When I Grow Up …
When you’re a kid, you’re often asked, “So what do you want to be when you grow up?” The answers are often pie-in-the-sky. I mean, how many of us wanted to be baseball players, ballerinas, princesses, astronauts (although with no more Shuttle program from NASA, hard one to dream about these days for American kids), firemen, et al.? What adults don’t tell you when you are kids – and rightly so to not crush your spirit – is that statistically, the chances of becoming, say, a professional athlete are statistically near zero. Lots of kids play Little League here in the USA. Fewer get the chance to play it in high school or college, even less make it to the minors, and only a small amount ever get called up to the big leagues and have big careers. Major League Baseball currently has 29 teams, each with a 25 man roster. For those of you keeping score, that’s a total of 725 players out of the millions who played when they were knee high to a grasshopper. ’nuff said.
When we’re older, we’re often asked, “So where do you see yourself in n years?” (where n is usually a number like 3 or 5) during interviews. I always hated that question, but answered it honestly: hopefully doing music professionally and not doing computers. I always loved to see the reaction to that. I know they were expecting something along the lines of, “Still here doing a kick ass job!”
I never really dreamed about the types of jobs that I talked about earlier. Mine were always of the creative variety. Have I mentioned I had an aptitude for artistic and creative stuff even going back to being a really young kid? Fortunately my parents fostered that stuff in me. They even took me to art lessons at Perkins Center for the Arts in Moorestown, NJ for a few years. The earliest job I remember wanting was to be an animator for Disney – one I would still love to do. In retrospect, in today’s world with computer animation, it would have been a perfect blend of what I’m good at. Then somewhere in elementary school, that shifted to wanting to be an architect. I remember doing a school project on it in I believe 4th grade and writing to places like Cornell finding out about their architecture programs. I think somewhere along the way I realized while architect was cool and I had the aptitude for it (it was creative, involved math which I was good at, etc.), I realized that it wasn’t going to be an easy money making job. Ah, jaded youth at a very young age.
As I got older, that whole creative thing solidified into music which has stuck to this day. Truth be told, I never lost the love to draw or do art (I designed the artwork for all the albums I’ve released to date). I am sure I’ll do the same for the new one when it’s done – I’ve got a few ideas already. I tried my hand at Little League. To say I was not very good, well, that’s generous. I got my token hit or two a year, and was put into games when it really didn’t matter. I still have a few game balls still in my possession for the few times I made a difference, but I knew quickly this wasn’t going to be my path in life. Let’s not forget the fact that I was smaller than pretty much everyone – as I still am today. I really was the scrawniest of whatever team I was on.
Where some of my friends excelled at baseball, I excelled at playing bass. Within a year of starting back in 3rd grade (10 years old), I was already playing with high school kids. The head of the music program for the entire school district had me playing jazz around the same time. I started playing trombone in 5th grade because I knew I couldn’t use the electric bass in marching band (a requirement if I was ever going to be in band in high school); I wound up being 1st chair trombone in high school without even practicing the darn thing or taking it home. The real reason I picked trombone: I was lazy. Didn’t want to learn a new clef. Sad but true. I stopped playing trombone after high school and I regret it. I still remember all the positions (7th was a pain for a smaller guy like me, so hitting the lower B natural was a chore) but knowing that instrument has helped me immensely in arranging for it when I compose. My parents gave me my first true reality kick when I was applying for college. They in no uncertain terms told me I needed a real degree – not a music one. Fortunately I had a good thing to fall back on … (and for the record, Mom and Dad were right)
I also realized around that same timeframe that I got into music I also had an aptitude for computers. It started with video games (I was an Intellivision guy – but loved playing Atari 2600 or Odyssey at friends’ houses). That then blew up big time when I got my hands on a Commodore PET in elementary school. I was hooked. I remember when I got my first Commodore 64 in the early to mid-80s, I was stoked. I think if you are reading this, you know where this path has taken me. I wouldn’t be who I am today without those early experiences on devices that were and are less powerful than the phones we all now carry in our pockets or bags. I had a series of lucky breaks and mentors along the way – not just in the computer realm – that pushed me and saw potential in me to foster to shape me into who I am today. For that I am eternally grateful. Maybe I’ll expand on mentoring in another post down the road.
Clearly I’m still doing computer-related stuff for the day job – and I’m totally OK with it. To be blunt, I love what I do and I hope it shows. It also affords me many opportunities personally and professionally. While music is and always will be much more than a hobby for me, there’s no way I could do it to the level I am without that financial backing. Rubber, meet road. This is the struggle of going from an idealistic, naïve kid to an adult. At some point we all have to grow up and get real about our life situation. You’re not going to put the down payment on a house or purchase nice stuff if you’re living in dreamtime (cue Daryl Hall …). Even if your goal is not to buy a house or other “stuff”, but just to ensure your family’s basic needs are met, some source of income is definitely the order of the day. Stuff really isn’t a measurement of happiness – I have known plenty of people with “stuff” who are not necessarily happy.
Why am I going through all of this? It’s simple: like anything else, you need to be realistic (see my last blog post about 24×7 as a good example of this principle), but at the same time, you must be passionate about whatever you do in life. There are jobs and there are careers. You need to think about a career and how you’re going to get from Point A to Point B. Wandering aimlessly from job to job isn’t the way to go. I knew I wanted to go independent five years before I actually did it. That’s the kind of planning I’m talking about. Things may take awhile for you to get there, but when you do, it’s a real sense of accomplishment. Many of us have seen it, but there’s an inherent truth to the movie “Office Space” that can happens with some jobs. Some are truly soul sucking.
I don’t care if you want to be the best SQL Server professional in the world or a stay-at-home parent, strive to be the best you can be (what is this, an Army commercial?). Yes, we all need to put a roof over our heads and food in our (and our families’) mouths, but at what cost? If you’re not happy (and I don’t mean to imply you can’t have bad days; I’m talking happy in an overall, general life sense) no amount of money can fill in the gap. You will be living your own personal version of “Office Space”. Maybe some would disagree, but for me, that then spills over into my personal life at some point. Been there, done that. As much as we try to separate our work life from our personal life, they’re going to get intertwined. I think that’s a big reason why work/life balance is so hard.
Start managing your career, not your job. You’ll be thankful you did.
Like you, I grew up loving to play music. Only I started later (7th, at age 12) and on a band instrument (flute). I ended up picking up trumpet my 10th grade year because the jazz band needed a 4th trumpet but stayed primarily on flute. That was exciting and I got to play some really neat gigs. Fast forward to college and I’m in the Citadel Regimental Band and Pipes, just come back from the Edinburgh Military Tattoo. Man, music was awesome and it got me through knob (plebe) year.
But like you, I realized I couldn’t make a career with music. I had an opportunity, but wisely turned it down. I went to visit the Parris Island MCRD Band, because Major Day, USMC, Ret., the Band Director at the Citadel, had trained some of the guys who were in charge down there. Knowing I came from Major Day’s band, they offered me a tryout on the spot. Be a Marine, play music for a living… that was a tough choice. I almost took it. But I knew better. I knew what Lance Corporals in the Marine Corps made. Not much.
I’m glad I made the choice to stay at college and though music is, for me, something I really only do at church now, it’s still a part of my life. I couldn’t imagine being without it. I’m also happy at what I’m doing, both as an IT guy and as a children’s pastor. Life is what you make of it.