I saw a brief pseudo-interview with my favorite band, Mumford & Sons, about their new album where comedian Jason Sudeikis was asking them an assortment of questions submitted via Facebook by different people. Now, I love their new album the way I’ve loved all their albums—there are a few songs I skip and a few songs I listen to over and over, and I just generally think they are musical geniuses, but apparently many people are criticizing their departure from the signature sounds of their first two albums—those were heavily folk influenced and the banjo was a prominent feature; this new one has exactly zero banjos but adds electrical guitars and keyboards and drum kits—it reminds me of early U2 albums (another one of my favorite bands, so of course that just adds to my reverence of Mumford).
Here’s what I loved about the interview—they were having so much fun with all the questions, even the critical ones. The best was a woman who said: “Is this all a joke?” to which the entire band just totally cracked up. Genuine, authentic, good-spirited laughter. They weren’t defensive at all, and one of the band members had previously pointed out that they didn’t have any critical acclaim. He’s right in one sense- the critics have not just shown up at the release of their third album—no, the “critics” have always loved to hate Mumford & Sons, criticizing and mocking their every move. Their popular success has been undeniable, though, as they’ve sold millions of albums and play to sold-out crowds.
Watching them talk in this interview, it became so clear that they aren’t making albums for us, they are making albums for them—and their love of music, and the art of creating music, ultimately transcends any criticism given to them by fan or critic. They were so joyful and… content. (I mean, this third album comes after taking over a year off, for heaven’s sake… a year OFF right at the height of their rocket ship to success!)
How fantastic to be untethered from what “they” think. How many of us can do that?
So often I see it play out the other way—if I dress this way, he will like me. If I post this post, I will get lots of likes. If I say what the boss wants to hear, I’ll have an advantage for the next promotion. If my friends use that expression, I should too. If I give my opinion, she’ll be mad at me. If I share my secret, I’ll lose my friends. What did I do wrong? Why doesn’t he like me? How can I change his mind? What “they” think looms ever large.
Now, perhaps it’s easier to ignore the critics when you have sold a gazillion albums and made gabillions of dollars—to be fair, Mumford & Sons isn’t exactly a struggling garage band, are they? But still. Is it crazy to think that their unwavering focus on the music rather than to catering to “they” has actually in some way fostered their success?
Because here is the first truth: The ones that want to follow you will follow you. The ones that don’t… well, they just won’t. But we often spend so much time trying to convince the ones that don’t that we are worth following, continually changing who we are and what we do in the hopes that something might finally land… and in that chase I think we lose something of ourselves along the way.
And here is the second truth: There will always be critics. If there are no critics that means you aren’t doing anything, and what kind of life is that? I say celebrate the critics, because the arrival of the critics means you are adding your mark to the world- YOUR mark, the one that you have in your head or your heart, the one that makes you you.
So, stop trying to please everyone. Just be you. Unapologetically. Unabashedly. Celebrate the arrival of the critics; no, do one better: dare them to come.
How can you dare the critics to come today?
To Marlowe, who turns seven years old today… may you wear the outfits of your own creation, may you write the stories taking flight in your mind, may you choose the chicken noodle soup over the chicken nuggets, may you raise your hand high and speak your truth, may you put on concerts and plays and lemonade stands as you feel moved to. May you do all those things without fear of what “they” will say. May you remember that if you love what you do, and if you believe what you think, and if you trust how you feel…well then, live content in that, my sweet girl, and go on and dare the critics to come.