Derek Sivers

It’s about being, not having

Being a singer:

Since I was 14, I was determined to be a great singer. But my pitch was bad, my tone was bad, and everyone said I was just not a singer.

For 11 years, from the ages of 14 to 25, I took voice lessons, and practiced at least an hour a day. I was always the lead singer of my band, doing a few shows a week, getting as much real-world experience as possible. The whole time, people kept telling me I was just not a singer — that I should give it up and find a real singer.

When I was 25, I recorded my first album. When I gave it to someone who was a real mentor to me, he gave it a focused listen and then said, “Derek, you’re just not a singer. You really need to stop trying. Admit you’re a songwriter, and find a real singer.” But I bounced away from that meeting unfazed. I knew I just had more work to do.

At 28, I started noticing that my voice was getting good! I recorded a few new songs, and for the first time, I really liked the vocals!

At 29, I had done it. After 15 years of practice, and about a thousand live shows, I was finally a very good singer, at least by my own standards. (Someone who heard me for the first time then said, “Singing is a gift you’re either born with or you’re not. You’re lucky. You were born with it!”)

Point is: It’s not that I wanted to get it done and have good vocals. It’s that I wanted to be a great singer.

Being a producer:

I wanted to record my album myself, to learn recording-studio engineering and production, because I thought that would be a really rewarding and empowering thing to know how to do — like building your own house.

Friends and mentors said that was ridiculous, that I should just hire a great engineer, producer, and studio. Doing everything myself might take years, whereas I could have it all done in a few weeks if I just hired someone good.

I took the few years to learn it myself, and it was one of the most rewarding experiences of my life. For the next few years, I did all the production and engineering on a few friends’ albums, too. Now it’s something I know how to do, and it feels great.

Being a programmer:

When I started CD Baby, I knew only some basic HTML, no programming. But as the site grew, basic HTML wouldn’t do it anymore. My tech friends told me I had to make a server-side database-driven automated system.

Since I couldn’t afford to hire a programmer, that meant I had to learn it myself. I went to the bookstore and got a book on PHP and MySQL programming. It was the slow road, but I loved it! As with being in the recording studio again, it was wonderful to learn how to make the technology do what I wanted and not be a mystery. And it was nice to be self-sufficient.

As the company grew, everyone was surprised that I still did all the programming myself. But for an Internet business, outsourcing the programming would be like a band outsourcing the songwriting!

This wasn’t just my business — this was my creation! This wasn’t like mowing lawns — this was like writing songs!

In the last few years, my employees got furious that new features were not being added as fast as they wanted, because I still insisted on doing all the programming myself. They said we were losing millions of dollars in business because we didn’t have certain features.

But that was OK with me. I loved the process. I was happy.

Being, not having:

When you want to learn how to do something yourself, most people won’t understand. They’ll assume the only reason we do anything is to get it done, and doing it yourself is not the most efficient way.

But that’s forgetting about the joy of learning and doing.

Yes, it may take longer. Yes, it may be inefficient. Yes, it may even cost you millions of dollars in lost opportunities because your business is growing slower because you’re insisting on doing something yourself.

But the whole point of doing anything is because it makes you happy! That’s it!

You might get bigger faster and make millions if you outsourced everything to the experts. But what’s the point of getting bigger and making millions? To be happy, right?

In the end, it’s about what you want to be, not what you want to have.

To have something (a finished recording, a business, or millions of dollars) is the means, not the end. To be something (a good singer, a skilled entrepreneur, or just plain happy) is the real point.

When you sign up to run a marathon, you don’t want a taxi to take you to the finish line.

Anything You Want - book cover