Are you an introvert or an extrovert? Are you a classical musician or jazz musician? Are you a leader or follower? The decisions you make concerning this can drastically change your future. Or at least this is what goes through many of our heads as we try to imagine future opportunities and jobs. A lot of times we don’t even think about certain fields or options because they are so out of the realm of our personality. We hear the term “sellout” and attach that to doing something that is so outside of who we are, the only reason we could choose to do it would be to disown who we are and get rich quick, and that’s bad.
So who are you?
In the music business these days you have to be EVERYTHING, so be careful in answering this question! You need to own every role you’re given, even if it’s not who you've been told you are your whole life. As a result, the line that divides who we are and what we do gets very blurred. WHAT you are can constantly change, for better or worse. Sometimes you will have to follow when you want to lead. Sometimes you will have to go mainstream when you want to be esoteric. In the end though, what you are is not what grows your career. WHO you are is what makes you successful. Words cannot describe who you are, because there are just not enough words to describe EVERYTHING you are and all you are capable of. It’s something deep inside you that you need to know and trust.
For example.... let's take a look at my career path, combined with my perception of myself at the time of each change.
I had received substantial scholarships to attend Interlochen Arts Academy, Lawrence University, and then DePaul University for grad school, studying orchestral performance. I felt like a pretty big winner. In grad school I auditioned for a local brass quintet even though my colleagues thought it was beneath them and were probably laughing at me for doing it. I got in to that quintet and met a colleague that introduced me to the world of British Brass Bands. Joined the brass bands, and fell in love with that, so much so that I gave up on Orchestral Performance and got a job running a music store. I felt like such a sell-out doing this...choosing to drop Orchestral Performance as a life goal, and choosing to go corporate for a pay check so I could have fun playing in a brass band. I thought about the massive disappointment I would cause all my teachers and family. However, brass banding and chamber music made me really happy and inspired in a way Orchestral Music was not, and who I was was yelling that loud and clear. The nights that lead to making that decision to take the job were sleepless. I felt like I was jumping off a ledge that I'd never be able to return to.
However, working at that store and playing in the brass bands led to the connections I needed to make to get to my current job with Denis Wick/Dansr, Inc, which introduced me to my husband, future colleagues that I would create my touring brass quintet Alliance Brass, and a whole host of other professional and music performance opportunities. Through this path I went from being a leader, to novice, from the strongest to the weakest, from being unbelievably overworked to having too much time on my hands, from being micromanaged to having to be my own manager and motivator. As your roles change, it becomes really difficult to make decisions if you just base them on what you are in that current situation. If I had just stayed an orchestral player like my environment and 9 years of study had taught me, I am confident I would be a very unhappy and unsatisfied individual right now. If I had not taken some of the auditions I, rather stupidly at the time, thought were beneath me, I would not have met the people that would influence my future career and performance successes. Fear and pride are equally dangerous reactions as you move forward in your career. They are powerful and very necessary forces in your life, but if you let either dominate, they will destroy your future success.
So I'll ask again... Who are you?
Your current environment might have a very specific description, but the key word in that sentence is ‘current’. Are you basing your next steps on what your current environment tells you you are? What will your future environment say? Your world view and how you want things done will inevitably change depending on what role you are asked to play. Don’t make decisions solely on what you are right now because what you are and what you want to do will constantly evolve. Dig down a little deeper, and tap in to who you are. Who you are gives you the strength and courage to move forward when what you are tells you you are too good, or not good enough. Your future will hopefully be a series of opportunities that are above you, below you, that look perfect, or seem like the biggest sell out of all. For me, looking back at my career so far, I see a patchwork quilt of all those opportunities pieced together; the wins, the fails, the excitements, and the utter disappointments. And where words will always fail, that patchwork quilt tells a very clear story of who I am.