They say “find something you love to do and you’ll never work a day in your life”. What a sweet sentiment. A sentiment, that for the vast majority of us, is just a pipe dream. Some people never figure out what it is they want to do. They never find that one thing that gets them out of bed in the morning. They research and wonder, waiting on some spark of passion to hit them, but it never does. They graduate high school and go to community college, unable to decide on a major, until they eventually drop out to pursue upper management at the retail store or restaurant they’ve been working at to pay for their classes. Some people are content to skip college entirely, get a local blue collar job, put in their time for years and years, until they’re financially stable and flexible, and are able to retire. Some people have a knack for making money. They see an opportunity in the form of a need, and fill it. Be it a specialized job, or starting a company, they put in the work and find ways to make more money than the rest of us. There are people who feel called to serve their country, in whatever capacity is needed. All of these things can be noble pursuits. We all know people in each of these scenarios, and the pathway to their career isn’t a window to their character. It’s just circumstances, life. Lots of hard work, and a little bit of luck. This is a career.
You see your “vocation” is different than your career. Vocation is that thing you can’t shake. You can’t stop doing it, whether or not it pays the bills. It doesn’t necessarily have to be because you think it’s “fun” (although it can be), but because it’s important. Teachers are often this way. They feel so moved to shape young lives, that they are willing to be vastly underpaid for their work. The same can be said for many men and women working or volunteering in humanitarian work, through charities or churches, serving in government or military capacities, helping people and working in people’s lives, giving of themselves to make the world a better place, often for little or no money. It can literally be anything. Then there are a select few of us who hit the lottery. Not the literal lottery (although that would be awesome), but the vocational lottery. That thing where you find a passion, pursue it, fall in love with it, and figure out how to make it pay your bills. Vocation is this thing that is part of your being, part of who you are, and your career is how you pay your bills. Some people figure out how to make their career pay for their vocation. The luckiest of us make their vocation their career. Then there are artists.
I believe art can change the world. That’s a big statement, but it’s true. Music, specifically, is being consumed at a higher rate than ever in history. But it’s also generating less income for the creators and curators than it ever has. I’ve been chasing my dream of being a music creator since I was 16. I’m 31 now. Let’s get real for a second, it’s been a disaster. I have never in my professional life been able to support myself or my family as a creator of music. I have always had another job. For most of that time the other job is really my primary job. I’m constantly trying to convince myself that creating music isn’t what I really want to do. Maybe I can find a career that I can be happy with, put in my time and make a life for myself and my wife. But that endeavor has not been successful either. Music is on my mind all day. It’s playing in the back of my head at all times. During conversations with other people I selfishly look for something in their personality or words to inspire the next song. I’m often distracted and forgetful. I get fidgety and restless if I go too long without playing an instrument. It’s basically an addiction that I don’t want to be rid of. It’s part of me.
Over the years I’ve done my best to cultivate my addiction to enhance my life and the lives of others, rather than have it be harmful. I truly, truly, want to put some good into the world. Money and fame don’t interest me. But deep in my soul there’s this longing, this calling you could say, to create. I am a musician. I am an artist. But the reality is, I’ve also been a Nascar collectibles salesman, a lawn care specialist, a grunt worker in a home appliance warehouse, a shipper of copious amounts of pet food, a terrible barista, a cook, a barbecue food truck operator, a worship leader, and currently a secretary/shipper at a machine shop and a pizza delivery driver. Each and every one of these jobs has made me who I am, and inspired many of the songs I’ve written. I’ve met some amazing people who find meaning and purpose in these jobs, who are inspirations to me and many in their communities. But these jobs have all also put a pit in my stomach when I wake up on a Monday morning before a week of work, or when I think about still doing them in 2 years. I don’t feel above them or too good for them, just that my mind and passions are somewhere else, often leaving me feeling like I’m doing a disservice to my current employer. After 15 years of searching, I had to be honest with myself. What I want to do, what I’m compelled to do, is make music. That doesn’t mean I’m not thankful for the jobs I’ve been given, or that I didn’t do my best at them, it just means that someday, somehow, I’d like to make my vocation my career.
But that’ll probably never happen. It probably won’t happen for most of us. The music industry is a complete disaster and it will probably never recover. Making a living is pretty much a fairy tale. I know people who have made a great living doing it for a long time who are getting out of it completely. The glory days are over, and I showed up late to the party.
Life is hard sometimes. Sometimes you work 50 or 60 hour weeks, have kids to keep up with, a house, a yard to mow, and you don’t pick up a guitar for a month. You’re exhausted and cranky. You start to lose sense of who you are and why you’re here. I know. I’m there, right now. I haven’t written a decent song in 2 months and haven’t played a show in over a year. But don’t lose hope. Do your best to throw yourself into whatever endeavor you’re forced to pursue. Be thankful and grateful for having your basic provisions met. Be honest with the ones closest to you, and love the people around you. Embrace the internal struggle you’re going through and cherish it. Let it teach you. Let it give you wisdom and patience. Let it help you appreciate things and experiences you have. Maybe we never get to live out our dreams, but maybe we can put a little love and kindness into the world, and that’s the most noble pursuit of all.