I picked up an old issue of The Sun Magazine spontaneously, realizing I had never read it, and am engrossed in the advice columns from Cary Tennis’ book, Citizens of the Dream: Advice on Writing, Painting, Playing, Acting, and Being.
A jazz pianist wrote to Cary for advice on his career/life path, explaining that he’s heading for his fifties and just sneaking by on his musician’s income. He writes, “We always hear heartwarming stories of people who followed their dream and never gave up and succeeded, but what of the people who followed their dream and failed?” He says that he once thought staying true to his art was everything but that now he yearns to know the satisfaction of earning a living. He’s sick of driving many miles for crappy gigs and money and is concerned about his future.
The jazz pianist’s dilemma struck a chord with me (no pun intended). I recently took on a part time office job that is unrelated to anything I am interested in but will enable me to make a living. When I was attempting to teach yoga full- time I felt stressed and pressured. I was ‘running around’ from class to class and subbing whenever I could, but it did not add up to a full-time salary. Subbing cannot be counted on for income and even permanent classes are subject to change, so there is little stability. And god forbid I taught a class that was less than great; it sent me into a downward spiral of despair and doubt, questioning whether I was any good at teaching and if I could continue on this path at all.
Cary tells the jazz musician that when he first sat down to write to him he was at a loss; he had no words. He took some time away from the computer to clear his head but still no words came. But then he noticed a bumper sticker on a car that read “Real musicians have day jobs!” Cary writes, “it was a needed reminder: Your music does not have to support you. In fact, your music might be happier if you were supporting it.” He encourages him to find part-time work to supplement his musical career or to even change paths completely if he chooses and play his music on the side. I found this oddly comforting.
The next question to Cary comes from a young woman who has had no worldly success with her writing, no tangible results to prove that her writing is worth pursuing. She wants to know when she should give up in terms of making a career of writing. Cary reminds her that writing is not only about “displaying one’s talent” but that writing is a “spiritual practice and mode of self-discovery.” He continues on to discuss the “practice,” the notion of putting in the work each day to improve one’s craft.
The universe has been sending lots of messages my way about practicing with consistency and love for the craft, and finding the grace to detach from the results. Practice is not about getting to an end point. I have been practicing every day (my writing, my yoga) and I feeling fuller, nourished, and more stable … all those things I’d been looking for when I was practicing erratically and praying I would get my big break at some point. Sure, it would be great to get the big break but what is really great is simply feeling the effects of my practice in my body, mind and soul.