“Only floss the teeth you want to keep.”
Before anyone jumps to conclusions, I’m not here to give bad dental advice. Please continue to take care of your pearly whites, as the alternatives may be uncomfortable and/or painful. Instead of taking the quote literally, consider the meaning behind it when interpreted as an analogy about life. In that respect, this quote has repeatedly reminded me of its usefulness when applying it to my own daily existence.
I first heard it from my producer while we were writing and recording in the studio. Although it didn’t click with me immediately, it managed to find a home in every interaction I have with the people I meet.
Back in Ohio, when I was preparing to move to NYC, everyone had their own opinion of what I should do. Their input ranged from “Get a ‘real’ job, you’ll never make it out there” to “Pursue your music career here in Ohio, where it’s safe” and everything in between. Short of telling anyone who attempted to discourage me to take a long walk off a short pier, I didn’t entertain their ideas because I knew what I wanted and my own plan of action was seemingly etched in stone inside my mind. Somehow, I had figured out how to not allow the negativity affect me.
Once in New York City, my musical experience was saturated with a variety of experiences working with different band mates to managers and beyond. The same pattern presented itself again and again. Not only did everyone have their own way of doing things for themselves (which is to be expected), but often enough, they had their own way of how they wanted me to do things.
I’m not saying this was necessarily a bad thing. In fact, learning to separate the good advice from the bad advice (and also from the non-applicable advice) was one of the most important skills I began to learn (and am still learning).
Not only that, but every now and then someone would offer an idea or advice that was useful and consistent with who I am as an individual. I realized how valuable it was for me to hold onto those little pieces of input, as rare as they were for the longest time. Each bit of good advice and positive insight into who I am, who I wanted to become, and how I could get there while keeping my ‘self’ intact was a precious puzzle piece, and I would find a different piece from a new source every time. Sometimes I would throw away a few pieces because they didn’t fit with the foundation of myself that I had already established. But I took the moments and lessons and advice that appealed to me as an individual and built upon them, remembering not to add in the things that would hurt or hinder me, or cause the rest of my pieces not to fit anymore.
People will always try to put ideas in your head; There will always be someone trying to put words in your mouth. Sometimes the ideas or words will make sense with who you are, and in that case, adopting new pieces of yourself to enhance what you already have is a beautiful thing; It’s how we grow. But a great deal of the time, the ideas or words people give you just won’t fit. A former friend of mine would always feel incredibly pressured to take in every bit of advice she got, whether or not it felt “right” to her. Because she didn’t screen what she let in, she would constantly feel “wrong” about herself. She would act on advice she felt pressured to take and therefore would regret it. It weighed very heavily on her.
Having the ability to listen to input while filtering what I allow to remain in my mind has been an integral part of improving myself as a person, as an artist, and as a friend. And for me personally, the process is just as important as the end result.
So, “Floss the teeth you want to keep,” right? It boils down to nurturing the principles and ideas that make me who I am. The ideas that fit … Well, they stay “flossed.” And as for the massive amount of new input that we all get on a daily basis from everyone around us? We pick and choose what we want to keep.
And pardon the awful pun, but in light of my friend who would always take on every bit of input she was given …. Don’t bite off more than you can chew. It just means you’ll have more to clean up in the end.