You can be at any stage of life and still feel like you’re struggling to “live the dream.” Everyone around you seems to be fulfilling their destinies, while you’re barely taking steps in the right direction.
Do you even know what direction you’re going?
That’s what I want to talk about a bit in this post. I’ve been floating around for YEARS trying to live to the fullest, make an impact on those around me, create something unforgettable, basically: become a legend. Aaaand sometimes I feel like I’m in the exact same place as I was years ago.
As a youngling, it feels like you’re headed for greatness when you attend that bazillionth piano lesson, win first at the gymnastics tournament, or get all As again. There’s this vision that graduation from school will result in an automatic launch into a new life: a smart, put-together, attractive, successful you.
But—surprise—you have to construct your own future. Already in my 20s, I finally (finally!) realized that the world doesn’t know or care about you. It’s your responsibility to convince the world that it should invest in you and your goals.
Great, that all sounds good.
But what if you don’t even know what your goals are? Those piano lessons really led you to believe you’d be on a concert stage by now. So where the lights at, hm?
That’s kind of what happened to me. I grew up playing and performing music. I was making money playing music three years before I was legally allowed to get a “real” job. I started teaching music two years before I graduated highschool.
So heading off to university, obviously, I should play music, right? But for whom? What would be my job? It’s amazing to look back and realize how those things just didn’t concern me. I had always played music and always would.
But as reality set in and the inescapable truth that music school is ridiculously expensive and that music jobs that actually pay are ridiculously scarce, I began shifting my focus without even intending to.
It’s unbelievably difficult to look friends and family in the face and tell them that you’re transferring schools and doing a different degree from music. You can see them thinking “Ah, she’s giving up on her dreams….”
BUT AM I?
Music can now be a part of my life every day without becoming a chore. I can play the music I want when I want. If music were my job, I would have so many limitations and demands on my daily approach to music. If one’s goal is to play in a symphony, then those demands are welcome challenges, but my goals with music—when it really and truly came down to it—were to play music for small, casual audiences. I can do that with a different day job. In fact, I can do that even more effectively with a different day job than with a music day job.
Thus and finally, we arrive at the point of this post. How do you identify your goals? Some of the best advice I’ve been given along the way was “Don’t think about what you’re willing to do every day, think about what you’re willing to do to get to a place where you can do that thing every day.” In other words, don’t think: ‘I’m willing to be a freelance musician—working weird hours, performing and dealing with nerves.’ Instead, think, ‘I’m willing to learn to be an entrepreneur—computer skills, business management, customer service—I’m willing to spend hours practicing to record, compete, attend festivals, collaborate, and take lessons; play what’s listed on repertoire lists for auditions; and spend time and money building a studio of students, supplying them with music, theory books, maybe even instruments, and designing individual curricula for each of them.’ If you’re not willing to do those things, you need to think about what you ARE willing to do.
Something that took me a solid twenty-five years to understand is that, yeah, you want to be passionate about what you do for your day-job, but things like daily, weekly, and yearly schedule; pay; and benefits really do matter. If you are able to work 7:30-3:30 and have weekends off, make decent money with healthcare benefits, you have more time and money to follow your hobbies and passions in those off-hours. Hello, music.
In the end, structure your goals around your lifestyle rather than your passion. You WILL choose something to do every day that you are passionate about. You might not be particularly passionate about financing, but you’re passionate about people: so there you go, day-job in a bank—who would have thought? This lifestyle also allows you to pursue your vast amount of hobbies and interests in off-hours and on the weekends. There’s security in salary and benefits. You feel comfortable and excited to use your spare time to try new things, build on old skills, meet new people, travel. Whatever takes your fancy.
Make a list of the Dream You:
- Dream day job: something that fits my lifestyle in terms of hours, salary, benefits, preparation work, environment (office, classroom, lab, etc).
- Passions: hobbies that you used to love, new things you want to try, things that will benefit your Day Job, things that will make you feel powerful and invigorated.
- Daily goals that you want to make into habits: “Drink water, exercise,” “Make a schedule for cleaning and organizing the house regularly,” “Practice the Adobe Creative Cloud suite every day,” etc.
The little stories I told today are just a few vignettes, I realize, and this list is pretty sparse. There’s no step-by-step guide to YOUR life. Only you can fill in the blanks.