When you went to school for music, what did you want to do?
What did you hope to be?
A soloist? An orchestral musician? A music teacher or college professor?
If I think back to the beginning of my undergraduate degree, I wanted to be a music teacher in a public school. Shortly after starting school I realized that I loved teaching, but that I wanted to focus on teaching the flute rather than all the instruments. My goal shifted to being a college professor, or maybe a private studio teacher until my other plans came together.
My friends at the time had goals very similar to mine. We admired those who already had orchestral jobs, professorships, or taught in successful music programs.
We set our sights on these lofty and limited positions and got to work.
As we finished our degrees we took, and were rejected from, grad school auditions and job interviews. Of course we were accepted to a few and we all moved on to the next stepping stone, maybe a little stung from the rejection of the programs and positions we deemed not quite ready for, but still determined
As we all went our separate ways there continued to be measurements of our abilities. A jury, a concerto competition, a job interview, a teaching evaluation. We were always being measured against something, and presumably these measurements, criteria, and categories would prepare us to move up the next rung in the classical music ladder.
I was fortunate, through good fortune, hard work and tears, to have moderate success at each rung. I went to good schools and had great teachers. My playing improved. After graduate school, I got an adjunct job and grew a private studio.
Everything was coming together toward my goal.
I started to feel dissatisfied. I wasn’t really playing much, and when I did play I worried so much that it needed to be perfect I didn’t really enjoy making music at all.
I was bored with my very predictable routine, although I loved teaching and working with all of my students.
I decided the answer was to move and challenge myself more. I uprooted and moved half way across the country to try again.
But, eventually, the same dissatisfaction crept in. I felt bored, listless, and unmotivated.
I had achieved many of the goals I set as a freshman in college, so shouldn’t I feel happier? As I was faced these goals I’d had in mind for years head on I felt a strange separation from them.
I had set them so long ago, did I still want the same things? They were the things we were told were prestigious and that we should aspire to, but did I really want them?
Even when I “achieved” them, there was still a higher level to reach. In some ways, that’s the great thing about music - we can always improve, always grow and learn. But does the target ever stop moving?
Many of us sacrifice relationships, where we live, and how we spend so much of our life for these moving targets without any guarantee of ever reaching them.
Of course, we love what we do. There’s no way we would dedicate the time and effort that it requires otherwise. And I’m certainly not suggesting that our traditional goals aren’t worthwhile.
But too much attention to finding success from an external source, worthwhile or not, will leave us disappointed and dissatisfied. We feel watched and judged, not good enough. We often feel alone and forget that other musicians are going through the same things.
Ultimately, the thing that started to bring satisfaction back into my musical life was getting in touch with why I love what I do. Why do I enjoy teaching? Why do I love to make music?
Remembering why we are driven to be in music can also help us remember what we have to offer - what makes us unique and able to contribute.
When we lose sight of our “why”s and get too focused on the moving target of a career (especially in classical music) we can find ourselves striving toward something incredibly demanding without enjoying the challenge.
So why do you want to be a musician? (Subtract the fame and glamour!) Why do you want to teach others about music? (Forget about the “big job” and admiration you might some day win!)
What is it deep down that drives your dedication?
If we always let others set the bar for us we may never be good enough. If we remember our strengths, our reasons, and set our own bar then we are more likely to find success that is personally gratifying.
There is so much joy to be found in music, but the real joy is found when you’re not worried about anyone else’s moving target.
Success becomes available to you when you tap into the joy of learning how to identify it for yourself.
Hi, I'm Morgann! A flutist, teacher, meditator, aspiring yogini, and life long learner figuring out how to create my way through life one crazy idea at a time.