Fitter, Happier, More Productive…[really!]

Upon turning in my thesis, I will have earned two degrees in music composition. Even a month ago, the prospect continuing on towards a doctorate (which many refer to as the “terminal degree”-morbid isn’t it?) and then entering a saturated job market was terrifying.  What I was failing to realize was that winning a job as a professor would in no way validate my degrees, nor would it be necessary for my own personal happiness.

Education has its own inherent value. Regardless of where my careers (yes, plural) take me, my experiences in academia extend beyond the mere acquisition of job skills. They have endowed better critical thinking skills, an expanded perspectives, and helped shaped me into a better citizen of the world. Learning has been and continues to be a pleasure that is good in itself. Its worth could never be measured or augmented by money, nor could it ever be diminished by any woe.

More and more, higher education is being viewed as a training ground job skills. I have written before that the primary purpose of academia is to provide a safe environment for research and study. It is not merely for the acquisition of job skills. Intellectual curiosity needs to continue to be encouraged and subsidized by universities, for it will surely make our world a better place. [Higher education was also the topic of a recent blog post, “Reclaiming Academia.”]

Through recognizing my education’s inherent value, I become a fitter, happier, and more productive person. In earnest, I’m not a pig in a cage on antibiotics but, instead, a free agent. No longer do I have the burdensome assumption that, “I need to be active as a composer in order to win a professorship that pays enough to  feed a family-just to be happy.” Instead, it’s, “I am going to compose whatever I want, and people who like it can play it.” Since shifting my perspective, I have been composing more than I have in a year!  My pieces are starting to propagate now more than ever with performances in the works both within the USA and abroad.

A positive perspective makes a person more attractive. Before, I avoided sending my music out to people because deep down I sensed within myself a desperation that I knew was sickening and off-putting. Now, getting more performances is not about trying to secure job; it is simply about getting my music heard. Commissions are now exclusively vehicles for writing new pieces and ensuring their performance: how liberating!

Maybe I will still earn my doctorate, but regardless I am still a damn good composer with or without it. I don’t need to be a college professor to be fulfilled as a human being. A professorship is still something I hope to obtain one day, but there are many ways to be happy and fulfilled.

What makes me happy? being home with my girlfriend, chatting with friends and family, the taste of good beer and barbecue, walking Sparky the dog, teaching my dear students, being alone with a book, the greenness of a leaf with sunlight shining through it, sharing in music with others, being alive and knowing that I am living, and much, much more.


Five fun facts about the litany of happy things above:

  1. My favorite type of beer is an imperial stout.
  2. The best barbecue in Kansas City is found at KC Joe’s, formerly known as Oklahoma Joe’s.
  3. My brother, parents, and grandparents are among my closest friends.
  4. I really do live with a dog named Sparky. His many nicknames include Sparker, Sparkle, and Baby Dog.
  5. Now I am reading The Tale of Genji 源氏物語 by Lady Murasaki. It is the world’s oldest novel. Next, I will finish reading Infinite Jest.
One Response to “Fitter, Happier, More Productive…[really!]”
  1. I think another key aspect of better, more fulfilling composing is accepting the fact that bad pieces will happen. Those less-than-ideal compositions ares till useful in that they allow one to learn from them and write even better music. Over time it becomes a positive feedback loop. Now, having said that, actually getting into that habit is another story, for me at least, but it seems like you’ve found a mindset that really works, which is awesome. And so is imperial stout.


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