Sticking It Out

Do you want to quit? Is there some grass that looks really green somewhere else? Sometimes the temptations to run away from our current situations is really strong. You probably have a good idea of where you want your career to be in the next 5-10 years, and it’s really easy to focus on the things that seem to be standing in your way. We see that something is not working where we are, so we decide it might be easier just to run where things seem to be working better. But remember one thing: where you see a good thing going, you can bet that there is a person behind it who wanted to give up and run away but decided to stick it out.

There is a reason that few are truly successful. Before great things happen, there are often times of discouragement, setbacks, and opposition. Instead of sticking to our guns and working through these difficulties, we often choose to run away from them and chase an easier path. But know this: that easier path is a mirage; it doesn’t exist. The struggles may look different and may show themselves in different areas of your life, but they will still be there waiting for you. Those who have the fortitude to stand there ground and keep fighting through the hard times will be the few that come out on the side of true success.

Certainly, there are times when leaving where you are is what you need to do. But the motivation should never be to get away from your problems because this is the impossible dream. If you want to leave where you are to chase an exciting new possibility, then it may be time for a change and for you to go for it. But if you are just wanting to run away from your problems, let me encourage you to commit right now that you are going to stick it out. Make some game plans, set some goals, and get to work on dealing with the problems that bother you. The presence of hard things is a good sign. It means there is something worth working for on the other side.

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You Never Know Until You Try (Part 2)

In my last post I promised to share what it is that I feel I need to try but that honestly intimidates me. You see…

I believe that classical music is still relevant, even outside of the often associated affluent, cultured upper-class, and I believe that choosing a career in music can still be a viable and lucrative choice.

In order for these things to continue to be true, those of us in the classical music industry need to take a serious look at what we are doing and make some changes. If we believe that what we do is relevant to those in the middle and lower classes, then we need to work on changing our perception and possibly even our branding. We need to look at our programming and the amount of audience interaction in our programs. We need to do more community outreach instead of hoping that the community will come to us. If we believe that a career in music is still a viable option for up-and-coming musicians then we need to see if our current models of education and training are adequately preparing them for their careers.

There a lot to think about and unpack in there. I don’t have all of the answers. But I feel these questions tugging for my attention. It’s daunting. It seems that our society places so little value as a whole in what I do that it could never change. But…I won’t know until I try. Of course, trying this on the national level would be discouraging and most likely impossible. But I can start where I am. Can classical music become relevant in Southeast Kentucky? Can my school have a thriving program that produces really strong musicians from the Appalachian area? Half of me is not sure. It seems too far removed from what is valued and understood here. But the other half of me really believes that the borders that separate people who love classical from those who don’t don’t really exist. Music and humanity cannot be separated. No human is immune from the touch that music can have on the soul. If classical music has the power that I believe that it does, then it can thrive anywhere with the right cultivation. So, while I am not (and may never be) sure that it can happen here any more than I am sure that it can happen across the nation, I sure am going to try. It won’t happen any less if I don’t try, but if I do, I might see more results that I expect.

What about you? Is there something you feel that you should try to tackle but aren’t sure if you can? Give it a try. You may just surprise yourself.

 

You Never Know Until You Try (Part 1)

You never know until you try.

That has been a phrase that I have tried to keep at the center of my life, and it really is true. At first glance, or even after a hard look, many things looks impossible (or at least improbable). For most people, the phrase goes like this:

You never try until you know.

They decide not to apply for a job opening that you’d really like because you don’t feel that you are qualified enough. They would like to speak at a conference, but they worry they won’t be viewed as enough of an expert in their field. They would like to change careers to something they are more passionate about, but they are afraid of the risk. They want to know that it will work out before they try.

But…

The world doesn’t work that way. There’s another phrase that goes “good things come to those who wait.” I completely disagree! Rather, “good things come to those who chase them.” In the current world of academia, I am “under-qualified” for my job because I do not currently hold the highest degree possible in my field (Doctor of Musical Arts). Now, I knew that before I ever applied for my current position. I could have sat on that information and never sent out any applications. I was comfortable with my career where it was. I was successful, and I was making a decent living for my family. But I had wanted to teach at the college level since I was in college. It was an overwhelming desire that I couldn’t get out of my mind. The easiest way to that path was to get my DMA,  but with a wife and later a baby to support, that easy way really was not easy at all. I decided that I didn’t know for sure that I couldn’t get a university job until I tried. So tried I did. I sent out a ton of applications. I got several rejections letters, and several schools sent no reply whatsoever to my application. It wasn’t until the last application I sent out that I finally got the call that would start the ball rolling of landing my goal job.

I guarantee you that had I polled a large group of music professionals to ask them if I should even try applying for a full-time college position without a DMA, the vast majority of them would say not to bother. In today’s job market, it’s just not going to happen. The competition is too fierce. But if I had never tried, I would definitely not have been offered the job. It was only because of trying that I knew what was possible.

That is one story of how trying without knowing worked out positively in my life. I could tell you many, many more, but I won’t bore you. However, in part 2 I will share how I plan to apply this principle in the future. I sense a strong desire to tackle a big issue in my field, and to be honest, it’s a completely overwhelming thought. It scares me. I honestly don’t know if I can do it. I think there are many people more qualified that I to do it. But…

I’ll never know until I try.

Dreams

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“I still have a dream, a dream deeply rooted in the American dream – one day this nation will rise up and live up to its creed, ‘We hold these truths to be self evident: that all men are created equal.’ I have a dream…” – Martin Luther King, Jr. 

Do you have a dream? Most of us do, but most of us are don’t believe in it enough to put action behind it. Unfortunately, a dream will alway be just that, a dream, unless you do something to make that dream a reality. Martin Luther King, Jr. is not famous because he had a dream. Rather, he’s famous because of what he did trying to make that dream a reality.

Why do so many people get to the end of their lives without ever accomplishing their dreams?

1. They think it can’t be done. Dreams can be scary. They can seem daunting and impossible. You may feel that way about your dream, but how does your dream compare to King’s? Ending racial prejudice and oppression was a pretty impossible dream! Maybe some of you reading may have a dream that big or bigger, but I would say that most of our dreams pale in comparison to King’s dream. Now, you may argue that he never did see his dream come to pass, so maybe it was impossible. However, we will never know the full impact that he had on the Civil Rights Movement. I would venture to guess that were he given the opportunity to do it again, he would make the same decision to pursue that dream, no matter the end result.

2. They let others bring them down. If the vast majority of people aren’t wiling to do what it takes to pursue their dreams, don’t expect them to be there for you when you are pursuing yours. Dream chasers are outliers. Even King didn’t have the support of many of his friends and fellow pastors. They felt that what he was doing was too dangerous, that the timing wasn’t right, and that it was not going to do any good. Had he listened to them, the Civil Rights Movement would have been without one of its greatest leaders. If you want to chase your dreams, you need to be prepared to go against the grain of popular opinion.

3. They aren’t committed enough. This remind of you of my last post? The importance of commitment just can’t be emphasized enough. King was willing to face jail, and eventually death, to follow his dream. That takes commitment. Many of you won’t ever need to worry about prison or death while pursuing your dreams, but if you aren’t even committed enough to change your current actions in order to start pursuing your dream, you will join the long line of people who never see their dreams come to life.

Do you have a dream? Today, decide on one action that you are going to take to get you one step closer to that dream becoming reality. Don’t worry if it seems impossible. Don’t listen to naysayers. Don’t allow yourself to lose your commitment. Do it.

 

Commitment

When I am giving career advice to high school and college students, I always tell them this:

“If there is a plan B, you might as well make that plan A. In order to build a successful career, you have to be 100% committed to making it succeed. If you keep a plan B around, you will most likely run to it the first time you run into a problem. Commitment to your goal will help push through that problem and bring you a step closer to the career of your dreams.” 

This is really true of any career, not just one in the arts. There are no careers without problems and difficulties along the way. How committed you are to your goals will determine if you run away from them or if you creatively deal with them. If you run away from plan B at the first sign of trouble, what is going to stop you from running to plan C later? Building a successful career is never easy, and it is going to require you to play the long game. Commitment is what will carry you through.

Finding true success in any field will also require risk, some small and some great. It is not natural for us to assume risk. The vast majority of people would much rather play it safe, but safe will never bring you the success you desire. I believe that this is one of the major missing ingredients for musicians who are wanting more from their careers. They may be just one risk away from taking their career to the next level, but they will continue to play it safe and all the while complain about where they are. They lack the commitment necessary to step out on the water to see what is on the other side.

I have never had a plan B. Now, I’m not saying that if for some reason I could not longer support my family as a classical musician that I would just let them starve. Of course not! I will certainly do whatever is necessary to provide for my family, but I am wholly committed to doing that through my career in music. If the days comes when that is not possible, whether for a season or permanently, then I will deal with it then. Carrying around a plan B or a “what if” will not help me get through a snag in my career. They won’t help me when I have to decide whether or not to take a risk on a new opportunity. Only committment to my goals and dreams will get me through.

If you are dreaming about a career, just starting out in your career, or just not happy with where you are in your career, let me challenge you to up your commitment. Get rid of your plans B-Z and your “what ifs.” It will change how you the challenges and risks that life will throw your way, and it will greatly increase your chances of attaining that career that you dream of at night.

Welcome!

Are you considering a career in music, or have you already committed to a career in music but are unsure of how to get off the ground? I invite you to come on this journey of discovery with me. I have not “arrived” by any stretch of the imagination. I still have a lot of life in front of me, and I hope to see career growth along every step of the way. However, I  have been able to defy a lot of odds and assumptions in my professional life up to now. You don’t have to look hard to find people who are bemoaning the “death of classical music” or who are questing the value of artists in the workforce. The governor of my state of Kentucky gave his own little tirade againsts art programs in public universities recently. It’s easy to start listening to all of the voices out there and get nervous about following your passion. Now, I fully understand that passion doesn’t put food on the table, but if you are smart and creative in building your career, your passion can be the means of putting food on the table.

University music programs tend to a great job at producing stellar musicians, but they don’t seem to do as good a job at preparing their students to turn that musicianship into a profitable career. Some argue that universities need to work to fix this situation, but others argue that that is the way it is supposed to be! That’s an argument for another post, for now, most young professionals need to acknowledge early that relying strictly on the knowledge they got in college may not be enough to build their career. Learning must be something that continues through your whole life, and after years of working for musical ability and knowledge, it’s now time to learn how to make that music ability and knowledge work for you.

I hope that as I share my experiences, both good and bad, through this blog, that you will find it helpful in jump-starting your career. Always feel free to comment or contact me if you have any questions. I look forward to taking this journey with you.