NPR: TED Radio Hour: Success
I have been thinking a lot about success, and what it means for me, for musicians.
Most of us have heard these kinds of goals, maybe even said them ourselves; "I want to be the next principal [insert instrument] of the [insert city] Symphony Orchestra" or "I want to be the next band director at [big-time BOA] high school".
Let's face the facts here...if you make it your goal to do something like that, I mean, you have to wait for the person that is already there to leave - however that happens. Besides being a little creepy, it's quite limiting in what you can do.
Look, I don't think anyone is going to argue that a gig like that would be pretty amazing. Any musician who tells you they wouldn't want a job with one of the greatest symphonies in the world is lying. But why does that (or "big-time" college jobs) have to be the "best" way to make an impact? Furthermore, why is it oftentimes considered a "failure" or "aiming low" if someone doesn't land a gig at one of these high-profile places? I would argue that those job-specific goals aren't really getting into the meat and potatoes of why you do what you do.
I also get concerned for students who have these kinds of goals. You have this huge dream and let's say you never get it; now what? Is everything you do from there on out a failure? And what if you do get the gig? You've been working your whole life toward this one goal and now that you've got it, where do you go from there? Sure, make music...but will you ever be able to dream that big again? Kind of sucks one's purpose out a bit...doesn't it (it doesn't have to, but it can)?
This is something that I really struggled with. The realization that if I wanted to play with the Chicago Symphony (or any big orchestra), I'd have to wait for Mr. Pokorny to leave...again, kind of creepy, kind of rude to him in a way, and what do I do until then?
I'll never pretend that I have all the answers. For so long I struggled with why my performing should matter to...you. Performing can be kind of selfish. "Look at me, listen to me; aren't I great?". I know that's not really what's going on (in most cases); I've been to some amazing performances that, quite literally, changed my life in profound ways.
But why should you care? Why should anyone care about great music making? These questions were hard for me to answer. I usually thought, "because I play well...and you like good music, right?"...but deep down I knew that wasn't it. I knew there was something more to it...
What has made sense to me was changing my focus from being all about me, to being all about you. My performance isn't for me...it's for you! Here's my craft: I've spent countless hours perfecting this piece and even just my playing in general, just so I could SHARE this with you. Share this music, share this sound, share these moments...and I'll probably share a bad joke or two.
It genuinely felt better when I came to this. See, now I feel there's a greater sense of my why [I do what I do]. And that's my why, it doesn't have to be your why.
Now that I better understood my why, I can better understand my how. How would I do this? By the way, I realized through all this that I also wanted to teach more...for the same reason. I want to share my teachings with others so that they may better pursue their dreams, in music or otherwise.
Which brings be back to job-specific goals. If I have come to the realization, in my life, that I want to share my performance and my teachings to help others achieve their dreams. Why then would I say that I need to be anywhere specific, really?
Sure, I've got family and other factors to think about when choosing a place to work, but other then that...why would I place a locational or status-level limitation on a place that I need to be to achieve my goals? In fact, I would argue, that if you possess a high level of skill you kind of owe it to the world to work in places that aren't so well established! Think of the impact you could have devoting your life to helping a region realize it's musical (or, any field, for that matter) potential. My goals are to share my love of music through performance and education, right? I mean, really, can I not do that anywhere?
Easy? No. For everyone? No. But when we get to the core of why we do what we do, I hope we can all reflect on the impact of these kinds of limitations; sometimes they could actually steer us away from our greater purpose.
My hope is that my love of music will help others realize their musical potential. Seeing one of my students play an instrument for the first time and the joy that comes with it, play a whole tune for the first time, produce a beautiful sound...those moments are the true measurements of success for me. And you know what? I don't need to be at "Big State" University, to do that.