Sunday, February 20, 2011

A Real Job

When I was on the threshold of adulthood (on which I sometimes feel like I'm yet lingering), my stepfather asked one evening, "When are you going to stop this music crap and get a real job?"  Or something to that effect.  My mind may not accurately recall his exact words, but I do remember him suggesting that I could be a dishwasher for a local restaurant if that's what it took.  Although at the time my reaction was fueled by teenage rebelliousness, there are still moments when I struggle with that question.  I have nothing against dishwashers, but after earning a doctorate degree, teaching at colleges, and directing a multi-disciplinary, inter-generational arts program, expecting to thrive on creating music sometimes seems like cheating somehow.

My stepfather's question made perfect sense to him at the time.  He chose a profession that reflects his strong work ethic, the kind of blue-collar career in which you know that you've been working at the end of the day.  He respects people that stand on their own two feet, people who are responsible for themselves.  A music career equated with a pipe dream of fame and fortune, slightly more respectable than winning the lottery, but less likely to happen.  Especially in the small town where we lived.  It has its own share of culture, but it simply lacks the critical mass of population to attract much attention.  No wonder he would suggest a more realistic course than being a musician.

Even then, I didn't see a music career quite the same way as he.  I simply wanted to get paid for creating music, in whatever forms that would take.  It wasn't as though I wanted to be handed something for nothing, I just wanted to make money doing what I loved to do.  Recently, I have made decisions as if I needed to earn money somehow so I could indulge in creating music.  I could see music as a luxurious destination, but not the path.  Somewhere along the way, I became unconvinced of the feasibility of just creating music and getting paid enough as a result.  Even though that had been the reality previously in my life.  Bizarre.

Relocation was an opportunity for me to hit the reset button on a few things, though.  I decided to identify myself (to myself and to others) first and foremost as a pianist and composer, and to trust that to be enough.  I don't need to add anything or take anything away from that.  It is an act of faith, and it is an act of authenticity.  At the same time, it is based in reality.  There are certainly people of my skill level and less who are doing just fine in music careers.  Perhaps partly because they believe it's possible to do so, at least most days.

Now I believe that it really boils down to authenticity.  I don't quite believe in "Do what you love and the money will follow."  I do, however, believe in "Do what you love and the satisfaction of doing what you love will follow."  I think that when people are doing something that has personal value, they will do it well enough to be satisfied.  Different people are satisfied by different levels of success, of course.  My stepfather is satisfied, at least in part, by doing something at which he excels, with the confidence that his effort is worth his compensation.  As it turns out, we have that in common.

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