That elusive destination towards which so many people strive and few reach – or so they are led to believe by the expectations they themselves or others have placed upon them.
What if I suggested that you’ve already arrived?
Think about it.
The idea of success, of succeeding, is one that hovers heavily over those of us who would strive to…. what?
That’s the question, ain’t it?
The accepted idea of success for someone like me (a working musician) is to “get a record deal” and “make it big”.
When I was a young’n, that was exactly what I wanted.
(Well, truth be told, I went through several career choices in my head as I was growing up. Quite seriously, I wanted to be, at one time or another, any one of the following: a veterinarian, a stand-up comic, a poet, a geologist, a novelist or a scientist with a focus on organic chemistry. From this vast field of vocations, some quality of each has remained with me: I have a deep love of and fondness for animals (I don’t even eat them or anything that comes from them with the very recently added exceptions of eggs and honey); I really enjoy making people laugh; I write pretty regularly, both here and in my assorted lyric journals and in correspondences with friends; I have a several-shoe-box-sized rock collection that includes specimens from all over this planet; and I am a total science geek, so much so that I have plans for tattoos of a carbon atom and a DNA molecule on my left forearm.)
But I didn’t choose any of those paths (although I haven’t ruled out novelist yet and I do still dabble in non-song-lyric poetry). I chose to be a working musician.
Have I succeeded?
According to John Q. Public, I probably haven’t. Why not? Because no record deal and no worldwide fame.
If only I had a dollar for every time someone said, “You should try out for America’s Got Talent!” Sure, that’s an exciting and intriguing idea – but is that what I really want? I’m already doing precisely what I want to – making music on my own terms and making a living doing it.
I’d say that’s success!
Consider the superstars of any field. The household names. Certainly they worked hard to attain the heights they have reached. Yes, I’m sure they deserve their success and their riches, but at what cost? Many (especially in the arts and sports) have handlers, agents, managers, armies of folks guiding their every step. Not only that, but there are few places on this earth where they can go and not be noticed, not be scrutinized, where they can just be regular people – which is all they really are anyway. Regular people with a certain gift for a certain something.
Just like everyone else!
Oh, you haven’t heard? You, yes you, have a special talent, too! It may not be one that propels you onto a stage or a screen or a recording, but it likely brings you in contact with your similarly attributed peers and with those who are enthusiastic about your specific talent.
Or… maybe you’ve got a hidden talent. Hidden from the view of the world – or from your own view. If you know what it is — then go after it! Pursue it, drink it in, savor it. Life is so rare and precious and sweet, and the chance to do these things is just as rare and fleeting. If you don’t know what is — well, I do hear people say that sometimes, but you know what? I’m guessing that you do know, deep down inside, and you just need to give yourself permission to express yourself in that special way.
So, the next time the question of success crosses your mind, ask yourself: How do I define it?
Have you made someone smile today? Brightened their day somehow with a kind word or gesture?
Then you’ve already succeeded.
Forget money. Forget fame. Forget about platinum albums and awards and the whole bit. I think that sharing love is the ultimate form of success.
I admit – sometimes I feel like I could be doing more, could be more – and not just as a musician, but as a human being. For instance, I could certainly be more patient — with myself especially — in many regards. But at the end of the day I’m a working musician, making a living entirely from my musical skill set, wearing a variety of hats – pianist, songwriter, rock ‘n’ roller, choir director, vocalist, band leader, occasional studio session player — and while doing it all, I have my good health, a growing and loyal fan base and the most loving and supportive friends I could ever hope for.
My original dream, deep down? I have to quote Ray Charles here: “I never wanted to be famous, I only wanted to be great.” Really, all I want is to speak the language of music in as many dialects as my abilities will allow, share my love of music with others and to get as good as I can at doing it. I can’t tell you how many folks have approached me after a performance and say, “I can tell that you just love to play.” And it’s true, I absolutely love it. What more, really, can I ask for than that?
Today, I’m headed to a songwriting competition in Tinmouth, Vermont. I am not going with the intention of winning; rather, I’m going with the intention of sharing what I love to do with all my heart, to support the other songwriters and to make new friends.
That, to me, is what success — what life — is all about.