From a practical standpoint, the field of composition is not well-defined. There is no formal path laid out for the practitioner. Seniority isn’t necessarily rewarded, and neither, for that matter, merit. (Indeed, who would define “merit” and how would they do it?) There is no predetermined ladder for one to climb once one graduates from college as there is in more common occupational paths. Determining what a “career” consists of and what, by extension, “success,” means, becomes a real challenge and can be a source of great anxiety and stress.
That we have no formal career plot is both a blessing a a curse: it’s freeing in that we can determine our own course, but with that freedom comes enormous uncertainty and no sense of security.
This dichotomy is an especial challenge for young composers, who often get caught in the trap of comparing themselves to “big names” and either become obsessed in trying to emulate them or become helplessly mired in jealousy and envy. We begin to see, however, that pathways in composition are just as individual as the composer–trying to follow someone else’s path is ultimately counterproductive and will be personally unsatisfying. The path that a composer embarks on must take into account many personal factors: creative desires, lifestyle requirements/restrictions, etc.
Read the rest of this (and much more) in my book Writing and Living in the Real World: Advice For Young Composers