“Hey Uncle. Can I ask you for some advice?”
The Facebook instant message popped on my phone and when I saw that it was my nephew, I was surprised. We don’t really talk that often outside of one or two annual family things, and by “that often” I basically mean never. I quickly answered — I always do anytime someone messages me — and though I was being sought for advice, I came away from this conversation having learned something myself.
He wanted to know how to become a professional musician. He is quite good at several instruments and has developed a real passion for music, so he has decided he wants to pursue it as a career. I am, uh, NOT a musician, so I wondered why he would reach out to me.
“I know you are a writer and I was wondering if you could tell me how to get started,” he began. “This is really what I want to do with my life.”
I was just about to type out a brief note to him about how this isn’t my area of expertise when it hit me. OK, so I don’t know anything about music, right? I mean, the only instrument I have ever played was the radio. But I *do* know something about chasing dreams. As I began typing, I was surprised at how easily the advice came.
The first thing I told him is that no one will likely pay much for a vague idea or for talent at playing something that they’ve already heard.
“Michael, I know you play in a band outside of school and that you have caught a passion for that,” I said. “But there are thousands of cover bands all over the place, all trying to get noticed for playing something they heard on the radio. If you want to get noticed, you need to write your own music. Have you done that?”
I was pleasantly surprised to learn that he has been writing songs for a while and had as much of a passion for that as he did for playing. He understands that he has to grind and put in the work if he wants to chase his dream. Putting in the work is a good way to succeed, but it can also be a good way to learn from failure.
I wanted to be a professional basketball player when I was growing up, and I put in hours and hours and hours of work to achieve that goal…only to top out at high school junior varsity before my career was over. I learned from grinding and putting in work that even though it was my dream, it was not my future. Which led to lesson number two for my young Padawan.
“I also advise you to have a backup plan,” I continued. “Dreams don’t pay the bills — especially while you’re chasing them. If you make it, then you have a character-building experience of having to really push to support yourself while also learning your musical craft. If you don’t, then you at least have a skill or trade that you can fall back on.”
Again, I expected him to balk — teenager, remember? — but he didn’t. He understands that chasing a dream doesn’t guarantee you’ll catch it, and that he has to balance his life between that pursuit and common-sense living.
The last piece of advice that I had for him really hit home for both of us. I told him that no matter what he does, he needs to do it for the right reasons.
“Michael, don’t chase music, don’t write music, don’t play music just to get paid or become famous,” I said. “Do it because you love it and because you have something to say. If you have pure motives in chasing this dream, the rewards will come. Those rewards may not be money, airplay or girls, but they might just be a sense of pride that you created something that speaks to who you truly are. If you really consider yourself an artist, then create art.”
May we all chase our dreams because we love what we do. What can be more fulfilling than that?
Frank Vaughn is a regional Emmy Award- and Associated Press Media Editors Award-winning journalist. His first book, “0.4 to Graduation: How to Finish College in 17 Years or Less” is slated for release in Spring 2018. You can connect with Frank at his Facebook page and on Twitter.