Whatever Happened to Professional Joy?

It’s a familiar story. A musician works for years through a rigorous music program nursing the dream of one day becoming a professional performer. At last, it happens. Then, a few years later, this dream job has become routine. Wake up, do the work, go home. Something feels missing.

When we turn professional, when our livelihood depends on our music, we tend to kill the joy of it. Why? How? And what can we do about it?

Long-term Love Is a Choice

Committing to a career, especially one as personal and emotional as music, is a lot like marriage.

There was a story on the radio recently about a man who’d been married for 65 years. He was talking about how he and his wife had managed to stay happily married for so long. He said, “Over the past 65 years, I’ve been married to 10 different versions of my wife. She became ten different people, and I chose to fall in love with every one of them.”

He chose to be in love. Over and over again. Happiness is a choice, and it requires a daily commitment.

When we go into professional music, especially after striving for so long, it can feel like a huge celebration, a wedding party if you will. But every day is not a party, and we shouldn’t expect it to be.

No one, regardless of career, goes to work every day and loves their job every moment that they are there. A life in music is hard work. Wonderful, yes, but also work. Managing expectations helps repel disappointment and disillusionment. So remember, every day is not the wedding day. Sometimes it’s the garbage night. And that’s ok.

Take Responsibility for Your Happiness

Often, when musicians are disappointed in their careers, it’s because they feel stuck. They feel like they are no longer in charge of what they do, and what they find themselves doing is draining, or even boring. It’s easier to blame a director for their unhappiness than it is to admit that, ultimately, the responsibility for happiness lies in their own laps.

But the truth is, no one is keeping you where you are. You have the ability to craft a career you do love. There are no hard and fast rules about what a professional music career must be. If you don’t like the situation you find yourself in, even after accepting that some days will be better than others, then change it.

A word of warning: if you don’t like the career you’ve crafted, you’ll have no one to blame but yourself. However, you always keep crafting!

Remember Your Audience

Disgruntled performers make boring performances. Full stop.

Consider the influence your attitude is having on the people you are there to serve. Even on your worst day, your job is to communicate the emotional language of music to people who may have never experienced it before. You can’t do that if you are selfishly obsessed with how much fun you aren’t having.

Think about the people who are listening to a piece for the first time, even if you’ve played it a million times before. Be an actor. Communicate the emotion of the music. Find it, and amplify it to the audience. It’s hard to be bored when you’re invested in honestly communicating emotion.

You may have decided on a career in professional music because it was the most fun you’d ever had. That’s wonderful, we want our professional lives to be fun. But it’s important that when you step over that threshold from avocation to vocation, from wedding to marriage, that you remember that you’re making a commitment – a commitment not only to your career but primarily to your audience. You’ve committed to making the world a better place by communicating through the language of emotion. That’s something to be happy about, even on the rough days. 

This is part of our series on the characteristics of attractive people. If you would like to hear the live discussion about this characteristic, head on over to Classic Jabber now.

If you are ready to learn more about how to build a profitable, fulfilling career as a performing classical musician, check out Concert University, and the free webinar that outlines 5 strategies for success.