Aaron’s Blog

Stories and thoughts on life as a singer-songwriter.

Don’t Finish a Race Like This

In junior high I ran cross-country. It’s that sport where you run on golf courses, all the while wishing you were golfing. 

I remember this one race. Park Rapids, Minnesota. Hills everywhere. I was running a pretty decent race. My lap times were good, and I felt strong. But with less than 50 yards to go, I heard footsteps approaching. I peeked over my shoulder and saw this kid gaining on me. I sped up, but it was too late. He beat me. 

Afterward, Coach Fabian put his arm around my shoulder and said that he knew I didn’t give my best. It was obvious. I showed I had more to give by speeding up right before the finish line. And he was right. 

Whenever I think about that race from way back in junior high, I think about how the ending is all I remember clearly. In other words, I basically only remember how I finished. Because isn’t that what we do? If something ends poorly, that’s what we remember. The ending. Whether it be a relationship, job, or cross-country race. But the reality is, most times the ending doesn’t represent the whole. You forget about those hills you tackled, and the middle moments when you had some great times. 

So I’ve been trying to err on the side of grace when thinking about situations that haven’t ended so well. Grace for anyone involved, including myself. Because, honestly, the last 50 yards only tells a fraction of the story. 

In the future, though, I’m just going to do my best to finish strong. 


Helpful Tool My Therapist Taught Me

This morning I spilled coffee all over myself in the car. Ahh, you always do that! You’re so stupid. I said to myself. It was only 7:50am and I was already feeling a bit angry. 

Normally, I’d go on about my day, leaving off from that feeling of frustration and anger, and moving on, not really thinking about how that experience would affect the rest of my day or potentially further.

But there’s this thing called the Cognitive Triangle. My therapist told me about it. It’s for people like me (and maybe you) — people who can easily spiral downward by default. Those of us who get in our heads a little too much sometimes. 

The Cognitive Triangle looks like this. I’ll draw if for you… 

Basically, the idea is that our thoughts, feelings, and actions play off of each other. Honestly, half the problem is just recognizing that. Remembering that truth in the moment. Because remembering is what pulls your brain out of default mode, spiraling. 

Here, let me go back to the example from this morning. 

I spilled my coffee. 

Ahh, you always do that! You’re so stupid. 


In that moment, had I not stopped for a second to think about the Cognitive Triangle, I could have easily let that experience fester and let future experiences build upon it, or even let it dictate future events, soon becoming an even bigger problem. 

For example, feeling a bit angry about spilling the coffee could have easily carried over to returning home and being short with my wife (action). Or thinking that people will notice my coffee stained shirt (thought), which leads to feeling anxious about a meeting I have to attend, which leads to me speeding home to change shirts (action), which leads to another thought, I’m going to be late for my meeting, which leads to more anxiety (feeling), which leads to etcetera, etcetera. 

You get the picture. 

Anyway… I hope the next time you stub your toe, have a negative thought, or feel anxious, you remember the Cognitive Triangle. It’s saved me a number of times from spiraling out of control. 


Who’s Your Redheaded Youth Pastor? 

I’m from northern Minnesota where people are stoic and reserved. More walk. Less talk. In fact no talk is also fine and acceptable, often preferable. I’ve driven hours in a car with fellow Minnesotans, nobody saying a word the entire way. Complete comfort. Awkward silence is just called silence where I’m from. 

So when my small-town church hired a redheaded youth pastor from Texas, it threw a whole wrench in the system. He didn’t know the rules. Didn’t know you weren’t supposed to say what you were thinking, especially what you were feeling. That’s a double whammy. You could get thrown in jail for that. 

But nobody really told him because that isn’t something we would do. What we did do is collectively think this and keep it in the privacy of our own minds, where thoughts belong.

I’m sure glad we didn’t tell him either, because I’ll tell you what . . . when you’re in the 10th grade — having just committed social suicide by quitting ice hockey, with an identity up for grabs, and you’re learning the guitar and needing somebody to believe in you — then I’ve found that an expressive redheaded youth pastor from Texas is pretty much the best thing you could ask for. 

I only knew three chords and “Lord I Lift Your Name on High,” but he made me believe I was the next Eddie Van Halen. He saw something in me and made me feel it, too — that if I kept working hard, I had a shot at being a real musician. 

I bring all this up because whoever you are and whatever you’re doing, it’s going to be incredibly difficult to make it out there without your own redheaded youth pastor from Texas. Someone who believes in you and knows you have what it takes. Preferably this person is not your mom. If you have or have had someone (and there can be many along the journey) I know you feel as fortunate as I do. But if you don’t, here’s to that person finding you soon, while in the meantime you keep working hard and honing your craft!


P.S. In a roundabout way, this is a thank-you note to Nathanael “Nato” Johnson for being there for me when I was 16. 

Strange Advice for Aspiring Artists

For most career choices I recommend thinking things through. But if you really want to be a professional artist or singer-songwriter then I would very much recommend not thinking things through. 

Why? Because it doesn’t make sense. The numbers won’t add up on your Excel spreadsheet. Well…whatever the numbers add up to for an aspiring trapeze artist, those will be similar (or slightly less) for the aspiring singer-songwriter. 

Yes, I know that I’m a singer-songwriter. But I’m far enough along in my career to realize I didn’t really think it through. Which was a great asset. Call it dumb luck or fate, but it certainly wasn’t calculated. Now that I’m here, I just gotta keep going. 

People ask me if they should move to Nashville, or if they should do this or that to make it in the music industry. What I really want to say to them is that they’re on the verge of thinking things through, and nothing’s killed more artist careers than that. 

The best thing you can do is pray that you are not an artist and that you can do something else fulfilling with your life. 

But if you are an artist none of this matters anyway because you’re going to go and do whatever it is that’s in your heart. You won’t be able to help yourself. Thinking things through won’t even be on your radar. And even if you’re reading this warning, it’s not going to phase you. 

If that person is you, you’ve got a good chance of having a career. I’m wishing you the best of luck! 



Why Social Media is Like Track and Field Day

Remember Track and Field Day? Being led out to the football field by Mrs. Rislov. All those different stations. Softball throw, gunnysack race, 100 meter dash.

We knew Nathan Berry or Kristi Glassman would win anyway. Why even try? Don’t teachers know better? In the second grade, all you’ve got for social leverage is your foot speed and who you invite to your birthday party. 

But every year on the last day of school, we’d line up on the track and wait for Mr. Blaze to fire his cap gun toward the clouds, signaling the beginning of our end, consummated by the the dreadful participation ribbon. 

One year, though, something came over me. Maybe it was something I ate for breakfast or maybe the anxiety adrenaline had been festering too long. Because when handed that softball, I flung it so far there wasn’t even an arc. Gone. Straight to softball heaven. In my mind, all my classmates lifted me above their shoulders and never let me down (I’m currently typing this while still on their shoulders “Espe, Espe, Espe…” they’re chanting.) 

That was the one time I didn’t receive a participation ribbon. Maybe it was worth all the other times. 

I think social media is a lot like Track and Field Day. Stay with me here…because don’t you think it’s kind of required these days? Sure, we can choose not to participate or get an excuse note from our parents, but it still doesn’t change the fact that it’s happening and most of our classmates are out there. 

Honestly, I’d rather watch from the sidelines (and I still often do). But I’ve been surprised that when I do choose to participate — when I put myself out there — sometimes something happens. A connection is made that at the very least is, “Hey, I see you, and I’m here, too.” But every once in a while it can be life altering.

What I’m talking about is participation ribbons, and blue ribbons. And the fact that we can’t get either one unless we go out on the field with Mrs. Rislov and line up.