Updated: Mar 19, 2020
I have been thinking recently about how much work this profession really entails. Thousands of hours of practicing, limited jobs (many of which are low-paying), unstable income in many cases, and the looming group mentality of how much status matters. We see this in every aspect of life too. We think if we go into debt for a degree that it will pay off later. We think that everything will be worth it in the end because we are willing to do the work. However, I’ve learned on more than one occasion that this may not always be true.
Whenever a “failure” happens in our lives, not advancing in an audition, not getting into the dream school etc., we are frustrated because we are putting in the work. We are practicing the 4.5 hours a day spread out at different times for maximum effect. We put away social media, we do all the things. Sometimes it doesn’t happen even still. The reason this is frustrating is because we feel entitled to recognition or validation or at least something for our hard work. We feel entitled to something that isn’t guaranteed to us, like a job or a big competition win. When we put it in this way it seems icky, because entitlement is an icky word. But it is true, though it’s extremely hard to see in the moment. We want to believe that our work is going to mean something someday. But who says that it doesn’t mean anything today?
I have had conversations with many fellow musicians about the seemingly selfish nature of a performer. We spend hours a day by ourselves, thinking about ourselves, and thinking about what we can do to get better. Seems like a selfish life when you put it that way. But what I’ve learned is that how we view our career and existence as a whole is something we can implement now, not just when we get the big job. I believe that what I do is important, and I believe it adds value to the lives of my students especially, and if anyone gets something out of my performances, all the better. Making a life in music is hard. The mental hurdles seem sometimes to be insurmountable - you will crash into many of them at a full sprint. However, choosing this life means whatever you want it to mean. It doesn’t have to mean failure when you don’t advance in an audition or get your dream job. What we choose to believe matters most of all, because at the end of the day, you can make yourself feel really bad for not getting the thing you wanted, but you don’t have to.
Whatever your reason is for being a musician, or anything at all, is up to you. You are in control of your beliefs about any situation. Do you think something is unfair? Real talk: That is a sign that you think you’re entitled to something and didn’t get it. I feel such freedom when I think about it this way, it really shakes up my thoughts and reframes the situation. Don’t get me wrong these moments are FRUSTRATING and take time to move past, but knowing that this is the root of my frustration frees me up to see that I don’t need the thing I thought I was entitled to. Doing the work without a sense of entitlement and falling in love with the process of learning and understanding is a really good place to start, because this process will never be finished.