This essay was originally shared May 3, 2020
People often mislabel NEEDTOBREATHE as a Christian group despite the members never claiming that classification. The band writes about their faith, yes, but they also write about the things every other artist covers in their songs. They sing of love, life, death, and the desire to improve. Their songs speak to the experiences of human beings with simple hopes that are currently living in a complicated time when very little, if anything, stays the same for longer than a moment. It sounds too cliche to claim they are writing the soundtrack to existence, but at least for them, that is precisely what they seem determined to accomplish.
This week, the band released a song called "Seasons" that feels incredibly timely. The track addresses the uncertainty of life, and how you never know whether or not things are falling apart because each moment is a new opportunity for change. It also speaks to a sense of togetherness that develops during these times and bonds people together. The chorus summarizes that idea succinctly as vocalist Bear Reinhart sings:
We're in for nasty weather
And I'll ride it out with you
We won't be riding highs and lows
Like tides of ocean blue
We won't be here forever
Just a moment then we're through
We can't be shifting with the sands
Like seasons always do
Like seasons always do
Those unfamiliar with the band have no way of knowing this, but "Seasons" is about the group's career. After a string of successful releases beginning in the early 2000s, NEEDTOBREATHE nearly imploded in the mid-2010s after growing tensions within the band. The group worked through their issues to create Rivers In The Wasteland, a record that addressed their problems and the search for resolution in graphic detail. It was the kind of therapy only the creative process can deliver, and it reinvigorated the band to continue their career. Their next album, Hard Love, is their most popular release to date. Featuring the anthemic "Happiness" and "Great Night," the album details how continuing the pursuit of self-satisfaction is painful, yet necessary.
NEEDTOBREATHE is a national headlining act with a devoted community of fans they refer to as "The Outsiders." Their tours have been selling out theaters for the better part of a decade, and their music sales are steady in a world where many artists are struggling to move physical product. All signs point to those trends continuing, but whether or not that is true doesn't matter. What the group is revealing with "Seasons," and what they hinted at on Hard Love, is that they understand success itself is never enough. As the second verse of the new single states:
Everything we said was a reason
For us to pick up our things and go
But even when we climbed up the mountain
We knew that we had nowhere to go
The mountain, in this instance, is the music business, but the same metaphor applies to anything you choose to pursue. If NEEDTOBREATHE only ever wanted success, they have already achieved more in their time together than most artists do in a lifetime. They can sell more records and play more shows, but no sales figures will give them peace. There is no endpoint to their journey they are on. The mountain peak ahead of them is just high enough to show them where the next mountain begins, and that peak will lead to yet another adventure they cannot begin to imagine.
Whenever we aspire to become something more than what we are, there is a belief that someday our journey will be complete. Much like how children often imagine they will one day wake up an adult, many people think they will one day wake to discover they've become something different. When that doesn't happen, we often fall victim to imposter's syndrome, which in the simplest terms is the belief we are not allowed or welcomed in a place we otherwise belong. "I can't do that thing," we tell ourselves, "because I haven't been told I'm good enough."
I know this is true for me and my journey. After twelve years of writing and creating content, I still wake up most days waiting for the world to scold me for continuing to pretend I have any idea what I am doing. Every time I appear at a conference or make a video about the music business, I am battling the feeling that I should not be speaking because I and my thoughts do not matter. After all, who am I to think I know what someone else should be doing? I'm not headlining arenas, and I haven't sold 10,000 of anything. I'm probably the least remarkable person I know.
But one day, I realized something, and I think everyone who pursues anything long enough has the same realization. That day I was waiting for, the day when some higher authority would grant me the title of being a professional at the thing I pursue, that day is never going to come. That authority does not exist.
The pursuit of creativity, in any form, is endless. You can and hopefully will achieve monetary success, but no amount of money or fans is going to fill that need you feel deep in your soul that calls you to create. The only option you have is to keep going while believing fully in what you're doing because it's what you know must be done if you are ever going to feel complete. You have to seek satisfaction in the process of creation. You have to find joy in the act of making things, even if no one other than you ever enjoy them, and until you can do that, you will continue to feel unfulfilled in your work.
I often encounter people who are just beginning their creative pursuits. Whether they're young or old, most beginners believe on some level that they are going to see their art embraced on a large scale shortly after its release. Sometimes that turns out to be accurate, but that is a rare exception to the norm. Most put their best foot forward right out of the gate and see a very small return on their effort. What I tell people in that situation is the same thing I tell those fortunate enough to go viral, which is to keep going. You will never stop feeling creative impulses, so you should never stop creating. Fans will come and go, just like money, but you will always be yourself. If creativity is in your bones, then you must continue to create. That's all you need to do. Keep going.
NEEDTOBREATHE summarized their realization of this universal truth on a Hard Love b-side titled "Cages." The song is about how creative people confuse their search for creative satisfaction with a pursuit of adoration and end up trapping themselves. The song hits a high point when the music cuts entirely so the group can join together and sing:
We're a band of outsiders
Spend our whole life chasing
Trying to climb a little higher
But the high just faded
Went looking for attention
In all the wrong places
We were needing a redemption
All we got was just cages
The journey never ends. You are already doing the thing you want permission to do, or at least, you are capable of doing it. If you chase anything in this life, make sure you are chasing lasting happiness, and understand that no amount of external praise can change the way you feel inside. Success is a feeling you achieve through doing the things your soul demands. Listen and trust yourself. I love you. Keep going.