For as long as music has been a part of my life, I’ve been passionate about music. I love writing and playing music more than probably any other thing that I’ve pursued. I felt drawn to making music at a young age. I got my first guitar when I was twelve and even before that I took piano and saxophone lessons. I started taking guitar lessons when I was twelve and have studied and practiced guitar more or less ever since. There have been periods where I’ve practiced and played music more than others, but I have never really quit for any extended period of time. The longest I can remember going without playing the guitar was a period of about two weeks a few years ago. Music has been a very consistent part of my life.
As much as I love music, there have been periods where the sense of passion and enthusiasm I have for music has waxed and waned. Although I’ve never quit, if I’m honest, there have been periods where my heart was not fully in it. Currently I’m experiencing a sort of resurgence of my love for playing guitar, writing music, performing and practicing. I’ve been writing and practicing more than I have in a long time, perhaps more than I have in over a decade. I feel a sense of rejuvenation for music that I can’t totally explain. I just love it again. Not that I ever stopped loving it, but I like, really love it again. During this article I’m going to explore why passion is such an important ingredient for the life of a musician, and for people in general, why passion comes and goes, and how we can maintain our passion for things like music.
Having a sense of passion for your occupation is an important ingredient for having a happy and successful life. Most of us spend a very large chunk of our lives working. It makes sense then, that if you’re engaged in something you’re passionate about and excited about, you'll be a happier and more enthusiastic person.
In the past, I spent years working in jobs that I wasn’t excited about it, and although it was bearable, it definitely affected my overall sense of well-being. It’s hard to stay super happy and excited if you’re spending eight hours or more a day doing something you don’t enjoy, or even worse, despise. Every element of our lives is connected to every element of our lives. If you’re not happy all day at work, then it’s likely this dissatisfaction is going to spill over into other aspects of your life, like relationships with friends, family, significant others and so on.
Here’s what Wikipedia has to say about passion as it relates to your occupation:
“When an individual is passionate about their occupation they tend to be less obsessive about their behavior while on their job, resulting in more work being done and more work satisfaction. These same individuals have higher levels of psychological well-being. When people genuinely enjoy their profession and are motivated by their passion, they tend to be more satisfied with their work and more psychologically healthy. When an individual is unsatisfied with their profession they are also dissatisfied with their family relationships and experience psychological distress.”
If you’re lucky enough to do something you’re passionate about for a living, it makes sense that this would be beneficial to all areas of your life. If you’re pursuing something like music as a career, it’s most likely because you’re passionate about music. But why does passion seem to come and go? Is there anything we can do to nurture our passion and develop our interest even further? Is passion something we can even control, or does it just rise and fall of its own accord, independent from our will?
Here are a few conclusions I’ve reached about why my own passion for music has fluctuated over the years:
Music As A Career
When I was first discovering music and guitar at the age of 12, there was no pressure to try and make money from music or make myself known. I was simply enjoying the process of learning an instrument and discovering what I was capable of as a guitar player and eventually, songwriter. Everything was new back then and it was exciting. I would spend hours a day sometimes during high school practicing scales, improvising and learning new songs. In some ways, this is the purest way to approach making music, simply doing it for the love of it. When I was just getting started, because there was no pressure or stress about how to “make it” in the music business, I just enjoyed music for the sake of music. The simple act of practicing, learning and progressing as a musician was enough to keep me motivated and passionate about music.
When I went to College to study music, the passion continued. Because even though I knew I would eventually have to figure out how to earn a living as a musician, I didn’t yet have that pressure and my passion for music flourished even more. It wasn’t really until several years after I finished college and had played in a couple bands that I really started to experience a dip in my passion for music. One of the challenges of mastering something, is that you typically have to invest so many hours into mastering something like a musical instrument, that burnout becomes a very real threat. I don’t care how much you love something, if you do it for hours and hours, day after day for years, you’re going to get tired of it sometimes. It’s sort of like a great relationship, even in the best of relationships, it’s normal and healthy, to want to have some time apart. After all, absence makes the heart grow fonder and spending too much time with one person or doing one thing, poses the very real threat of making you grow tired of the very thing that you were once so passionate about.
Yet, it’s not enough to just back off and not do the thing you love as much, because in most cases, to truly excel you have to push past that initial resistance and keep going. To a large extent, I think this is what separates true masters from those who just approach something like music as a hobby. Here’s a great video clip of the author of “Mastery”, Robert Greene, discussing how to avoid burnout on the path to mastery:
One of the ideas that Greene talks about, is that to truly excel and become a master at something you have to have a high enough level of commitment to overcome the periods of boredom and frustration you’ll inevitably experience. Michael Jordan surely experienced days where he didn’t feel like going to the gym and practicing, but his desire and commitment to be a great basketball player was greater than the frustration he experienced. He pushed through, and became one of the greatest basketball players of all time.
This may all sound rather obvious, but think about it, what is your goal and level of commitment to that goal? Do you just quit and put music on the side when you’re frustrated and bored? Or do you keep going, despite the setbacks you experience? One of the reasons I’m so excited about music again is that I’m much more focused on things I can control, like just being the best guitarist and songwriter I can be. I do my best to be as great as I can be and after that it’s out of my hands.
Detach From The Outcome
One of the things that probably has contributed the most to the periods where my passion and excitement for music has faded, is my frustration with the business side of music. Once you start pursuing music as a career, there is a whole new set of stressors and challenges that can make it hard to maintain the same level of passion you had when music was just a hobby. Pursuing music as a career is stressful. The music business is a highly volatile and uncertain business, and if you’re trying to make a full time living from music, it can definitely affect the passion and excitement you feel for music.
So, what to do?
Well, the answer is very simple and you’ve probably heard the concept many times before from a variety of self-help books and speakers, but it’s taken me a lifetime to start to fully embrace and live. What’s helped me tremendously on my journey is simply letting go of my attachment to how everything plays out. In other words, I no longer lose sleep about how I think I should be more successful or that the music business is too hard or anything like that. Now don’t misunderstand me, by detaching from the outcome I’m not suggesting that you don’t pursue success or try to move your career forward, of course you should keep doing those things. But if you can pursue success in a more lighthearted, less serious way, you’ll probably be a lot happier as a result. Do everything you can to progress and move your career forward, but after you do that, relax about the outcome and let go.
This sort of approach to life is helpful in all areas. I recently started a new relationship with a beautiful young singer I met recently. It’s the first time in a long time that I’ve felt “that feeling”. You know, the one where every minute of the day you can’t stop thinking about them and you look forward to every interaction and every moment spent with great excitement. It’s an exciting and beautiful experience that I cherish every moment of. Yet, despite the excitement, when I’m honest about my emotions, there’s an element of apprehension mixed in with all the “good feelings”. I start to have thoughts of, “what if this doesn’t work out”, “what if this doesn’t last”, “where is this heading”, and so on. When I catch myself thinking this way, I remind myself to snap out of it and just enjoy the experience for what it is, and not worry about the future. When I’m able to just relax and enjoy each moment, everything flows so much smoother and my girlfriend seems more excited to spend time with me.
In the same way, when you’re constantly worried about where your music career is headed, it can disrupt your ability to just enjoy the process you’re engaged in and can actually deter your progress. Getting good at playing and creating music, is extremely exciting in and of itself. Lately, I’ve been so focused on the music I’m making and the progress I’m making, that I’m not overly worried about where I’m headed. I’m of course promoting myself every day, playing shows, making new videos and so on, but I just simply feel more relaxed about how things are unfolding.
All we can do as musicians, is do the best we can. It may sound trite or obvious, but think about it, why stress about things you can’t change? Do your best to write great music, learn about things like marketing and licensing and get up every day determined and willing to move forward. Then, let the chips fall where they may.
The blog of musician and thinker of deep thoughts, Aaron Davison.