lessons I’ve learned repeatedly, both in business and personal matters, is to trust my intuition. It’s easier said than done as outside noise, opinions and various other factors can easily sway you from your inner voice. “Should’ve, would’ve, could’ve syndrome” is real. If your gut is telling you something, you have to listen!

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