As I have been playing piano for a large number of high school musicians over the past week, it has struck me that so many of the beliefs and habits people carry around for the rest of their lives are already in place for these students. Many of them are talented, but the level of dedication and artistry displayed by a few of them is reflected in the music they play. They have tapped into a true passion for what they are doing... something not everyone discovers. A few students are on the other end of the spectrum as well. After every few measures, they take a pause to offer excuses and justifications for why they don't know a piece or aren't playing very well.
Of course, some of this latter group's behavior could be the result of nerves, but there is something more underneath. After accompanying so many other musicians over so many years, it's evident to me that some of them call forth a level of passion and intention that others never reach. And the same goes for other walks of life as well. There are some people who turn being laid off from a job into an opportunity to create something about which they are truly passionate. I have heard of people writing books, starting companies, or taking their lives in unexpected and satisfying directions, all because they "lost" a job. Others interpret the same circumstances as a sort of paid vacation, or use the situation as an excuse to indulge in self-defeating thoughts and behaviors. They don't tap into the same level of passion and purpose.
In my own life, I have taken the time created by stepping away from a predictable work schedule to compose music and seek more opportunities for my music to be heard. And I have been working to fit all of the things that ignite my passion into one big picture of my life. Seeing how excuses and assumptions work against other people, though, I have realized that I can be doing the things that are truly important to me, regardless of my circumstances. Many years ago, I was working full time as a courier and wrote a ten-minute wind ensemble piece over lunch breaks and in the evenings. And back then, the full score and all of the parts were written out by hand; I didn't have a computer program to assist with notating the music the way I do now. But it mattered to me, and so I made it happen.
Believing that I have to create a special set of circumstances in order to have what I want is a self-imposed limitation. It means that I have an excuse for not doing the things that matter to me, which could have the payoff of letting me play the martyr. In any case, recognizing that I have the freedom to do what what's important to me regardless of my circumstances is liberating. I am grateful that I know what I'm passionate about, and I strive to stay awake to how I can inspire others to discover what those things are in their own lives.