What Tim Tebow Taught Me About Playing Music

Tebow Music

I should not be thinking about Tim Tebow anymore. We are a couple years removed from Tebowmania, his late game heroics, and that ridiculous Tebow touchdown stance.

He joined the New York Jets last year and got cut. Then the New England Patriots. Cut again.

Heck, I’m a Dallas Cowboys fan. I should be worrying about Tony Romo this offseason.

But when I saw Tim Tebow’s Super Bowl commercial last month, it reminded me why he is still part of the conversation today — he smiles through the struggle.

Seriously. Think about it. Though winning a few games with the Denver Broncos, he has all but failed as a starting NFL quarterback. No team will sign him. But he is still working hard, struggling, and smiling for the cameras.

I’m sure Tim Tebow would love to be a Super Bowl-winning quarterback. Maybe he will be some day, who knows?

But his journey highlights important lessons that any musician or creative can relate to.

BIG FISH, SMALL POND

Tim Tebow was a high school football star. He led Florida to two NCAA national championships and won college football’s biggest award, the Heisman Trophy. And though scouts questioned his ability to play at the highest levels, the Denver Broncos selected Tebow in the first round of the NFL draft.

Big fish, small pond.

I can relate. Growing up, I was the best saxophone player around. I won national awards, got all the solos in jazz band, and gigged around LA. I then went to UCLA on a saxophone scholarship, thinking that I was going to be a professional musician.

Big fish, small pond.

You may already know Tim’s story. He won the starting gig with the Denver Broncos. Struggled. Squeaked out a few fourth quarter wins and limped into the playoffs. Pulled of a miraculous win in overtime against the Pittsburgh Steelers. Crumbled against the Patriots in the next game. Soon thereafter, the Broncos cut Tebow. And he hasn’t started an NFL game since. He is currently unsigned.

My story is less exciting. I was fortunate enough to go on the road with some incredible musicians, playing the US’ biggest venues. But I rarely got the solos or accolades. I got a taste of being a gigging musician, fighting for work, and struggling to make money. It became much less sexy. I didn’t love the life. So I left and found another path.

Being a big fish in a small pond can feed you false signals. Awards, beating local competition, and praise make you feel great. Sure. But you need to put it in perspective.

There is always someone bigger, better, stronger, faster, better-looking, or more skilled than you.

Entertainment has never been more accessible. Everything is global.

If you want to perform professionally, you have to figure out how you stack up against the best. How do you stand out? What unique skills can you acquire? What competitive advantages do you have? How are you going to develop an audience?

TRUE FANS MATTER

People love Tim Tebow. I mean, really love him. He developed a sports following only rivaled recently by Jeremy Lin. His fans idolize him on and off the field.

If he hadn’t cultivated that audience, would we still be talking about him? I’m honestly not sure. Some folks say that his fans are a liability. Some say that his fans are the reason a team should sign him (i.e. Jacksonville, to fill those empty seats!).

The reality is, he has not proven himself a reliable NFL starting quarterback. But his fans support him tirelessly. Perhaps there is a religious undertone, yes. But more than that, he spent years building his fan base. Meeting them off the field. Doing charity work. Speaking engagements. Interacting on social media. Shaking hands and kissing babies.

Tebow Baby

Apply this to music. Do you have 10 people Tebow-excited about your music? 100? 1,000?

Kevin Kelly’s concept of 1,000 true fans rings true across any entertainment medium. If you have a following, you can make a business. If you have a following, you will get opportunities. If you have a following, they will support your through the good times and bad.

COMFORT WITH NO

After being cut by the Denver Broncos, Tebow and his agent had conversations with nearly every NFL team.

He was comfortable with getting NOs from almost everyone, so that he could find at least one YES.

Willingness to get 30 NOs for every YES is daunting. But that willingness also landed him a gig with the New York Jets.

Did you call thirty venues to land a showcase spot? What about thirty music schools for a teaching position? Thirty managers? Thirty agents? Thirty lawyers? Thirty investors?

Truth is, most people do not put themselves in the position to get a YES. It takes persistence and a willingness to hear many NOs.

“If you aren’t getting rejected on a daily basis, your goals aren’t ambitious enough.” Chris Dixon

HUMILITY

Moral of the story, don’t take yourself too seriously.

PERSONAL OVER PROFESSIONAL

I purposefully neglected religion thus far.

The truth is though, Tim Tebow is deeply religious. He talks about it regularly. But more interesting to me, he seems to have his priorities in order.

He balances personal with professional obligations. He seems to keep himself grounded, amidst 24/7 news coverage and more publicity than anyone could ask for. People close to him heap kudos on his character, integrity, and outlook.

I have made a lot of mistakes professionally and personally. I am still learning and growing. But when things get difficult, I lean on my family and friends for support. Nothing is more important to me.

For some people it’s family. For others it’s faith. It doesn’t matter what it is. You need something.

As demonstrated by Tebow and others, you cannot build self-worth solely on your career. Professional stumbles should not crumble your self-worth.

There’s more to life than your job. There’s more to life than music. There’s more to life than being creative. Everything in balance.

Tim Tebow obviously isn’t struggling for money, exposure, or opportunities. I know. The guy has millions of dollars and fans that could fill stadiums.

But he is unemployed. He is still struggling to make it back to the peak of his profession.

And Tebow’s struggle has been very public. Maybe it will have a happy ending. Maybe it won’t. But I do know that it has taught many of us lessons about “the journey.”

Folks always talk about achieving your goals. But goals are lofty. It may take thirty years. Or change along the way. Or never even happen.

Are you supposed to just put your head down for thirty years, hoping that one day you’ll achieve your goal and supreme happiness?

No. That’s ridiculous.

Smile through the struggle. Enjoy the journey.