This Article Originally Published September 1997
by Michael Laskow
Usually I wait until the deadline draws near before I write this column. But, I just flipped the page on my daily desk calendar and, based on what I saw, was inspired to write it now. The message on the page read: "Keep your mind focused on what you want and act accordingly. You will achieve success."
Words to live by. As a matter of fact, "Focus" is my favorite word. Everything I have achieved in my life has come to me because I was able to stay focused.
I'm no rocket scientist. I didn't have anything handed to me on a silver platter. I'm a pretty ordinary person who discovered that staying focused brings me extraordinary results.
Remember the scene in City Slickers when Jack Palance's character, Curly, was dying? He looked up at Billy Crystal and said, "You want to know the secret of life?" "Yeah, what is it," Billy asked. "It's just one thing," Curly replied. Then he died.
I was dying to know what that one thing was. I'm sure everybody else in theater was also. Funny thing is, Curly actually told us, but nobody, including myself and Billy Crystal figured it out.
I kept replaying that scene over and over in my head for months to come. No results. I went back to my copy of "Be Here Now" by Baba Ram Dass, but that didn't help. I thumbed through "The Road Less Traveled"dead end. I concentrated so hard that my brain hurt. Nothing. Nada. Zip.
Two years later I was watching City Slickers on TV, and as that scene played again, it finally dawned on me! "The secret of life is just one thing!" Get it?! The answer is in the clue. The clue is the answer!!! It's just ONE thing!!!! Focus on just - one - thing!
Finally, I understood the true meaning of life. I was so happy. I called some friends and told them. The were non-plussed. I told my kids. They didn't get it. I told my wife. She smiled politely and asked me to take out the garbage.
I stayed up late that night thinking about my profound realization. The more I thought about it, the more it rang true. Take Donald Trump. Real estate dealssuccess. Airlinefailure. Out of his area of expertise.
Look at Bill Gates. He's kept his focus. Now he's worth 36 BILLION dollars. You don't see him shifting Microsoft in to real estate or airlines. Everything he does is somehow centered around computers.
Coca Cola. A winning formula for decades. They introduced New Coke. What happened? Flop. Hugh Hefner. Very successful as a magazine publisher. Casinoin the dumper. And last, I'd like to point out the subject of last month's A&R Insider interview, Diane Warren. She has kept her focus laser sharp since she was a kid, and is now one of the most successful songwriters in history
All she did was concentrate on just one thing, and now (I'm guessing) she's worth tens of millions of dollars. Nice work if you can get it. And you can!
A couple of examples from my own life: TAXI. Nobody had ever succeeded at setting up a company like TAXI that not only worked, but continued to thrive. I did. Know how? All I did was work on TAXI. Nothing else. I didn't try to learn how to write songs. I didn't try to improve my guitar playing (trust meI need improvement). I didn't take time off to go fishing or play tennis. I lived a pretty solitary, focused life for close to two years, and I succeeded.
My wife and I decided to buy a house last year. Problem was, we only had about 25% of what we needed for the down payment. I got it in my head that we were going to buy a house. Everything I did was somehow focused at buying a house. I didn't wait for a miracle to happen. I kept my nose to the grindstone, saved my money, and lo and behold, we now own a house. Well, at least a piece of one. The bank still owns most of it.
Every person reading these words can achieve his dream. As my calendar says, "Keep your mind focused on what you want and act accordingly." That's the part that takes some work. A lot of people know what they want, but they don't act accordingly.
What would acting accordingly be? Here's a scenario. Listen to Contemporary Hit Radio on your way home from work in your car. Pick up a copy of Billboard. Read it that nightcover-to-cover. Study the charts. Get to know the songs in the top 40 by listening to more radio that night. No TV! It's a waste of time unless you want to do film and TV music.
Set aside a couple of hours every night that are just for songwriting. Lock yourself in a room. Make sure you don't leave it until you've got something on paper or tape. Read one of the books we recommend on the back of the feedback sheets when you climb in to bed.
Make flashcards of some of the more important information you read in the books. Tape them to your bathroom mirror so you see them first thing in the morning. Keep a handheld recorder next to you in your car for moments of inspiration. Study song structure like a fanatic. Go to every meeting of any songwriting organization you can.
Don't go out on Saturday night. Stay home with the TV off and write songs. Get up before your family on Sunday morning and write songs, then spend the rest of the day with your family. After you tuck your kids in that night, write songs. After you make love to your spouse, yep, you guessed it. Now, that's focus!
I think it's impossible to do "just one thing," and only one thing and not reap real rewards. I proved it to myself. If you lock in your focus, make it laser sharp, and stick with it long enough, you will succeed. If you sit around whimpering, "I wish I was like Diane Warren", but do not acting accordingly, I guarantee you that you won't. It's your life. Do something with it.