You describe having had a creative breakdown just after setting some creative goals.
Yes, I hit a wall after setting myself the almost impossible task of trying to write a song every day for a month. It was a wall of failure – yeah, failure is the right word, because I’d kind of isolated myself, emotionally and physically, and so yeah, for the first five days I wrote five songs and was like ‘I’m a fucking genius’, and then the next few days I was just feeling more and more down -I felt like I wasn’t achieving enough, like I couldn’t keep up that pace of creation. This was related to fears of never being good enough, so it quite quickly felt like a downward spiral of self-doubt and self-dislike – it was very painful.
Do you recommend people set creative goals, or do you feel we must take care when we do this?
You do have to be careful when you set yourself goals, because you’ve got to be careful who the goal is for. I have often set unrealistic goals simply because of my monkey mind, the voice in my head telling me that I have to achieve or I have to produce or I have to outdo myself. Whereas if you’ve got a creative approach, it’s more about getting yourself in front of your pad of paper or your guitar or your microphone or whatever it is, and if you make something good, if you achieve something creative, that’s great, but if you create nothing of value, you know it’s OK when the gold doesn’t happen every time.
Every creative goal you set has to be set in a flexible way, with lots of kindness and lots of space for things to go wrong, because things going wrong can be great – you can end up going on a complete tangent and doing something really cool that you otherwise would never have done, so you’ve got to allow yourself time to go on a journey with it and take some long walks and you know, whatever it is, cook some lunch, because that’s sometimes when your best ideas happen.
Reaching Out for Help
You reached out for some therapy – what did you learn?
Well, it was actually specialist trauma therapy – to help me heal issues I’d had as a child that I’d never really had the strength or understanding to deal with. This work provided a very rich bed to grow musical seeds in. I could harvest all of those stories and emotions and feelings that I’d been too afraid to explore and end up turning them into songs and music and creativity and stories to tell.
Could others benefit from this kind of work?
I’d say if you are feeling blocked and you want to create something new, or you’re feeling defeat or depression or failure, go into that feeling: look into why, do some meditation or learning or exploration; talk to friends, family and loved ones or even join a therapy group or a support group, and give yourself an opportunity to break down – to break down what’s going on there, because a) you’re going to heal and get stronger, and learn to trust yourself and know yourself and b) you can write about it and create from it – create something that’s really from the depths of your insides, which is hopefully going to be a really beautiful and fruitful process.
What would you say to fellow creators as they face insecurities?
Insecurity comes as part of being an artist. If you knew the answers, if you knew the outcomes, you wouldn’t need to be an artist, because you wouldn’t need to express yourself, you wouldn’t need to tell any stories – you’d already know what’s going to happen, so I feel it’s really helpful to look at those insecurities and allow them and accept them, and embrace them, because they are you.
So yeah, bring on those insecurities, listen to those hateful voices telling you that you can’t do it, because they’re part of you and you have to acknowledge them and hug them and welcome them and say ‘you know what, I hear you, but I’m still going to do this’ and then you can create something from your heart. If you’re going to create anything that other people would be excited to hear and resonate with, you’ve got to embrace yourself and put yourself into it.
What do you do when you feel yourself sliding into dark places where you feel inadequate and stuck?
I’ve been in this dark place again recently, even since launching my crowdfunding and mental health awareness campaign, so I pause, slow down, take some really deep breaths right into my belly, maybe do some yoga stretches or meditation, go for a walk, spend time with family, eat healthy food, cook something tasty – anything I can do to just reset and get out of my thinking mind and back into my body – back into the present reality. It’s so easy to get lost in worrying about the future or obsessing about the past, and then you end up not actually being in what’s happening right now.
Remember: you are not your work, you are not your music, you are not your worries – you are your own consciousness, a separate human being from all of that, so yeah, take some deep breaths and reconnect with that, and maybe just wait until tomorrow and you can start again and be fresh again.
Setting Realistic Goals
What would you say if someone asked if you are 100% healed now?
I would laugh!
A) I don’t think anyone can ever be 100% healed – I think that probably would mean that you’re dead.
B) to think that I’m anywhere near 100% would just be a joke – I feel so, so far away from that, but that’s what makes me alive; that’s what makes me real and, you know, hopefully worth listening to, because I’m going through something. The human condition is something that we’re all going through together; if it wasn’t, you wouldn’t be a human, you’d be a stone, and you wouldn’t be alive any more.
Do you still get terrified when it comes to creative goals ?
Absolutely, I’m terrified right now just trying to think of the answers to these questions, because they’re quite real – I have to use my creativity to answer them and to talk about my journey, so yeah, it is scary, trying to create something new and that you’re confident enough to share with others. But if it was easy, it might not be worth it.
What kind of goals do you set for yourself now, and how are these different from goals you set before?
I’m still so goal-driven and I’m still so deeply fighting with my own issues with work addiction or activity addiction, so I either feel like I have to be working all the time in order to be a good enough human, or I feel like I have to be busy all the time – for me, I’m practising trying to slow down and keep the goals kind.
People often say, ‘music got me through it.’ Do you feel this is true in some ways and not true in other ways?
If I hadn’t been making music I wouldn’t have hit the dark place, but I think after you’ve been through it, it’s a good thing that the music led you to it. The music led me into the mess, but it was also my lifeline back out of it – my ability to connect back to myself.
You have this cool series, #wearelistening, where you talk about mental health with other artists. Have you become a more open person?
I’ve done three of these live streams now, where I’ve been talking with other creative people about mental health and creativity, and I’ve been practising this habit of being open about emotions and talking about insecurities and sharing deepest, darkest secrets, but even in those situations I still felt like I had to wear a little bit of a mask, like you can’t be completely open about every single aspect of your life, because it could potentially affect other people. So you still have to be careful, even in these real-talk situations, to have a little bit of your guard up, which I found really stressful at first.
It has been beautiful to have so many people saying how helpful it is and saying thank you for doing this, and that they really needed it and stuff like that, but for me it’s been much harder than I was expecting. I thought it would be a real release and a way to let things out, but it’s felt like it’s taken quite a toll. I’m not going to stop – I had to pause it for a while, but I’m planning to get back into it and we’ve got some really exciting guests lined up, so I want to make sure that I can cope, which means going slow and all the stuff I’ve said – being kind to yourself, being honest with yourself when you’re not coping and not running around in a panic when you know things aren’t going right.
How do you manage being an open and creative person in a world where there are so many hit and runs about us on social media?
There is a pressure to project an image that other people will look up to, but I see more and more people reclaiming their ability to communicate more honestly and openly, especially with the rise of YouTubers. These international stars who are influencers, they reach their audience directly – they have no middle man saying ‘you have to be happy’ or ‘you have to be positive’. They can show vulnerability in a way that I feel is presenting some very strong role models, and that I feel is absolutely wonderful, so I want to be more like those guys and share my real truth as well as the happy, shiny moments – to share those darker moments, too, which you’ve given me an opportunity to do in this interview, so thank you very much indeed.
Any final words for your fellow creators on creative goals ?
Stay playful – be careful not to let yourself take it all too seriously. Ultimately, it’s music you’re making, not surgery, it’s not life or death. Whilst it’s great to hustle your work, remember not to start using the hype as a measure of your human worth. This is one big game and like any pleasurable activity, if you’re not having fun while you play you probably deserve a little rest.
Simon Shlomo Kahn knows how it feels to be on top of the world. For over a decade, the genre-defying, award-winning, recording-breaking beatboxer, producer and live-looper has set new standards for his craft. Two years ago, he took a step back to work out what he wanted and his world seemed to crumble under his feet. Diagnosed with PTSD, he was forced to confront his past. His new album Surrender candidly explores surviving depression and his livestream series #WeAreListening focuses on creativity and well-being.
Watch the livestreams: http://skshlomo.com/wearelistening
Pre-order SK Shlomo’s debut album: http://skshlomo.com/pledge