Here’s how my income sources broke down last year:
The Day Gig: 57%
Composing (commissions, sales): 18%
My “day gig” was working part time at a preschool. It was fun, interesting work and I even occasionally got to use some of my music training, but it hardly qualified as a “music job.”
So did I self-identify as a preschool classroom aide or as a musician?
More broadly, this problem of identity can be a complex one for many. In our society, we develop a strong notion that your job is who you are. Your job is considered your primary contribution to society, your purpose in life. It’s considered a part of polite conversation to ask “and what do you do?” when meeting someone. Our whole sense of self becomes twisted up in how we pay our bills and where we spend the better part of our days. It can be dehumanizing and is the root cause of anxiety in many–a sense of being “lost” in the world because your job does not coincide with your calling.
Because there is a difference, after all. A calling can be a job but a job is not always one’s calling in life. A “job” is simply a way to provide for your basic needs in life. A “calling” is a talent, a passion, an integral part of yourself. You can quit a job, but you can never quit your calling. The trick to happiness and fulfillment for many of us becomes finding a way to either combine the two concepts or make peace with having parallel identities.
In my case, I worked at a preschool. It was my job. I did it to meet my basic needs so I could “afford” to practice my calling. I struggle and scrap and strive now so that at some point in the future I won’t need a day gig–so that I will have honed my product and networked my way to the point where publishers will snap up my music, the phone will ring with commissions, and I will be asked to conduct my work around the world.
This is not a pipe dream or even a unique notion. It worked very well for Ives (insurance salesman) and Borodin (chemist) and the countless composers today who started out as teachers or professors before being established well enough to move on to full time composition.
So if you find yourself adrift and despairing, just take a moment to remember who and what you really are. Remember that your paycheck is not your whole existence. And, for young artists especially, remember that not everyone “makes it” in the same way; there are great artists who ply their craft exclusively and there are great artists who have day gigs. The world’s a complex place, but your identity doesn’t have to be!
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