Every now and then we become over saturated with negativity that leads us to lose sight of why we do what we are called to do, make music. Sometimes this can lead us to throwing our hands in the air and seriously contemplating quitting because we’ve lost our way and can’t seem to even be able to picture picking up the pieces. Whether it’s dissatisfaction with our playing, a seemingly insurmountable roadblock, or an overwhelming sense of failure, it pushes us to say enough and start listing our instruments on ebay or craigslist. This happens to many musicians somewhere along the line and usually coincides with a soul crushing realization that some dream or goal of ours is simply not going to happen. It’s also usually accompanied by a massive period of depression and then a temporary relief when the decision to cease being a musician is made. I say temporary because if being a musician and making music is truly your calling, you will discover that you need to do it, that you’re life has a distinct quality of emptiness without it, and that you have to get your fingers moving again because, damn it, that’s the only way life makes any sense to you.
In 1971 I started taking guitar lessons and launched my musical journey. It has not been an easy one and I’ve hit the wall a couple of times. The first time was when I graduated from music school and ended up in the US Army as an Infantry officer. After five months of no music, I bought a guitar and took over as music director of a small choir for the church services at the chapel my fellow OCS candidates attended. The second time was much later and involved selling off a relatively sizable bass stable that I had amassed in order to pursue a dream and then the opportunity vanished. Within a year I was back in the saddle performing with blues bands again, walking and thumping along.
At this point in my life I have accepted the fact that I am a musician and will be as long as I can hold an instrument. I know that might sound odd, but regardless of what comes along and regardless of where I am emotionally with my playing situations, band drama, booking conflicts, or the myriad of other pains in ass that come up, the fact remains that I am always more centered when I am actively making music in one way or another than I am when I’m not.
So how do we keep going as life moves along and we’re not “living the dream?” We have to shift our focus from what was once perceived to be the big purpose, for most of us fame and fortune, and onto what really is our prime motivator, music and/or our instrument(s), while always ensuring that this is kept in our sight. Yes, if the opportunity presents itself to go on tour and play the big halls with the serious paychecks, I’ll do it, gladly. But if that never happens I’m still going to be playing until I’m no longer physically able to because it’s what I need to do. The drive to perform and improve must come from inside, regardless of the external situation, and this is where we need to start building new goals and dreams.
Being a musician is a commitment, and if it is your calling it is a life-long pursuit studded with moments of awesomeness and moments of pain, just like life itself. We all pretty much dream of becoming movers and shakers with our instruments, and at some point we lust for all the trappings of public success whether it’s as a Rock-n-Roll God/Goddess, a world class recitalist, or insert your dream here achiever. In order to achieve those types of “success” one must have drive, a solid work ethic, ability, connections, focus, and a pretty large dose of luck. Along with these, location is also pretty important, despite our having moved into the digital age. There are vast numbers of stellar musicians who never hit the big time, but who are still actively pursuing their musical careers in one way or another. Yes, we may have not succeeded in our “dreams,” but we have succeeded in being musicians, because we still are. Don’t let episodes of negativity suck the life from your purpose in life. When they hit, take them for what they are, indicators that something isn’t right. If you need to take a break and step back from things to gain some perspective, take the time to do so. Chances are you might be done with that particular chapter, but it might simply be time for another approach as opposed to closing the book entirely.