at a fork in the road (and a story of overcoming "failure")...

A fair warning to all readers: this post is going to be a deeply personal one.

Since my last blog post, my life has been…interesting…to say the least. It has been a bit of a trying time for me both personally and professionally. While most people don’t know this – I do suffer from a bit of depression and the last month or so has been a struggle to even get out of bed. It’s been a time of looking at a fork in the road and choosing the direction I want to go, but instead of picking either left or right, I just sat down in the middle of the road and hoped a sign will point me in the right direction. There’s no sign to be found, just the slightest hint of a gut feeling I can only hope will lead me where I’m supposed to be. Yet, I’m terrified of making that decision. Which is why I sit here in the middle of the road hoping something (God, the universe, a dream, a friend, a stranger?) will just make it completely clear for me. Ultimately, I’m the only one who can figure out which way I should go. And that is what makes me not want to make any choice at all. I will go left or I will go right in due time. But for now all I want to do is sit.

So, that’s caught everyone up on why I haven’t posted in over a month. I haven’t been really sure what I wanted to say as I feel pretty lost right now. But then I had an experience this past weekend I felt very compelled to share. And I think it can really help people (both musicians and not) with overcoming what might feel like a failure.

This past weekend I played a show with my usual artist and then flew out early the next morning to play for another artist that I’ve never worked with. We had a somewhat quick rehearsal earlier in the week to go over the songs, as this was a band who had never played together before. I did my usual work when learning new songs: listened through and charted all the songs, played through them several times before and after rehearsal, and listened to them while traveling to ingrain them in my brain.  I felt prepared, yet my usual slight uncomfortableness considering these were new musicians I was playing with and new songs I’d never performed in front of an audience. I need to note here that these musicians were fantastic. They were ultimate pros and they killed the show we played.

Now while I had prepared very well and worked hard to make sure I gave this newer artist the best of me…it wasn’t exactly my best performance. I didn’t hit any wrong notes per se, but I didn’t feel great about my performance by any means. When in a new situation like this, I always want to kill it and impress the other musicians (and artist) with my preparedness, professionalism and nailing the parts. But for some reason, this specific day and specific show just didn’t work out this way. I can blame lack of sleep, being gone from home so much lately, my depression and feeling lost, the bad mix I had on stage…but I choose not to. Because as a professional, you’re supposed to overcome those in any situation. On stage I never once got comfortable during the show. I felt like I had just learned how to play bass the night before and that I couldn’t play how I do most nights.  Everything just seemed…off.

After the show, I felt like the guys in this band will never recommend me for anything else. That maybe my reputation will take a hit in town – and, in Nashville, your reputation is all you’ve got as a musician. A hit in your reputation means the work might dry up, no matter how good or nice of a person you are.  I felt like I sucked and I shouldn’t be touring anymore. Let me tell you, this is not what I needed with the way things have been going lately. It was not good. “Shame attack” is what I like to call what happened after the show. It’s where all you want to do is tear yourself down, when you really need to be trying to build yourself up, forgiving yourself for being human, and letting it go by acknowledging how you feel, but that it’s okay and things will be okay. After an hour of feeling sorry for myself, that’s exactly what I did.  And I began to just enjoy spending time with these new people and getting to know them. The pressure of the show was done, and no matter what happened on stage, I could still have fun with these guys. I was allowed the chance to enjoy myself, have meaningful talks about life and music, and laugh away all the shit feelings I had just moments earlier. Me of even 3 years ago would not have been able to do this. I’ve always been very hard on myself, to the point where I felt I didn’t deserve to enjoy anything if I had a show like I had that day, especially as I replayed it over and over again in my head the rest of the night. But an older (and a little wiser) me let’s myself acknowledge how shitty I feel, yet let it go and know that in the grand scheme of life, this really isn’t a big deal.

And here’s a different perspective, too. It’s when I think about musicians vs. athletes in regards to performing. Musicians don’t make a ton of money – NEWS FLASH! – and yet they are expected to be nearly perfect during every performance no matter what is going on in their life (including sickness, poor travel conditions, sleep deprivation, etc). Athletes make ridiculous amounts of money and are considered amazing if they perform at a level below 100% of perfection in almost any sport.  A .300 (3 out of 10) batting average is considered great in baseball. A 65-70% (roughly 7 out of 10) completion rate in the NFL is amazing. Lebron James – arguably the best current NBA player – had a 52.2% (roughly 5 out of 10) field goal percentage in 2016. Yet, as professional musicians who aren’t even paid a fraction of what professional athletes are, we are expected to be perfect nearly every show. It’s just an interesting way to look at things I think. Believe me, we have the desire to be perfect every show, but sometimes it’s just not going to happen for whatever reason. And guess what? That’s ok.

With as a personal as this post is, I have to admit I’m not totally comfortable posting it. But something tells me that it might help someone else out there that is a bit like me. Someone who has some days with an overwhelming amount of self-doubt, who might be a little too hard on themselves at times, who thinks they aren’t good enough to be where they are or get to where they want to be. I hope my stories can help people like this see that it’s okay to not be perfect, to have self-doubt some days but to overcome it on other days, and to keep fighting for whatever your dream may be…even after a moment you feel proves you shouldn’t be chasing it anyway. And I hope you can learn to let go of the bad moments, mistakes, and losses as quickly as your brain and heart will let you.  Don’t be too hard on yourself and learn to forgive yourself in these moments.  Keep chasing whatever makes your heart full.  And lastly (going back to the beginning of this post), when you inevitably reach your next fork in the road, follow your heart and gut - it rarely steers you wrong. Or take a seat for a while like I have. Just don’t sit too long.


Thanks for reading.


Nigel Knop