THIS WEEK'S VIDEO
QUOTE OF THE WEEK
ALWAYS BE YOURSELF - STEVE'S THOUGHTS
This week’s piece of advice from drummer Chris Singleton is to ALWAYS BE YOURSELF, which reminds me of a personal story that I usually don’t tell... but feel it’s worth sharing today because the lesson learned may prove useful in your own life.
As a graduating senior in high school, I knew that I wanted to go to college for music. But, I faced the same conundrum that most high school seniors seem to face when wanting to pursue a music degree: Do I go for the music education degree or the music performance degree?
I felt torn between which option to choose. Which was the right choice? I knew I wanted to play music for a living, but what purpose would my actual DEGREE serve? I began asking my band teachers, drum instructors, parents, and friends for advice. Everyone gave me a different answer and it seemed to complicate things further.
On one hand, some told me that a performance degree would mean I could devote myself fully to the drum set for 4 years, but the degree itself doesn’t have any real value in the job world. Others advised that getting an education degree could guarantee me a teaching job if I choose to do so. At the very least, as many people would tell me, an education degree could be “something to fall back on.” (Terrible advice!)
A month after my audition, I received a letter in the mail notifying me I had been accepted into the Indiana University Jacobs School Of Music. After much thought, I decided to pursue a bachelor’s degree in music education. The way I saw it, I’d still be studying my instrument regardless, but I’d also be getting the added bonus of a degree that could get me a steady teaching job in the future if I wanted it. I felt I was making the smart choice. I felt I was making the best overall investment for my career. I was pumped.
As classes began, I found myself studying all sorts of things, as all music students do: music theory, ear training, music history. It was intense! I also took countless education courses which included string instrument techniques courses, woodwind instrument techniques courses, conducting classes, piano, children's music education techniques, etc., etc.
It was all quite fascinating to dive into these new worlds. I played in as many wind ensembles and orchestras as I could. In terms of drumming, I got to study with world-renowned classical percussionist Anthony Cirone (author of Portraits In Rhythm). We studied classical percussion (marimba, vibraphone, xylophone, timpani, snare drum, auxiliary, etc.) and I could feel myself really growing as a musician.
It was an amazing time; I was a musical sponge... soaking up all of this new information. Yet, despite this, after my first semester I felt myself to be frustrated. I was doing all the right things, I was applying myself in all of my courses, I was doing a great job in my drum lessons, I was learning fast and working towards a meaningful degree… but why didn’t I feel fulfilled?
The answer was actually itself a question... Where was my drum-set-playing at in this equation? Drum set is the reason I wanted to be a musician in the first place, the thing I was most passionate about in life, and yet there was virtually none of it included in my degree program.
But I, like many others, am not a quitter! I had just begun my college career, so the way I saw it, I needed to trust the system and keep pushing through. So that’s exactly what I did.
Meanwhile, my best friend at the time, Derrick, was an incredible trombone player and also a music education major. One of the reasons we bonded so much was that we both had a similar mindset regarding education. For me, the degree was focused around teaching a high school band room; it had little to do with drumming education. I think that Derrick felt the same way about trombone. We didn’t want to be high school band teachers right out of college. We wanted to have a career performing our instrument, and be able to also teach our life experiences along the way. We felt frustrated and a bit stuck, but we helped each other push through the degree program.
Then, suddenly, one day out of the blue, Derrick turned to me and dropped the following bomb:
“Dude…. I just switched majors today. Next semester, I’m going to be a performance major!"
My jaw dropped. What came through my mind at that moment were several feelings. On the one hand, I was incredibly happy for Derrick! He had the guts to say that enough was enough. He had the courage to admit that it’s okay to change directions. He took the first step in giving himself the life he actually wanted.
But that feeling of happiness for Derrick eventually morphed into my own introspection: Why was I REALLY doing this degree? Why was it the “smart” choice? Smart to whom? I realized that, when I finally became honest with myself, I was basically continuing the degree to satisfy my parents, my old teachers, my friends, my college professors, and the institution as a whole. I didn’t want to feel like I had failed something I started. I didn’t want to admit “defeat". Yet, none of these justifications had anything to do with fulfilling my own life purpose.
I simply wasn't being myself.
My conversation with Derrick that day turned out to be one of the most meaningful moments of my life. As soon as he gave me his good news, a realization hit me like a brick wall. I was setting myself up for a life that I thought EVERYONE ELSE wanted me to be. Unless I made a change, I was destined to follow a path in life that I didn’t actually want to take.
So, the following week, I submitted my paperwork and changed my degree to a Jazz Performance degree. I notified my professors, friends, and my parents. To my surprise, when it became “official", I didn’t feel ashamed. I felt RELIEVED.
Suddenly, my entire college experience changed.
I found myself studying drum set with the great Steve Houghton, who I had previously not been able to study with as an education major. My drum set playing improved dramatically. I took David Baker’s jazz improvisation courses. I stopped playing in wind ensembles and began playing in bands I had always wanted to be in but were never able to do as an education major: big bands, jazz combos, Brazilian ensemble, Afro-cuban ensemble, you name it! I started getting hired for gigs in bands around campus. I felt ALIVE. I was myself again. It was great.
I finished my jazz degree program at Indiana University, and thanks to Derrick, I ended up with a college experience that helped set me up for the life I’m living today.
The reason I share this story with you is to show that for the first 3.5 years of my college career, I was simply GETTING IN MY OWN WAY. As soon as I admitted who I REALLY was ( a musician first ) , my whole world suddenly opened up. There almost seemed to be too many great opportunities to choose from! It was as if the universe was screaming at me: “Steve… what took you so long!?"
This begs the question: why can't everyone just “be themselves" all the time?
Well... because to be yourself, you have to be OKAY with a lot of uncomfortable (mostly external) pressures:
-You have to be okay with being different than others (spoiler alert: you are).
-You have to be okay with people NOT always agreeing with your choices.
-Perhaps some people may not even like you.
-You risk rejection.
-You risk failure.
-You risk total embarrassment.
-You risk entering uncharted territories.
It’s no wonder why people are afraid to be themselves… it’s much easier to follow the beaten path than it is to carve a new one.
With that said…this is a fact: no-one will EVER be better at being you than YOU. When you aren’t being yourself (you’re in a job that makes you miserable, you’re in an uninspiring relationship, you constantly seek approval from others, you live in an environment where you can’t grow), these are all forms of getting in your own way.
Here’s a fantastic quote from Ralph Waldo Emerson:
“There is a time in every man’s education when he arrives at the conviction that envy is ignorance; that imitation is suicide; that he must take himself for better, for worse, as his portion; that though the wide universe is full of good, no kernel of nourishing corn can come to him but through his toil bestowed on that plot of ground which is given him to till. The power which resides in him is new in nature, and none but he knows what that is which he can do, nor does he know until he has tried."
If we eliminate our egos and just be OKAY with truly being ourselves, we no longer need to feel inclined to fit into any construct established by someone else.
The world’s greatest musicians/artists/innovators/CEO’s, etc. were the ones who were wholeheartedly comfortable being themselves. They didn’t care what others thought. They didn’t fit the mold, they CREATED the mold.
As Dale Carnegie said, “You are something NEW in this world. Be glad of it.”
YOUR ACTION STEPS:
1) If you realize that your career doesn’t allow you to fully utilize your greatest talents: FIND ONE THAT DOES.
2) If you’re in situations that don't support you being yourself: CREATE ONES THAT DO.
3) If the people you surround yourself with don’t make you feel comfortable being yourself: FIND PEOPLE WHO DO.
No one has ever been YOU in the past... No-one will ever be YOU again in the future… YOU are a one-time deal... So get used to the fact that it’s okay to be YOU!
I’ll leave you with the following question:
Are you following YOUR path or someone else's?
ABOUT CHRIS SINGLETON
Thanks to Chris Singleton for offerring his 3 words of advice: ALWAYS BE YOURSELF, and for inspiring me to write this week's article!
Christopher Singleton is a professional drummer living in the Chicago area. He's played with Musiq Soulchild, Jill Scott, Tye Tribbett, and more. He began his love for music at an early age while watching his father perform. Upon taking a more serious interest during his teenage years as a part of the Ravinia Jazz Mentor Program; Chris began perfecting his craft. During his time with the Ravinia Program, Chris played with the legendary Wynton Marsalis and Ramsey Lewis.