I recently got interested in reading about what Olympians do to make money. I was inspired to find that many of them work in fields unrelated to their sports.
When watching the Olympics, it is easy to imagine these super-humans training 16 hours a day for four straight years. Surely, to be at that level would require working more than full-time toward that singular goal. But a more realistic side of my mind knows that unless they are Michael Phelps or the NBA players, they probably don’t make a living by simply being super-athletic.
This is extremely enlightening. Musicians often refer to ourselves as being engaged in a kind of Olympic-style training program. While we aren’t exactly pushing physical limits, the comparison is not dissimilar. We have to wake up early to get in training before class, train more after class, go to competitions many weekends, and work with coaches who constantly push us.
But because many of us musicians are pursuing degrees, our goals often center around gainful employment as musicians. Those who can’t win a professional orchestra audition, get college teaching jobs, or earn enough money free-lancing see themselves (or are seen by others) as having failed.
But if we are going to compare our process to that of Olympians, how can we have higher expectations for ourselves? If someone who is passionate enough about marathon running to get into the Olympics doesn’t make a living by running, how can we expect to do it?
This argument starts to sound defeatist but it is actually optimistic. We tend to say that we are passionate about something. But what we should say is that we are just plain passionate! To achieve an Olympian level at anything is more a testament to the person’s character than to their physical ability.
I am passionate about backpacking and have become a much better person because of it. That doesn’t mean that I have to make my living hiking. But that doesn’t mean I have to stop doing it either.
Even if we can’t get a full time job in an orchestra or be a major University professor, that doesn’t mean we have to stop being musicians. The truth is that there are way more music majors than there are jobs. But that doesn’t mean we should stop trying either.
Gainful employment is a goal that can drive us to be better musicians. But if we become fixated on only that, we may lose sight of becoming better people. And that is really the goal we are all working towards in this lifetime.
If we want to make money and do things that we love, all we have to do is be Olympic passionate.