When I was learning how to drive, teaching was a conjoined effort between my parents. My dad provided the instruction, my mom provided the anxiety attacks. They have always done everything 50-50.
When I would start to merge onto the highway, and my (extra) white knuckles gave away my nervousness, my dad would say, “Pick a lane, and maintain.” He reminded me not to get distracted by all the other stuff going on around me; to choose where I fit comfortably and ride the course, steady. You see an exit sign for Taco Bell? Stay focused. It would be my consistency—not my speed—that got me to where I was trying to go.
I think there's something to be taken from that as creatives. Or really, anyone who is looking to excel professionally. I work in a music production studio, and the studio manager was recently sharing about his time in a cool funk band called The Groove Collective. He thinks their biggest weakness as a group was not “picking a lane”. They loved to play all kinds of music; he said almost every song on their albums could have been from a different genre. As artists, they loved to have that freedom to be mixy. But as young musicians trying to pay their bills, they struggled to find the right way to market themselves, gain a following, and ultimately, sustain a cash flow.
Pick a lane? It almost seems cliché. As an artist, my immediate reaction is to reject this. Ain’t gon’ tie me down! (*Ray J voice*). But my studio manager clarified: picking a lane, and putting yourself in a box are two different things.
Putting yourself in a box completely limits what you have to offer. There's no going outside of the box. There's one mutually exclusive “thing” that you do.
Picking a lane is focusing. It’s targeting a goal and building a strategy. It’s determining the best route to ride, blocking out distractions like the metaphorical T-Bell exit sign.
I personally am in the process of picking which lane I want to maintain. That means identifying what I am passionate about, what I can provide, and defining what success means for me. If success for you is making money from your art, then you’ll want to pick a lane, too. That doesn’t mean you can’t switch lanes, but it's probably to your financial benefit to stay consistent. Plus, if you’re that person driving directly over the dotted yellow line, you’re probably an asshole. Just kidding. Maybe.
This whole concept makes having a good team of people around you so much more important. As a creative, you want to focus on your art. A strong team will be able to ride some of the other lanes (marketing, PR, finances, etc.), and together, you will rip down the proverbial highway with much success. Pick a lane, and maintain!