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On Constantly 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 goes, I will feel like I have “made it.” When more people buy my scores, I will 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.

​It never feels like “enough,” though. As a working musician, there will always be people more successful than you, doing what you’re doing — some better than you, some worse than you — and gaining more recognition, money, and performances for their work. Someone who isn’t you will win a grant or competition that you thought was a perfect fit. An ensemble that you’re dying to work with will hire someone who isn’t you. Sometimes, your own internal voice will be the one demeaning your work, insisting that the ensembles you dream of working with want nothing to do with you.

I can point to certain moments of my life that felt, and probably looked to anyone else, like “making it.” Each of these moments felt luminous, and at the most impactful performances of my career, I have felt utterly joyful, buoyant with happiness and electrified by working with brilliant musicians. A few days after each performance, though, that lit-up jubilance has mostly faded, and I’m back to striving for whatever comes next.

Of course, a certain amount of striving is necessary and healthy. Especially around the start of a new year, it’s natural 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’m learning, won’t ultimately be determined by any one performance. No single accomplishment will guarantee a life free of self-doubt or insecurity.

Instead, the life-blood of a career is built in the days, months, and years between performances. Any feelings of success and sufficiency will come from recognizing what I already have and continuing to create new music. There’s a certain feeling of wholeness that accompanies a really satisfying day of composing; that is what I should seek every day. That is where, if anywhere, I should search for and find validation.

Last year, I heard a quote by author Louise L. Hay on one of the podcasts that I listen to, and lately I’ve been repeating part of it often, like a mantra. It’s helpful when I’m intimidated by others’ successes and feeling like I’m not doing enough, getting enough, having enough, or being enough — which, if I’m being honest, is nearly every day.

Here it is: I am in the right place, doing the right thing.

This year, I’m adding: …and that’s enough.

.  .  .  .  .

Originally published on HocTok, January 2016.

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