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On Striving

I’ve spent most of my life waiting to feel a certain way about my career. When I’m getting enough commissions, my thought process has gone, I will feel like I have “made it.” When more people buy my scores and commission me, I will feel like I have enough money. When I have enough performances, I will finally feel like a professional composer.

Each year, I achieve certain goals, fail to meet others, and set new ones. Every year brings a few more commissions, performances, and score sales.

And it never feels like “enough.” As a working musician, there will always be people more successful than me, doing what I'm doing — some better than me, some worse than me — and gaining more recognition and money while doing it. In any given year, someone else will win a grant or competition that I thought was a perfect fit. An ensemble that I'm dying to work with will hire one of my peers, but not me. Sometimes, my own internal voice will be the one demeaning my work, insisting that the ensembles I dream of working with want nothing to do with me.

I can point to certain moments of my life that felt, and probably looked to anyone else, like “making it.” At the most impactful performances of my career, I have felt joyful, buoyant with happiness and electrified by working with brilliant musicians.


A few days after each performance, though—sometimes the very next day—that lit-up jubilance has mostly faded, and I’m back to striving for whatever comes next.

A certain amount of striving is healthy, even necessary. It’s helpful to take stock of what you’ve achieved and set goals for what you’d like to happen in the future. But feeling successful, I've learned, won’t ultimately be determined by any one performance. No single accomplishment can guarantee me a life completely free from self-doubt or insecurity.

Instead, the life-blood of a career is built in the days, months, and years between performances. My success and self-sufficiency comes from recognizing what I already have and continuing to make new art. There’s a certain feeling of wholeness that accompanies a really satisfying day of composing or writing; that is what I'm seeking every day. That is where I search for and find validation.

.  .  .  .  .

Originally published on HocTok, January 2016. Updated Spring 2023.

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