Dear (music) students,
I bet this semester will be filled with hours of practicing, too many required courses (like music theory), and many hours of self-doubt, wondering how these activities will lead to a job. Well, I bring you this encouraging message: “they won’t.”
All of these things we want you to do will not necessarily lead to a job. They may not lead you to your “breakthrough.” A college degree and all of its promises will not always guarantee your success.
I have taught in higher education as an adjunct, part-time, and visiting instructor for almost 10 years. I absolutely believe in the college experience. I dream of going back to finish my doctorate because I simply love learning. I know that a society that is willing to seek information, critically think, and grow–will be a better society–and I want to be part of that.
However, at some point, those who gave us guidance became confused. Although the future was uncertain, a degree, any degree, was the path to success. In some ways, it still can be, but the notion that “degree = job” is a fading reality. At its best, “degree = job” was a pleasant correlation rather than a causation (Yes, some degrees in medicine, sciences, and engineering are required for the job, but I am speaking to the arts and humanities today!)
Once you forego the belief that your academic success will land you a job, you can create your own successful and rewarding life. Yes, it is still important to go to class, get the best grade you can, study long, and work hard. These experiences are rewarding in and of themselves but also contribute to your future success as an employee, a business owner, a creator, and a thoughtful, caring human. But outside of the academic grind… there is so much more you should be doing right now.
Embrace your peers and colleagues. These people will be your friends for a long time. They will also be your network to learn from, collaborate with, lift up, and support.
Seek help and support from your professors. It’s our job to help and teach. Asking for help opens up a line of communication that can get you on the right track academically, or lead you to insights and opportunities not found in the classroom.
Experience opportunities outside of school. It’s too easy to say “I have homework” instead of going to a concert. Get outside of the classroom and the studying to experience the world around you. See and be with visual art. Go experience theater and live music. Eat different food. Volunteer. Do something new every week, at least! Experiencing the world around you will lead to more opportunities, and more knowledge about potential paths to take.
Start projects outside of class. If you are interested in something, chase it. You will never have more time or resources to do this than while you are in school. Crazy, right? Start a business. Release an album. Get gigs and play shows. Blog. Begin the momentum for your future work and gain some valuable, practical skills while you are at it.
Be the person you want to be when you graduate, and when that idea changes (because it will), bravely change your course. Taking the time to reflect in college is especially crucial. If your writing classes haven’t pushed you to do so, write in a journal. Write honestly and write often. Put a pen to paper and get physical with it. Discover yourself through careful reflection. Write down goals, observations, failures, and plans. Especially write down your dreams.
Once you know yourself better, you can give more honestly and determine what “success” means to you. Only then can you craft a life that is yours.
And that is what this time is about. The courses are your canvases. The ideas gathered are your paints. The conversations, discussions, activities, and experiences are the dreams upon which you paint your reality. Whether you are aware or not, your painting, your composition, is taking form as your college experience unfolds.
Take a moment to see what picture appears before the paint dries.