Answer the Damn Call

A common question I get asked in interviews is “What made you choose to be a musician?”

I almost always start laughing.  CHOOSE to be a musician? I didn’t CHOOSE to be a musician.  Who would ever do this to themselves?  In fact, I’ve quit being a musician five times I can think of and I’m sure there were more than that.  I consider quitting at least once every couple of weeks to this day.

My safe go-to answer for interviews is “I make music because I can’t help it.”  But the honest truth is, I’m a musician because I was called to be a musician.

Even having grown up in the church I found it a little strange that I only ever heard of “a calling” in reference to being a Pastor.  When a Pastor was being considered by another congregation you were “being called” by them.  The interview process would ensue and if they ended up taking the job folks referred to it as the Pastor “following their calling” to whatever church it was.

But I don’t believe that that’s the only job on the planet people get “called” to do.

Sometimes people are called to be teachers or healers.  Sometimes they’re called to be doctors or scientists.  Sometimes they are called to be parents.  Sometimes they’re called to learn the law or literature.  Sometimes they are called to work in spirituality.  Sometimes they are called by art and music.  And countless others.

A “calling”, in my experience, is the difference between working a career because it happened to present itself or you consciously chose it vs. knowing in your heart of hearts that you are supposed to do a specific thing.  It’s in there so hard it’s yelling in your ear and won’t leave you alone.  Hence, “Calling”.

Any particular occupation can be a calling for one person and consciously chosen by another.  I was called to be a musician, but not all musicians are.  Some teachers were called to be teachers, others weren’t, and so on.

I’ve done both in my life and I can say honestly one doesn’t make you better at your job than the other.  I don’t feel like everyone on the planet has a calling, and I also don’t feel that having a calling makes you any more or less special than a person who doesn’t.

It seems to me that when you are “called” to do a thing it is typically an occupation that gives back to society in some way and also includes a lot of personal sacrifices and/or personal growth.  So if you are so called, buckle up.  It’s going to be a bumpy ride.

I was called to be a musician from day one.  There was never any question.  Music is just part of me.  Always has been.  But I fought it tooth and nail.  A musicians life is difficult.  Financial stability is an issue.  Having a stable home life is an issue.  Lots of travel, being ungrounded, the emotional struggles that typically come with a life immersed in art – depression, anxiety…the list goes on.

No thank you.  That sounds dreadful.  This Virgo would much rather know where her paycheck is coming from, know without a doubt that her rent is paid, there is 6 months of savings in the bank, three other safety nets, a solid retirement plan, and sleep in the same bed every night thank-you-very-much.

So that’s what I went for instead.  I started with a part-time sales job about classical music.  From there I fell into the career that presented itself – I got promoted, found the next job, got promoted, found the next job, got promoted… I made a pretty good salary and lived pretty comfortably.  I never got a massive paycheck because all of the jobs I chose had something to do with the arts.  That was my little compromise to myself.  I wasn’t going to be a musician, but I would work for the arts.

And I was okay.  But I wasn’t happy.  Not really.  Not happy all the way down in my soul.  I didn’t even know that was a thing then. (That is totally a thing, BTW.)

I knew why I wasn’t happy.  I knew what I was supposed to be doing.  Music would poke at me when I had quiet time with my mind.  I’d always had side projects.  I would write music on my own.  I directed some musicals after hours and on the weekends.  I worked with other friends on their music projects.  I joined a band here and there.  I watched myself come alive.  I knew that’s what I was supposed to do.  Sometimes in secret, I would entrust that info to co-workers or friends who would eventually come and see me perform and without question would come up to me afterward and confirm, “Yes, girl.  That is EXACTLY what you should be doing.”

I know.  I know, I know, I know.

What held me back forever (besides the obvious “how will I pay my rent” scenario) was that I knew WHAT I was supposed to be doing, but I didn’t know HOW to do it.  I couldn’t see the way so I stayed frozen where I was knowing I was supposed to do this thing I convinced myself I couldn’t do.  Vicious circle.

Enter my dear friend, LS (is what we’ll call her), who said to me one night when I thought I was losing my mind, “Just write the music.  The Universe will take it from there.”  I’m sorry – what now? “Just write the music.  This is your calling.  If you write the music the path will become clear.  This is where faith comes in.”

Faith?  Faith doesn’t pay your bills.  “The Universe has your back.  You’ll see.”

She sounded so confident.  It made me think she knew something I didn’t.  (She totally did, BTW.)

It was a long journey from there.  I think it was 4 more years after that one phone call when I was finally able to ditch my corporate job.  The first two weeks of me actually doing my calling I had almost daily panic attacks that were so intense I ended up face down on the living room floor unable to move.  The first real solo show I had as an “official full-time musician” I totally botched.  I psyched myself out and practically had a meltdown on stage.  Bumpy ride, indeed.

But she was right – I wrote the songs as honestly as I could and the path became clear.  Music led me to the people I needed in my life and led me away from others.  When I couldn’t see the way I sat still until I could.  My personal growth was to learn to trust and have faith.  To learn how to truly accept help.  To focus on gratitude when it seems like the world is collapsing.

Those sentences were easy to type – but those lessons were far from easy to learn.

I am giving back and I love it.  Music has helped me help others – to participate in life-changing moments for others.  To help people have personal breakthroughs and even to start creating on their own.  That is one of the most breathtaking and glorious feelings I have ever experienced in my life.

What I have sacrificed is exactly what I feared to begin with – stability.  In any form.  Financial, familial – you name it.  Instead, I’ve had to learn a form of inner stability so that I can be “at home” wherever I am and live comfortably out of a small shoulder bag constantly on-the-go without losing sleep at night.  (The secret is: Eventually you’ll get so tired you’ll sleep through anything.)

But what I have gained much outweighs these sacrifices.  I’m happy.  Like, truly happy.  Happy-in-my-soul-happy.  The bitter, angry part of me tried to ignore that for a long time in attempts to prove me “right” and Music “wrong” – but nope.  I’m happy.  Even living without stability I’m happier now than I ever was with a bigger apartment and a steady paycheck.

No, I didn’t choose to be a musician.  But I think I’m finally at peace that I am one.


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