Two Kinds of Confidence

Five bucks is not much. But it’s apparently just enough.

One of the music services I use, TAXI, works sort of like a “want ads” listing the various types of music currently needed for TV and film projects. It charges a nominal annual membership fee (about the same as a Sunday subscription to the NY Times) and $5 each time you submit a piece of music in response to one of those “want ads.” In exchange, they create and maintain the industry connections and secure the opportunities, and much of the time they also critique the music you’ve submitted with respect to the target use.

When I quit
my primary job,
I cut my reliable
income by 7/8.
Yeah, ouch.

When I was earning more money than we needed to get by, I banged out those $5 submissions like nobody’s business. (In calendar 2010, because I was trying to get established with a specific client, I submitted more than 70 times.) The $5 seemed negligible, and I was targeting my music carefully. I wasn’t squandering money or effort.

But when I quit my primary job, I cut my reliable income by 7/8. Yeah, ouch. Still, though… $5? Big deal.

Then something weird happened. The first time I went to submit something after quitting my day job, I was filled with more insecurity and self-doubt than I’ve experienced in ages. Am I going to come up with anything? What if it sucks?  What if I write a part that I can’t play well enough? What if I can’t get the mix right? Whatifwhatifwhatif?

I’d always been a little nervous before. But this was a crazy new level of horror. Was it actually about the $5 on the line?

I thought about it for some time… and then it dawned on me: there are two kinds of confidence, and I’m transitioning from one to the other.

I’ll be blunt: the first kind of confidence is cheap and sorry, now that I see it for what it is. In retrospect, it’s so obvious: When the stakes are low or nil, that can feel like confidence. But it’s not.

The first kind
of confidence is
cheap — made for
matches, not
your career.

When I was earning a lot more, the $5 was nothing to me — but more to the point, I had my day job to go back to if my piece was rejected. I had a safety net. That felt like confidence, and I’d been relying on it for years without acknowledging it. But now I know differently: that’s crap confidence, made for cruise-ship shuffleboard matches, not my career.

What’s real confidence? That’s what I’m building every minute that I spend in my studio, every time I re-record the less-than-inspired guitar passage; rework the melody til it really, truly sings; tweak and learn and research and try again until that muddy section of the mix sparkles; and generally refuse to settle for less than my best, every time.

This distinction is a good, good thing! Everything I learn adds to my confidence, kind of like Pee Wee’s ginormous foil ball. And guess what? This new, growing confidence is in my ability, not my safety net. Life shouldn’t be about the backup plan.

Day by day, every new little scrap of confidence I’ve fought for will make it easier to walk back into the studio and know that I will come up with something good.

How about you? Is there a part of your life in which you’re mistaking low stakes for confidence?

About CK Barlow

I'm a composer and music-technology instructor. In the summer of 2011, I decided it was time to give full-time music-making a shot, so I left my corporate job (I've always had one). That's part of what inspired Composing Kitchen, the blog I publish with my incredible spouse, Karen Milling. View all posts by CK Barlow

16 responses to “Two Kinds of Confidence

  • Debra Russell (@artistsedge)

    Hey CK – Great post! Just recorded a class on Confidence for my Artists Marketing & Business Academy. What I’m about to write are my own beliefs about this issue. I hope they help.

    Confidence is an emotion – what you’re really pointing at are the shifts in your beliefs and more specifically your context. I’d say it like this: Its safe to take this risk because I have a safety net if I fall – and so even if the song is rejected, it won’t hurt as much. Now, your context is – It’s a big risk because if the song is rejected it means _________ about my success, my career, my survival as a full time artist. I left it blank, because I don’t want to put meanings into your mind. But clearly the meanings you’ve got there are pretty scary!

    And I agree the more you hold yourself accountable to high quality and doing the hard work, the more you’ll be able to believe those other meanings (like, I’m doing what I need to succeed). But I suggest, instead of pushing against the fear (what you resist persists), you use it to identify those beliefs that aren’t generating you feeling confident and then shift them. Otherwise, it’s gonna exhaust you, always having to push up against those fears in order to take the risks you need to take to create success in this business.

    Oh, and CONGRATULATIONS!!!! What an awesome step you’ve taken.

    • CK Barlow

      Hi, Debra – Thanks so much for taking time to read and to respond so thoughtfully! Maybe this post comes off more negatively than I intended. For me, it was a big deal to understand what was happening. I am absolutely sure that the longer I do this, the more confidence I will build and the less I’ll miss my “net.” My thinking is that the old confidence was a false and empty one, and that now I’m building the real thing, based on skill and experience. I feel fantastic about that, only positive.

      Thanks again — and see you at the Rally?

      • Debra Russell (@artistsedge)

        Absolutely! I agree, that you will build confidence that way. And I was suggesting a shortcut 🙂 so you can feel more confident now. Because I actually think that will help you move forward faster!

        And yes, Road Rally! I wouldn’t miss it for the world – with bells on (and a dot on my name tag!)

  • Tracey & Vance Marino

    Hi CK,

    Congratulations on quitting the corporate gig! I was a journalist and later a paralegal in a wonderful law firm until I was laid off in 1991. I didn’t know what to do, but my mom said, “Now you can be a full-time musician!” I thought she was crazy!!!

    But within 1 year, I was making more playing 20-30 hours a week than I did as a paralegal working 40-60 hours — and having a heck of a lot more fun. Along the way, I started writing songs, took composing classes, went to music conventions, learned to sing and play thousands of songs, and the rest is history.

    In July 2011, it was my “20-Year Anniversary” of being a full-time musician (now composer) and I couldn’t be happier. That’s worth a LOT more than money.

    See you at the TAXI Rally!

    ~ Tracey Marino

    • CK Barlow

      Wow, Tracey — I had no idea that was your background. Many congrats on your 20th year in music! That’s fantastic. And yes, happiness has no price tag. Thanks — as always — for the inspiration and the words of encouragement.

  • John Mazzei

    Guilty as charged!

    Thanks for being so inspirational in your fearlessness and your willingness to tell the truth.

    I hope that I can lean on you a bit when I jump ship. By then you’ll be making lots of money as a composer and can throw me a lifeline from time to time (and I’m talking about moral support not a loan! LOL!!).

    You rock! Hard!!!

    Thanks for this!


    • CK Barlow

      You aren’t guilty of a thing, my friend! Like I said over at the TAXI forum, I’m judging no one but myself here; I know very well that other folks — you, Jeff, plenty of people — work full-time and still manage to bring the necessary intensity and drive to their composing careers. But in my case, maybe I’d gotten a little too comfortable, and that’s what my little freakout revealed.
      Maybe you can find a new “safety net” that’s music-related and less of a time commitment than the current day job, which is what I did to make this happen (my teaching job). It’s not like I’m risking my house, just everything beyond bare necessities.
      Mazz, you’re one of my favorite people. I think the world of you and know that you’ll succeed!

  • kayle clements (@clementunes)

    Hi CK –

    Excellent post and a really great observation. This comes at a time when I am working on building my confidence as well – and while I still have a bit of a safety net, it makes total sense to me to build confidence in my skills and not in my net.

    Thanks for sharing – I just bookmarked your site.


  • Rob


    Firstly, a great lookin’ blog!

    Just found this inspirational post of yours through the TAXI forum.

    I congratulate you on your new found ‘freedom’ and courage. Having also given up a corporate career to pursue my passions I can relate with quite a bit of your experience!

    Particularly like your term ‘real confidence’ which I, personally, am finding it very challenging to develop, however, much more rewarding as perhaps you’re finding?

    Life is not about the back-up plan and I admit whenever I’ve had one that’s what seems to have materialized in my life!

    Good luck and thanks for writing and sharing this. What you’ve written about, I feel, is so important to the life potential in everyone.


    • CK Barlow

      Rob, you are very kind! I so appreciate your thoughtful reply.
      We all start from different places. I’ve taken a while just to get here, and feel like I’m barely scratching the surface.
      My sincere wishes for your success, and thanks again!

  • Cisko Rodriguez

    Hi CK!

    Love the look and feel of your blog and thanks for the wonderful post. I didn’t find it negative in the least, Just like Mazz, I look forward to taking the leap and jumping off into wild blue. For now, I’m supporting my wife’s vision. She was laid off in January and rather than ask her to jump right back into a job, I wanted her to pursue her passion for art. She is having a blast and I love seeing her so alive again.

    You are so right on. When we were both working day jobs we didn’t have much of a sense of urgency. When you have a crutch you will use it every time. Now that we are living on one income the sense of urgency is quite palpable and we both are pusing each other to put in the extra effort.

    This year has been one of financial instability, but it has been the most rewarding from the standpoint of doing the real work of building the careers we want.

    Congratulations on your courage to take the leap and live your dreams. You inspire me.

    See ya soon,


    • CK Barlow

      Cisko, that’s wonderful! Thanks so much for sharing this with me, and good on you for supporting your wife that way. My partner (who happens to be my collaborator on this blog) is definitely supporting me right now, monetarily and otherwise. She’s suddenly the main breadwinner and also has been so great about making me feel good about my decision. Having a supportive partner is a real gift in this world, that’s for sure. You’re doing a great thing.

      See you in LA!

  • mojobone

    There is no fallback plan. Confidence is a daily struggle for me, as well; I jes’ don’t often publicly admit it. Congrats on the new life and the new blog!

    • CK Barlow

      LOL… anybody who doesn’t have doubts now and then has gotta be delusional! Planning and practice; planning and practice – the best remedies I know of.

      • Rob

        Planning and practice – I like that! I read something the other day about how to balance discipline with creativity to achieve the results you’re after.

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