The first step in making your dream a reality is to take that "first step."
It sounds obvious and it is. The saying "once begun, half done" applies to some degree. But for the sake of this post I'm going to define the "First Step" as the first BIG step. That step that if not taken your dream would only remain a dream.
In my case it was moving from Indianapolis to Los Angeles to become a session musician. I would be moving away from the safety of the home I grew up in and the security of the abundant work I had as a musician already.
At the time I left Indy, I had about 40 students (20 hours a week) and gig playing in a top-40 band on the weekends. Not to mention I was beginning to get a lot of calls to play with other groups in the area. I should have been satisfied but I wasn't. There was this dream. The dream to rub elbows with Tommy Tedesco, Steve Lukather, Lee Ritenour, Jeff Porcaro and all the other LA musicians that populated the credits of all the albums I bought. I bought some pretty awful records just because one of my favorite SoCal guitarists were listed in the linear notes. Many of these players also played in movies and on TV shows.
I was 15 when I decided that I wanted to be a Los Angeles session musician. A quite random and yet specific desire. Much of my daily rituals were focused on these goal. I developed a varied and rigorous practice regimen of up to 8 hours a day. This was a step, but not the First Step. Predictably my grades suffered. Except in the music classes that my very arts progressive high school offered.
I graduated high school early, missing out on a lot of the senior year fun, so that I could concentrate on my goal. Thinking I was done with school I set out to become somewhat self sufficient. This wasn't happening at this point so I enrolled last minute at Butler University. I majored in…. yes, music. This was same year that I started teaching at Phelan's Music in Carmel and started playing with Malachi, that top-40 band. Both of those jobs grew me as a musician (part of the plan) but made it difficult to continue my college education. So in order to save my mom some money and spend more time practicing I quit Butler after the first year and concentrated on moving to California.
That step was harder than I thought. It was becoming clear that this would be the First Step. It was quite daunting. I didn't have the courage. I kept delaying it 6 months. "I'll go after my birthday in July." "I'll go after Christmas in December." Hmmm, I guess I was expecting some cool gifts. I turned 19. I turned 20. 21 was fast approaching. Would I ever leave? I'd never been West of Illinois, let alone all the way to the Pacific Ocean. No doubt my friends and family doubted I would ever summon the courage to leave the Mid West. I was wondering this myself.
Then I had an epiphany. As my 21st birthday approached I thought I'd take a smaller step first. After turning 21 I would fly to LA and check it out for a week. If I didn't like it I would stay put. It was kind of an out. An excuse. The month after turning 21 I flew to Vegas (it was cheaper), rented a car and drove to Riverside to stay with friends of friends. Every day for a week I drove to LA. To the guitar stores on Hollywood Blvd., and to clubs to hopefully see musicians I "idolized" from afar, and generally just drive around and soak up all things "LA".
I went to the famous Baked Potato. I went to a place called Dantes to see Russell Ferrante, who's group The Yellowjackets I loved. Russell spoke with me for an hour afterwards. He encouraged me to pursue my dreams. I went a club called At My Place in Santa Monica and saw saxophonist Richard Elliot. His guitarist, Carl Verheyen, blew me away. I met him afterwards and set up a lesson while I was in town. He gave me some great tips. I saw Koinonia at The Flying Jib. Saw some inspiring music the whole week I was in Los Angeles. It was an exhausting and humbling week. I flew home.
I did it. I went to LA. I could say "it wasn't for me." I could stay put and continue my career path in the Hoosier state.
But I couldn't. I loved LA. I couldn't see myself anywhere else. That "little" first step gave me the courage to take that big First Step. It was now a forgone conclusion. Less than six months later I was living in Pasadena, where I still live. Yes it was difficult to pack all my earthly possessions in my Gran Prix and drive 2000 miles to a place where I knew not one soul. But I no longer had a choice. It was destiny.
That was my First Step. I've never had to make another so difficult since. A career is generally a series of small decisions, some with little consequence and some with great consequence. But none of it starts without that first step. Looking back I see lots of first steps. From moving to LA, to visiting LA, even something as simple as getting up everyday and putting in the work to grow as a musician.
What was or will be that step for you?