What Would You Tell Your Younger Self?

Damian Erskine

Q: I wonder, as you look back, what do you wish you could have told your younger self?

A: I will preface this by saying that, in no way, do I wish I had done anything drastically different in my life. Why? Because every choice I made, every mistake I made, everything I wish that I could redo, ultimately brought me to where I am right this very moment. All things considered, I feel very lucky to be where I am and do what I do. In short, I don’t believe in regrets, only chances to learn and grow. Failure, be it of a personal or musical kind, is a necessary step on the path towards success. Every mistake is a learning opportunity. Every failure I’ve ever had as a musician or as a person has led to growth of some kind.

The important thing to remember is not to dwell on the negative but actively see it as a gift. The gift of insight (although you may not feel it as such immediately).

If you don’t take those risks, you will never reap those rewards (sounds like a bumper sticker but it’s true).

In no particular order:

  1. In the spirit of risks, I do wish that I had abandoned fear earlier in my life. Fear of playing a bad note, fear of flying, fear of unknown cultures, fear of playing with better musicians than myself. Only when I decided to not abide by those (irrational) fears, did I truly start to grow as a player and as a person. I realized that I was stagnating and missing opportunities simply because I was afraid to say yes.
  2. I wish that I had worked harder in school and truly dedicated myself to growth earlier.
  3. I wish that I had realized that there was more than one ‘right answer’ to musical problems in school. I didn’t trust my ears to guide me but rather felt like I had to memorize a bunch of seemingly unrelated rules and scales. If I had at least tried to hear what sounded right to me, I wouldn’t have been so scared of jazz. Instead, I looked at a seemingly insurmountable pile of words I didn’t understand, tried to analyze music I didn’t like and wondered why I just didn’t get it. I wish that I had looked outside the boxes presented to me and found my own way earlier.
  4. I wish that I had studied composition and arranging (like my old teacher, Reggie Hamilton, told me to)
  5. I wish that I had always made decisions for today based on how I’d feel about them tomorrow. “Whatever you do right now will be what you have always done”. Don’t know who said that but I wish I had heard it earlier in life.
  6. I wish that I had made my health a priority earlier in life.
  7. I wish that I had started piano at some point (I know it’s never too late, though!)
  8. I wish that I hadn’t stopped playing drums 20 years ago.

That really is the grand total of my life’s (musical) “regrets.” Although, it bears repeating: I probably wouldn’t change much of anything, given the choice. I’m pretty happy with myself and my life and all of those decisions, good or bad, led me to this point, right now. That said, I definitely do spend time thinking about things that I wish I could’ve done differently and try to take those lessons to heart, so I don’t repeat my errors.

I try my best to treat every decision with an imposed hind-sight. I think about how I may feel about it tomorrow and choose based on that. Make decisions that you will feel good about after the fact, once it is in the past.

I also like to project into the future. I think about who I want to be in 5 or 10 years. Personally or musically. I then try to do the things that will manifest that potential reality. It’s an ever-evolving thing and the target will never stop moving, but introducing that kind of intention into your life can have drastic consequences (for the better).

Have a question for Damian Erskine? Send it to [email protected]. Check out Damian’s instructional books, Right Hand Drive and The Improviser’s Path.

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  1. Rob Morrison

    Totally agree with #2 and #6. I am reading #3 and I can relate somewhat to “being scared of Jazz”. I went to Music school years ago and obviously Jazz and classical were the instructional tool being used to explain the musical concepts. I did find most of the instructors at the time to be pretty rigid and Jazz biased, so the thought of stepping out of the box kind of equated to failure. Maybe you could elaborate on how you “found your own way” ?

  2. Jon

    An easy one: “Always wear hearing protection”. My tinnitus is permanent, incurable and irreversible.

  3. Robert

    “Life is a #$%¨#, Bob”.

  4. Number 6 really struck a chord with me (no pun intended). Sometimes we might get caught up in music so much we start neglecting ourselves, even believing that this neglect is noble proof of how passionate we are for our craft. Thanks for sharing, Damian, love your blog and your music!

  5. Leonard Mongeau

    Wish I would have learned to read early on and taken care of my ears. Tinnitus sucks.

  6. I’ll second Jon, Rob, and Leonard about ear protection.

    I would also tell my younger self to sing while playing bass. Missing out on the ability to move through harmony vocally is something I regret not mastering.

    And with respect, I disagree with #2 (“worked harder in school”). My view is based on the likely hood of my younger self following my older self’s suggestions. We’ve all had our parents and teachers tell us to work harder in school…and yet we didn’t. My younger self would just look at my older self and say “you don’t know me old man”.