Well, folks, I’ve done it! As of Monday, May 18th, I’ve survived one whole year in the “real world.” It’s been a whirlwind twelve months, filled with new opportunities, experiences, and perspectives, and so in light of this anniversary, I’d like to take the opportunity to share some of the many insights I’ve gained along the way.
I thought about making this a “five things” post, complete with fancy formatting and bullet points, but I’ve learned a lot more than five things, and one of them is that my “five things” posts often tend to get rather long and tedious. So, today I’m channeling my entrepreneurial side, and trying something new with a stream-of-consciousness blog.
What I Learned in Year One in the Real World
from an aspiring cellist/writer/arts advocate
Being in the professional music world is absolutely nothing to be afraid of; in fact, it’s incredibly liberating. For the first time in your life, you’re in control. There aren’t any classes to take, essays to write, or etudes to practice. If you’re not happy in a given situation, you don’t have endure it until the end of the semester; you can get up and leave whenever you want (but be sure you have money saved up first).
Speaking of money, it’s kind of important that you make it. Aspiring to a great job is wonderful, but you probably won’t get it right away. You will, however, get bills right away, especially if you’re like me and have lots of student loans to pay back to your beloved alma mater(s). It’s nothing to be ashamed of if you take a job that isn’t exactly relevant to your major, or if you accept a musical position that you’re overqualified for. It doesn’t mean you’ve failed; it means you’re sensible and conscientious. And trust me, you’re not alone.
Don’t settle for anything less than your true potential. Just because a teacher or colleague or judge once told you that you’re not good enough to get a top-tier performance job doesn’t mean you’re not; it just means that person thought you weren’t on that particular occasion (and was maybe in a bad mood). Music is something you spend your whole life improving at, and that is one of the most amazing things about it. Keep practicing, keep learning, and keep believing.
Classical music and orchestras are NOT dying. There’s change happening, but it’s a good kind of change. We are privileged to be a part of it.
Promoting yourself is not an arrogant thing to do. I always used to feel awkward about being up front and forward when networking, but in our field, you really need to do it if you’re going to get ahead. The job section in the back of International Musician or the emails you get from Musical Chairs do NOT by any means constitute the total available job openings for you!! I experienced the benefits of networking firsthand last summer when I wrote an email to a cellist in Chicago whom I met at a summer institute a few years back. I explained to her than I was back in the area, and asked that she let me know if she heard of any opportunities that might be right for me. She enthusiastically agreed. A month later, I got an email from a cello teacher at a well-respected Suzuki program. She had to have emergency surgery, and my contact had recommended me to her as a sub. Long story short, I took it, ended up splitting the students between myself and the teacher when she returned, and now it’s a permanent job (and source of income).
I never would have heard about it if I hadn’t written that email.
Family and friends are very important. At this point in your life, you need their support more than ever. Don’t take them for granted, or anything for granted, for that matter. If you have a college degree and a job, you are luckier than millions of people in this world. If you are healthy and happy, you’re luckier than even more millions of people. There’s a big flashing sign on Illinois Route 53 that I drive under every day, proclaiming the number of traffic deaths in the state since the beginning of 2015. Every few days, the number ticks higher. Soaring beneath it in my new Honda, my cello resting peacefully in the seat beside me, I am reminded that just to be alive and functional is something to be forever grateful for.
There will be those colleagues from school who get lucky and get a top job right away. Be happy for them. Don’t be jealous if your job doesn’t match up to theirs–you are definitely in the majority! In our field, it’s so hard to get to the top, but luckily, that’s not what it’s all about. In the past year, I’ve performed a solo on the stage of Chicago’s Orchestra Hall, concertized with members of a professional string quartet, taught multiple five-year-olds how to hold a cello, curated a blog with inspiring posts about musical entrepreneurship, played for fellow guests at a ski resort, and just last Saturday, performed at my cousin’s wedding on the shores of Canandaigua Lake in upstate New York. I regard each of those activities to have been equally meaningful.
Don’t fear failure. Don’t chase success. Don’t worry about what everyone else thinks of you, or how good they look on Facebook. We all have our fears, our failures, and our flaws. We’re all just a bunch of life forms that, by sheer chance, happened to evolve on this great blue ball floating in the middle of infinite. And some of us happen to make our living playing musical instruments.