The title for this post is flagrantly ripped off from Doug Yeo, bass trombonist for the Boston Symphony and the author of yeodoug.com, a fabulous internet resource for all classical musicians and students. Doug wrote a great article with this exact title that I remember reading 10 years ago, and it really shaped my thinking while I was in school. This is my own personal variant on the the themes in Doug’s article, and I think of it as an homage to him.
How did I end up here?
While doing a massive filing cabinet purge recently, I stumbled upon some goal sheets that I had written out for myself shortly after finishing graduate school. Though I hadn’t landed a playing job, I knew that it was only a matter of time. I’m JASON HEATH, after all. Surely “my job” is out there just waiting for me to auditon for it. The world was truly my oyster.
I was always a firm believer in the power of committing things to paper. The act of writing things down organizes your thoughts, clarifies your mind, and make it more likely that you will achieve your dreams.
I kept meticulous practice records, recording everything I worked on in my own Byzantine code:
I didn’t leave it at that, however. Setting goals–clear, tangible goals–made me much more likely to achieve them. Right?
I committed my long and short term goals to paper. Looking back on them now, I can’t help but wince:
Guess how many of these goals I achieved? None. Sure is a good feeling having a 100% failure rate for my goals…
We have no control
In hindsight, these goals were unreasonable because they hinged entirely upon outside forces. How could I become principal bass of the Chicago Symphony? This wasn’t even an option…
For many, these goal setting exercises are valuable because they keep you inspired and reaching for the stars. Even if you don’t achieve x, y, or z, you will be closer to your dreams for having undertaken the exercise.
For me, however, the complete failure to even make any demonstrable progress toward these goals highlights everything I hate about this “career path” I’ve been. No matter how hard I tried, how many hours I practiced, how much expensive gear I bought, how many lessons I took, how many people I played for, how many auditons I took, how much I meditated, exercised, or did yoga, how much I taped myself, how many goals I wrote out, or how much blood, sweat, and tears I let loose, the result was always the same:
I poured my heart and soul into the audition process, spending countless thousands of dollars and endless hours in pursuit of a lowly double bass position in some orchestra–somewhere, anywhere.
What a waste…..
My actual successes
I’m being intentionally melodramatic here to prove a point. Most people reading this realize that the prize is in the process, and that all those hours of preparation and all that dedication have in fact paid off for me in spades if I take a less narrow view of things.
Did I get an orchestra job? Nope. But who cares? I’m probably just as happy as if I did, and I make more money than if I’d won many of the jobs I auditoned for. Also, ironically, I’m probably better known because of this freakin’ blog than if I had won an orchestra job. How you like them apples?
What’s really important in life? Family, friends, and the like? Of course. For me, it’s also about simply making some kind of difference with my work. Would an orchestra job have done that? Sure. But my blogging, teaching, podcasting, and performance activities do that as well.
Why am I really a musician? Do I feel fulfilled doing what I’m doing? Was music school a waste of my life? Are these soul-searching questions a waste of time?
Maybe it is a waste of time to think about this stuff–it is what it is, and that’s that. But digging up starry-eyed goal sheets from the past can’t help but make me think about this stuff!