My Junior-Year Epiphany

I wish I was more creative. At least, I wish I was more creatively-motivated. Last year I had an epiphany. I realized that I was trying to force myself – and shaming myself when I failed – to be a kind I person I simply was not. When I first arrived a college, I had a very clear objective: learn as much as I can about music performance, theory, and history so that I could become a composer. I added a bunch of music electives to my degree plan and told myself that I would spend hours in the practice room and the weekends on Sibelius composing etudes and preludes, suites and concertos. I dreamt of one day having the wind ensemble perform pieces of mine, and of eventually going off to graduate school for composition. Unfortunately, it took me five semesters to realize that what seemed like a wonderful and desirable career path in my head simply never manifested itself in my daily life. I resented practicing; I dreaded performing; I never composed anything. The only part of that dream in which I really thrived was music theory, but I could never get myself to take what I was learning in theory and compose with it. That’s when the epiphany hit: “Maybe I’m not built to be a composer? Maybe I’m not built to be a musician at all?” This was difficult to grapple. Was all my time spent in piano lessons and band a waste of time? Was I in the wrong major? Do I need to completely start over? These were scary questions, as I was already half-way through college, married, and would be behind in any new profession I pursued.

The answers came from reflecting on what brought me this far. I thrived in middle and high school band. I had been in piano lessons for over a decade. I chose to go to Ouachita and study music industry rather than a large conservatory to study composition. I realized that my predicament was not due to my lack of creativity or inability to use the right side of my brain. However, creativity rarely motivated me to do anything. Piano lessons and band undoubtedly fostered my musicianship and talents, but those were not the highlights of my high school years (and I definitely didn’t practice as often as I should have then, either).

I had to stop trying to figure myself out by imagining myself in various professions and instead think about what I did with my free time. It is when given the choice of how we spend our time that our most fundamental and default selves shine. In high school, I spent my free time with my family, playing video games, doing activities with my Boy Scout troop, competing in speech and debate, making fun of public schoolers, and solving the world’s problems in a coffee shop with my friends. The result of my epiphany was this: I am not an artist. I can create things and be musical in certain situations. But I am not a musician or composer in my leisure so I probably shouldn’t force myself to make it my career. Music can certainly be a hobby, but my professional focus ought to be aligned with who I am, the kind of work I enjoy, and my daily motivations for productivity. I still love music and greatly appreciate its role in our culture and ability to affect us deeply. I want to work around and with music, doing a job that I’m actually built for.

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