It Just Doesn’t Matter
“Nobody cares weather you succeed or not, so you might as well succeed.”
When I heard this I almost fell out of my chair. It was so simple, so direct. It’s simplicity gives it so much strength. So many times we add a lot of unnecessary baggage to our endeavors and our dreams get weighted down with expectations. But if we look at life in it’s most simple form, we can get to the crux of the matter and make things a lot easier.
I heard this quote and thought, wow, is that really all there is to it? Well, maybe it is. Let me give you so context.
I’d moved to NYC in 1997 and after 10 years I found myself in 2007 having not even come close to what I’d wanted to accomplish. A big reason for that was I’d gotten so caught up in my own mind about my own perceptions of how others thought of me, I was nearly paralyzed by inaction because I was second and third guessing myself so much.
Then I heard this quote and it broke everything loose for me. I thought hard about this. It’s true, nobody really cares weather we succeed or not. Think about it. People are so caught up in their facebook feeds, the news, their own neurotic thoughts, they don’t have any bandwidth to think about you. It’s pretty simple really. People just don’t care what others are up to. And if they do, well, it’s maybe just for a fleeting moment and then they’re off to their next short attention span moment.
Modern society has really strung our attention out, but even 50 years ago, it’s still true that nobody is really thinking about us all that much, if at all. We just think they are.
Right now, think about it and ask yourself if anybody is really seriously thinking about you. I mean, maybe our family is thinking of us to some extent, but really, everybody’s just too damned busy to give a second thought.
Now, with this in mind, I thought about my constant obsession with what people thought of me, was I going judged, would I fail to be liked. And suddenly, I realized, it just doesn’t matter. What matters is that we just do the damn thing and let the chips fall where they may. This thought was a major turning point for me and I have achieved more the past 10 years than in the previous 20! Like George Clinton says... "Free your mind and your ass will follow."
It reminds me of one of my favorite Bill Murray scenes where he’s a camp counselor and he’s rallying the camp kids to complete with the rival camp that’s full of rich kids. Murray whips them into a frenzy, chanting “It just doesn’t matter! It just doesn’t matter!” And this frees the kids’ minds from feeling out classed. They go to the competition, they have fun and they WIN! I love that scene and sometimes I watch a clip of that video just to remind myself that indeed, it just doesn’t matter.
I think most of us are self conscious to some extent. We care about what people think of us. I mean, nobody wants to been seen as a loser, or awkward or whatever. Nobody wants to be laughed at or to fall short and not be good enough. But think about this:
In life, nobody gets a 100% approval rating, or even 90%, or even 80%. And those who do get a high approval rating, usually experience an epic fall of some sort. Elvis, Michael Jackson, Mike Tyson are prime examples. At one point, they were the hottest thing on the planet, but that adulation and hype and money and success dramatically distorted their perception of themselves. And look what happened to them.
Give me 20 or 30% approval and I’m good. We’re never gonna be everybody’s cup of tea. And that’s ok.
I say a lot of this from my perspective as a musician, composer, teacher. In art, it’s all subjective. One man’s junk is another man’s gold. It’s just art. It’s not wall street. If one can express themselves and make a true statement, then it really doesn’t matter what anybody thinks. If one is creating their art to be liked, then it’s watered down already, it’s suspect to some degree. I mean yeah, we want our art to be “good” and to be accepted. But we serve the art first, not the perception that we think others are going to have.
From time to time I remind myself of this so that I can breathe deeper and just do my thing. If there’s somebody out there judging me and comparing me to others and all that, well, I’d bet in 10 seconds they’ve forgotten all about me and are onto that next judgement about the next person. Or maybe not. Hell, how am I even supposed to know?
That’s when we just cue the Bill Murray chant: It just doesn’t matter. It just doesn’t matter. It just doesn’t matter!
Purpose and Urgency
Language is powerful. A word, the right word, as Mark Twain once said is like the difference between lightning and a lightning bug. One of my favorite comedians, George Carlin, spoke a lot about language and perception and it was through his observations that I began thinking about the power of language.
When I think about words and the meaning they express, I think of keys that open doors, or maybe even close them. The right word, the right language can open up a door in one’s mind. Conversely, the wrong word can shut a mind down and stop it in it’s tracks.
When I began to actively work on changing my life one of the things I focused on was language. Language that didn’t serve me had to be discarded and that which served me well was embraced.
Think of the words “purpose” and “urgency”. Just think about them for a minute. How do those words make you feel? Nervous? Excited? Energized? Anxious?
I wrote these two words down and contemplated them because I wanted to embrace the energy of these two words and let that energy flow into my life.
Purpose means intent. Intent means thoughtfulness. To be purposeful means to have a goal or target and to focus all one’s energy and being into attaining that goal or to hit that target. “The Power of Purpose” is a profound phrase to me. Without purpose, we are leaving our fate to chance. And I don’t like surprises. If I’m gonna do something, then I want it done and done right. I’m not a fan of nebulous results.
However, for a lot of years I was nebulous. I didn’t get results and didn’t know why. I just figured that sometimes things work out, sometimes they don’t. Maybe it had something to do with luck, I figured.
But then, after more examination, I thought, no, it’s not about luck or chance. It’s about intention. And what word best sums up intention. Purpose.
This was a major shift in my thinking and really led the way to being more of an adult. Embracing purpose means accepting responsibility, which was something I’d tried to avoid most of my life. However, once one comes to the conclusion that luck and chance and a “so what” attitude is not acceptable and unreliable, then purpose and intent become crystal clear.
The other word I think about often and embrace is “urgency”. For one to have urgency in their life one must first have purpose. With the purpose firmly in mind, then we can have urgency in our intentions.
I was trained to procrastinate. My upbringing in a small, sleepy country town in Missouri was not exactly brimming with urgency and purpose. Thus, I tended to coast thru life and as I said earlier, accept things as chance or luck. But, after moving to New York City, it became very clear that urgency was the name of the game. That is, assuming one has purpose.
If I wanted to not only keep up, but to get ahead and thrive, I needed to discover my purpose, define it and embrace it with urgency. I did this by writing it all down because when a person takes pen to paper, they think. You must think it through all the way, on paper, first. At least, that’s what I had to do. So I did.
I wrote down everything. Goals. Fears. Anxieties. Strengths and Weaknesses. I wrote and wrote and wrote, distilling all my thoughts down to ink and a yellow legal pad. Eventually, my purpose emerged and then I could go after it with urgency.
Several years later, I find myself in a position in which I get to teach this to young music students. Many of them use language that sets them up to fail. Words like “Try” and “Hard” and “Maybe”. I am adamant they use winning language with intent. And it works.
It’s kinda funny, my mom used to say “watch your language” when I’d say a curse word or something. But now, “watch your language” means something entirely different to me. Language has a profound effect on our thoughts and thoughts determine our actions. Your thoughts become true for you.
Sometimes, we look to others for inspiration, guidance, an example. I’ve had a lot of “heroes” throughout my life, but one stands out the most, one who I’ve returned to time and again: Bruce Lee.
At the mention of the name Bruce Lee, most people think of his dynamic martial arts movies, but a further look reveals a lot, lot more.
In 1985, I was an impressionable teenager and the VCR had just become a standard fixture in American homes. Kung-Fu Theater and Ninja movies were all the rage and my friends and I rented them all: 9 Deaths of a Ninja, Revenge of a Ninja, etc… And they were very entertaining, especially all the weaponry and gymnastics. But when we watched Bruce Lee, it was apparent to me that he was something very different, very real and absolutely riveting.
I watched Bruce’s movies over and over, despite my folks and my girlfriend’s dismissive eye-rolls. I mean, I had to admit that the fights were not real, but remained a believer. There was something totally real about Bruce Lee, his intensity jumped through the screen and gripped my imagination. He seemed super-human. And, maybe he was. Looking back now, watching Bruce was an experience for me, a visceral and engaging emotional experience. He didn't just execute his moves, he expressed them.
In my 20s, I revisited Bruce again, this time buying his book “The Tao of Jeet Kune Do” and actually studying martial arts with a teacher. I read the book over and over and was really impressed with his philosophical writings and most of all, his absolute dedication to the development of his art. It began to dawn on me that Bruce was more than his movies. He had been a dedicated teacher also. A philosopher. Whatever he chose to do, he did it all the way and most importantly, he did it HIS way.
Upon reading The Tao of Jeet Kune Do, I realized that Bruce Lee had invented his own way of martial arts. The meticulous study, hand written drawings, thorough and no-nonsense thought that he put into Jeet Kune Do was beyond anything I’d imagined. But it all made sense. I mean, you could see it in his films; his preparation, choreography, creativity, drive… all of it. No wonder this guy was so amazing.
Martial arts, as appealing as it was at the time, was not in the cards for me as my passion was/is in music. I did study at a local kung-fu studio for a while, but I knew I couldn’t do it all the way, and if I couldn’t do it fully, then I decided I wouldn’t disrespect the art, or myself by taking valuable time away from my music. So, I went on about my life, with Bruce Lee still there, in the back of my mind.
Somehow, Bruce kept coming back into my life and again in my late 30s I became somewhat obsessed with him. At the bookstore one day I picked up a copy of John Little’s “The Art of Expressing the Human Body” which detailed how Bruce trained every part of his body. It was and still is one of the most inspirational books I own.
At this point in my musical development, I was looking for a way to get closer to my own identity. Musically and personally. I’d gone through all my musical heroes and just needed to embrace myself at this point. I’d tried to play like all my heroes: Elvin Jones, Roy Haynes and Art Blakey, but in trying to emulate them I just found myself further and further away from myself.
So, I thought hard about it and I wondered, who is somebody who did their own thing and was successful with it? Bruce came to mind, of course. I re-read his books and it was striking how much he traveled his own path. I mean, he'd even created his own way of martial arts! Jeet Kune Do. It wasn't easy for him to do this and at first, he wasn't liked or accepted by the martial arts establishment for telling them that he thought most martial arts were not practical and were a "classical mess" and "organized despair". But, he stuck with his believe and now he's seen as the "father of mixed martial arts".
Instead of trying to study martial arts or try to be like Bruce, I decided to be like me. To do what I do and to commit as much to myself as I could.
I had to be able to look in the mirror and like what I saw. I mean, not in a narcissistic way, but in a human way. And when I could do that, which took some work, but when I could do that, everything started to change. I had drifted away from physical wellness and getting back to it was key to finding myself.
One of the first things was that I stopped drinking alcohol and began working out regularly. Not Bruce Lee style, but Matt Kane style, meaning that the inspiration from Bruce was there and put a lot of wind in my sails, but I wasn’t naive enough to embark on his path as everyone has their own path to follow. So, I jumped rope, lifted moderate weights and kept my body healthy. Once my body was feeling good, I re-focused all my attention to my music. I practiced my drums every single day until it became as much of a habit as brushing my teeth. I wrote in my journal a lot. Things got on track.
Another thing that happened was that I wrote down my dreams. Bruce had done this, so I figured if it worked for him, it could work for me. And it did! Soon, the things I wrote down not only happened, but more than what I’d written down happened. Surprises and successes began to build up. Then, I wrote down bigger and bigger dreams and they happened, too. They didn’t happen overnight, some took many years, but they did happen. Some of them are still in the process of happening and I revisit and re-write them from time to time to breathe fresh life into them.
Teaching came into my life next. I embraced my students with as much intensity as I did my own career. It started with one student, at a strip mall music store. When I left the music store after a disagreement with the owner, one of the students followed me and thus began the Matt Kane School of Drumming. More students followed until I had a roster of 20 young drummers I was coaching. To teach something, you must know it inside-out. And, you must be able to convey it, to shine a light on the path that the student has to travel. Only they can travel the path, but it is my responsibility to lead the student to the realization of their dreams.
As all of this was coming together, career and teaching, I began to get a much deeper realization of what Bruce Lee had left for the world. I mean, when you think about the dedication he put into his martial arts, teaching, philosophy and acting, just consider that he did all this without a coach, without a trainer. He did most of it virtually alone.
While it’s true that he had a teacher in Hong Kong, the great Yip Man, once Bruce came to the states, he was on his own. To me, this is probably the most impressive aspect how Bruce lived his life.
When you take a look at Lee’s obsessive training logs or his writings, imagine a guy doing all that with no coach. I mean, think about it: Mike Tyson had Cus D’Amato. Muhammad Ali had Angelo Dundee. Bruce Lee relied on nobody. To me, that maybe the most impressive aspect of his life and the most inspirational. While it’s true, that many great artists work alone: authors, visual artists, musicians… athletes typically have coaches and trainers, especially nowadays.
Think of Bruce Lee, reading thousands of books on physical training, martial arts of every kind, boxing, fencing, philosophy and nutrition. Think of him waking up every single day at 6am and training to the edge of his ability, all while maintaining a family, a kung fu school and an acting career. Think of the impression he made on the world and how he is still the number one martial arts actor of all time.
My biggest take away from Bruce Lee is that you can do it, it just has to be done. You can dream, you can make it happen. But the main lesson is to be yourself and to be believe that you can do it. Time IS of the essence. We have to decide what’s important, where the priorities are. Sift out the unimportant, give it no time, and dedicate yourself to living a life that is worthy of YOU.
Thank you, sifu, Bruce Lee.