First, the basics:
I’m a musician. It’s my job. In the past I’ve had to do other work to make money, and I may have to someday in the future, but at this moment the opportunities music has provided me have allowed me to live solely off of music. I’m only 22 and I haven’t yet released my first album, so whether I’ll be able to sustain a long-term career making music is very much up in the air. I intend to try. I love making music, and I’d love to be able to make a living doing something that I genuinely enjoy.
Now I’m going to get a little negative for a minute. Bear with me. There are three ideas that over the past year or so I’ve found myself thinking about and laboring over in my mind, and have ultimately found to be true about myself.
-If I wrote songs all day long every single day, I would eventually get bored.
-There are parts of my job, a LOT of parts, that I find boring or frustrating even when I only have to do them occasionally.
-There are things in my life more important to me than making music. If I had to choose between music and one of those things, I would let music go.
As I came to understand the way I felt about my passion, I suddenly became very, very afraid. Did this mean I’d made a mistake? Was music not really what I was meant to do, was it not my “calling”? If this is my passion, why aren’t I excited and obsessed with it all of the time? It was terrifying. It’s one thing to step into a “risky” life, it’s another to face the prospect of having stepped into that life only to discover that it isn’t what you truly want.
The realization I’ve recently come to is one that I find extremely comforting and informative to how I make decisions, and I think that it could be useful to a lot of folks. DISCLAIMER: What I’m about to say is not revolutionary. But I’ve met several people who, like me, could use this advice:
Life is not one thing. Life has parts.
What makes each human being unique is the collection of things that matter to them, and to what degree they matter. Family, friends, nature, reading, pets, faith, puppet shows, swimming, eating donuts, watching sports, collecting buttons, talking about “The Walking Dead”, whatever they may be, all these parts of life make up a beautiful fluid puzzle, each section constantly adjusting in size to assert it’s importance or make room for other priorities.
You are not defined by the first thing people ask you at parties: “So, what do you do for work?”
Too often I hear fellow artists and people who have chosen to follow “non-traditional” careers speak critically of those who work in more “traditional” (ie.- non-creative) fields. I hear someone speak of a friend or acquaintance of theirs who gave up on the dream only to fall into some boring, stable job.
That’s allowed. And it’s not a failure! You know why?
BECAUSE LIFE HAS PARTS.
We should be constantly evaluating and re-evaluating our many and varied goals in life, and if we determine that the cost of one will weigh too heavily upon the others, we should give it up!
If someone chooses a job that they’re not crazy about, or that has little opportunity for upward growth, but that allows them more time off to spend with their family or more time to go fishing or even more time to watch TV, they should be celebrated! Because they’ve oriented their priorities. For some, at certain times in their life, career may be the most important part of their life. And that’s allowed, but so is ANY OTHER ARRANGEMENT OF PRIORITIES.
Artists: Remember how many times you’ve had to sit through someone telling you that you should pursue something more practical so that you’ll be able to have a stable income? Remember how frustrating that is?? Well let’s not be that to someone else. Let’s not criticize those who have the strength to say, “Know what? I’d really love to succeed at this, but it’s throwing off the balance of all the other things in my life that matter to me.” To say something is not worth the cost is no failure, despite what we’re taught to believe.
Failure is spending the finite time we have on earth subscribed to a limited view of success.
Now all of this is not to say I’m quitting music, not by a long shot. I love what I do for a living, I’m pretty sure I always will love it, and I’m blessed to be able to do it. But it’s not for everyone. Not because it takes any sort of special strength or mental fortitude, but because for some it’s just not worth what they have to give up.
In short: Becoming a successful musician is not my dream.
My dream is to live a fulfilled life. And for me, being a songwriter is a piece of that. It’s a big, beautiful piece, but it’s just a piece.
And I’m okay with that.