That extra something

That extra something
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#1

Okay bear with me because it’s late at night and I’m a little loopy. But this thought just occurred to me and I wanted to know if it resonates with anybody else. More like a metaphor really.

I’ve been feeling for a long time that I don’t want a career as a software engineer, but rather one as an artist. And more specifically, as a musician. I chose software engineering because it’s practical and art is anything but. And I think a lot about why I have this feeling, and had an interesting thought about skill vs. natural ability. I guess this is also in conjunction with reading Mixerman’s new book and thinking more about what makes a good record.

So here’s the metaphor: I was born with an “extra something.” And that were I to (through hard work and dedication) achieve mastery over an art form such as music, I could finally put my “extra something” on top and it would be truly special. I don’t think I have anything particularly extra special to put on top of a masterful piece of software. I guess we’re all unique and have something of ourselves to add to whatever we do, but maybe we each have this particular “extra something” that we’re just dying to show off. The rub is that this “extra something” is nothing on its own–it’s only in conjunction with a masterful work that it has any existence at all. Kind of like breaking a rule–its significance is directly proportional to how strictly the rest of the rules were followed.

And I think that’s why even though I like software engineering, I can’t abide spending the rest of my career on it. Because then I may never get to use my extra something. And boy will it take some work to get there!

Haha I hope I don’t sound too crazy. What do you think? I’m really curious to see if anyone can relate! (Or if I’m just a tragically typical millennial, haha.)


#2

I often think this too. I’m a teacher, and it really is the greatest job on earth. Until it isn’t. And sometimes I dream of being able to be an “artist”. I dream of making documentaries, or creating music for TV Shows, or playing rhythm guitar for Dream Theater! But here’s the thing. A colleague of mine was a musician in the Metropole Orkest (the world famous Metropol Orchestra here in The Netherlands). To me, she had it all - she was an artist and musician - she lived the life. But when she describes it to me, it sounded rather like she had a job. Almost a 9 to 5 (with evenings and matinees thrown in). She longed for something else after all that time - and then became a teacher.

I think as if there’s this extra thing inside that’s kept inside - it eats at you. I have family who are successful but never let this extra thing come out, and it really took its toll on them. You can see that they have something broken inside them as they never got the chance to do that thing or live their dream.

For me, I love playing and writing music. I love mixing songs. I’m old enough to realise that I’m not going to make a career out of this hobby, but as a hobby, it fills a huge hole that I would otherwise have in my life.


#3

I can totally relate to this. I have to head off to work right this minute (oh the irony) but wanted to quickly chime in, and will add more later.

Being able to pursue something we love – that “extra something” – and earn a living at it is one of the rarest things in life IMO. So few get to that place. I’m one of those lucky ones-- but the difference is that I didn’t even realize it was my “extra something” until much later in life. I was dedicated to pursuing music until realizing it wasn’t going to work, and finding I was good at something else.

I think you can take lots of fulfillment in prioritizing your extra something while still paying the bills with the day job, as so many artists have done. If you keep the perspective that your software engineering is a means to an end, there’s a good chance you won’t begrudge the hours you have to spend on it that you’d rather spend pursuing your art. If you can have the patience, and keep working on your artistic pursuit while keeping the proverbial roof over your head, you have a real shot at making it pay off and eventually switching to a life of full time art.

Personally, I completely believe in you to do this given your talent and ability. It’s hard to have the patience, to be sure, but if anyone can do it, you can! :+1:


#4

Yeah isn’t it funny how things can go like this? One man’s trash is another man’s treasure! I had this realization about music when I took some time off work to do it–that it was a lot like a job. Sometimes a real drag. I guess for me the distinction isn’t made in how enjoyable the time is that I’m spending, but in whether or not I’m working towards some greater vision.

Yeah, it really hit me out of left field how incredibly hard it has been for me to not begrudge my work hours. I’ve had this job for almost a year, and it was okay for a while but then my boss chipped away at my confidence enough for me to get into a negative place with the whole thing. And now it’s dark clouds every Sunday. I’ve tried everything I could think of, over and over again. I’ve been “just scraping by” for months. It’s a real drag on my wife, too. Anyway, the good news is that I have a way out because my wife is learning software engineering and will be able to support us financially in a little while. (We joke that she’s going to be my record label.) I’m looking forward to that.


#5

I think there is an idealistic tendency to see a passionate artistic talent as the way to be happy, but as you have already realized, sometimes that just becomes another type of ‘work’ and isn’t as fun as you had thought it would be. There’s also less consistency, dependability, and security and taking a more risky route.

If you don’t enjoy things like marketing, networking, running a business with multiple ‘hats’ (you get to do everything in the beginning), extreme learning curves, long hours, late nights, diminished social life, etc … I think you can see where I’m going with this. It’s total dedication to making music a business.

With music as a hobby, there isn’t the pressure and responsibility, it’s self-driven and you can do whatever you want. And you can always work toward building it as a part-time income and see what happens. If Lady Luck knocks on your door at that point, it’s possible it could become a full-time career, at least for awhile. As they say, when hard work meets opportunity …

You might find the writings of Steven Pressfield interesting and helpful. It’s not flowers and sunshine, he’s kind of hard core. He wrote books like “The War of Art”, “Doing the Work”, and “Turning Pro”. He’ a best-selling writer, initially fiction but then he gained a following writing about the work of doing the work. He says overcoming “resistance” (internal) can be the biggest factor in tackling any audacious goal. Perhaps considering things along these lines, asking yourself tough questions about what you want out of life, what you’re willing to commit to, and how your partner is willing to support you in this, could lead to some new insights.

I don’t know if it’s a millennial thing. I believe these are common feelings for artistically inclined souls. I do know that millennial’s search for meaning and question things more than previous generations, in general. Simon Sinek talks about this a bit, you may find this helpful as well.
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#6

Thanks I will check out Steven Pressfield. I hadn’t heard of him. To me, it’s not something I want to do in order to be happy. It’s more about making a choice about what I want to create, given my limited resource of time. There’s this book I love called The Path of Least Resistance, and a line from it, “the human spirit will not invest itself in a compromise.” It’s something that stuck with me.


#7

I think the danger here is going off the assumption that your “extra something” is musical in nature. I think it might be easier for you to imagine your extra something being music, but I would imagine your extra something is more broad than that. I’m not going to say that you should figure out how to apply that extra something to your software, because if its something you’ve decided you don’t love doing, it’s going to be hard to find the extra something in that.

I think the danger, however, is thinking that your extra something is specifically related to music. Music might be more obvious, but it’s not the only thing. And a lot of people go to pursue their dreams only to find out that what they thought was a dream is just as miserable as what they were doing before. Obviously this doesn’t always happen though.

For me personally, I’ve learned that my “extra something” is proving to myself that I can do new things. It just so happened that starting a plugin company was my path to least resistance to do that. I really like my job most days, and the music thing is a very small part of that. What makes me like my job is that I can make things that I find interesting, and make enough money to continue paying my bills. Whether we’re talking about making plugins, music, food, or people is secondary.

If doing music helps you to find that extra something, then you should definitely find a way to pursue it.


#8

I don’t think that it is, actually. But I do feel strongly that it’s artistic in nature. And it seems most practical for me to choose one art form to go deep into. And music is the art form I’ve already invested the most time into so I think that’s an indication that it’s a solid choice. Very long-term I actually think that making indie video games could be the perfect fit for me. I can do all of the disciplines to varying degrees, and I think if I end up going that route I’ll still feature music in my games in novel ways. Kind of like how this artist I like called Lights put out a comic book to go with her latest album. She learned how to make the whole thing herself–it’s quite inspiring, and the comic turned out really well I think.

But yeah, that’s a huge fear of, “what if I’m miserable?” I don’t know. At least I’ll be out of excuses. :slight_smile:


#9

If you know how to program, and you have artistic skills, I think the world is pretty much wide open to you to do almost anything you want. The hard part is that it generally takes some sort of catalyst to force you to take the risk and actually do it.

When I jumped ship into starting a company, the first thing I did was save as much cash as I could. It taught me exactly how little I could make and continue to survive, and it also made it so I could spend a year stress free (it was not stress free) getting up and running. Financial strain will put a damper in creativity pretty quickly.

But it sounds to me like if you have an idea of something you want to make, you have the skills on both sides of the aisle to make it happen. When I did it, it was really really scary. But I’m glad I did it.


#10

I think I’ve felt like this for most of my life and pretty much for the same reasons :slight_smile:

One important distinction I’ve found helpful in thinking about career paths is to question whether you’re in love with the results or the process. After all, it’s easy to want to be an accomplished musician/artist and everything that (seemingly) comes with that status/lifestyle.

Mark Manson writes interesting things about this, in many ways echoing @Stan_Halen’s comment about Steven Pressfield (which I definitely want to check out).

The short version is that every/any occupation has tedious or painful sides. There’s just no such thing as constant bliss. In anything we do, a big chunk of the day may be spent doing things we don’t really want to do. Then the question becomes what kind of “pain” are you ok with? I find that this provides a much better lens to evaluate the best path forward.


#12

We’ve all faced this choice I guess. My choice was to get a day job that paid the bills and bought equipment without being too demanding otherwise so that my music (and art in general) would be as free and fun as possible. I do not want to suffer for art’s sake. Having made this choice I have no regrets, but we all are different.

It would be interesting to hear @ptalbot 's take on this.


#13

Hi The good: You have to know you are gifted if only by what the forum members have said here. You are in a funk no doubt. Words here aren’t going to help you much. Knowing folks care about you should. You are young and have a lifetime ahead to be able to contribute.
This isn’t about me, but I wish I could be your age again and have your talent. I would dig in my heels, kick out the demons, and make a plan for maybe only the next month. It’s all about peaks and valleys. I hope you can take that first step to start the climb. And when you hit the summit I expect to hear something sensational. The bad: you don’t know how good you really are,


#14

That’s a good point. We tend to focus on the result and wanting to get there, but 98% of the journey is the journey, the process. Loving the process is pretty much essential.

That’s a great article! Yeah, there’s a similar idea, that it’s important to understand the pain in the process and be okay with or prepared for that. Steven Pressfield gives a few examples. One is Maya Angelou. Maya talks about how she shows up to her writing studio every morning at 9am to write her poetry, or at least write something. Show up and write, and see what happens. Many times she could go two weeks with nothing but crap coming out … then, miraculously The Muse shows up and what she writes is really awesome and goes in one of her books perhaps. The ‘moral’ of the story is really that the two weeks of crap HAS to happen to churn up the ideas and fertile soil for the masterpiece. We don’t always tie it together, but can learn by experience what brings about results.

He also mentions Madonna. We see Madonna traipse out on stage in her bulletproof bra and dance her hiney off, and it looks like a vigorous cakewalk. BUT, the amount of work, and blood/sweat/tears that went into Madonna creating that image, doing the business deals for the massive tour planning, staying in top shape to perform that tour, and keeping dozens of other plates spinning would probably boggle the mind.

In both cases, they learned or decided what it would take in terms of process to get to the results they want to see. But they also make sure they enjoy the process along the way as much as possible, or don’t let it get them down.

There’s an old cliche, but some truth to it. What do you love to do that you would work at even if you didn’t get paid for it? (assuming bills were not an issue, hypothetically) So if you figure out how to get paid for it, then it may be a fulfilling career path for you.


#15

That’s a big one!

I can completely relate to your feelings and doubts Christine, and though I know I’m a very musical person It’s hard to know if it could ever be interesting to more than a small audience. Anyway, I chose to follow my (non music) career (just a couple more years to go…) and make music on the side. And I very much like what I’m doing because I feel I’m contributing something to society. When I was younger this was difficult. I wanted to be heard on the radio too, but didn’t have the guts to go all the way. I’m glad now: I’m guess I might have made it as a professional musician at some basic level, but I also know my vocal capabilities are somewhat limited and if you want to live as a singer songwriter your voice is your most important instrument. So it would have become work and quite possibly frustrating once I would find out I had reached my limit.
Now I have a very interesting job for which people respect me, and sometimes they’re pleasantly surprised if I let them hear my songs on Soundcloud. It may not be music to conquer the world with, but it’s a lot better than they might expect from an amateur like me. And I intensely enjoy the few gigs a year I still do in local venues. I’m not saying you should do the same mind you, you certainly have a lot of talent and if you have the guts to do it: go girl!
But don’t worry if at some time you decide to back down, it might still turn out to be a great choice.


#16

All I can say is that whatever you do in life, you need to be involved 100% in it.
Because any job, and yes, being an artist/musician too, will have its share of boring/painful stuff to deal with…

I’m a software developer in “real life”, and have started my own company about 9 years ago now, and I still work on my own, and more importantly, on my own terms.
I couldn’t face having people less qualified than I am telling me what to do, so one day I decided that I needed to work freelance. The way I managed to be successful is by spending 3 years having basically 2 full time jobs: one during the day, where I was working for a company, and the evenings/nights I was working on open source software development, basically giving away my work for free.
This helped establishing myself as an expert in my field in a niche market. After a couple of years, people started asking for help and were ready to pay for it, so that’s how I got to start my own company… Nowadays, I still get work from people who’ve heard or used my open source work and want more. The thing is that because I work on my own terms, I mostly only work with people I like, and on projects that are interesting me. And yes, there is a good part of creativity involved, which is what I always look for whatever the job.

Now, that’s my day job. Meaning that my second job suddenly got free to do what I wanted to do, which is music. I started recording again, learning about audio engineering, and after a few years again, I decided that I wanted to promote the music that I do, so I started learning about promotion, social media, and the music industry in general.

This is what takes most of my free time now, interacting with people on social media, promoting my music and others, interacting with indie radios, blogs, promoters, fans, etc. Trying to find new ways to engage people from the general public. It’s a hell of a job, I’m telling you, and not something that is always so fun, and the music industry is so screwed up that sometimes, I curse them all!

I’m nowhere near where I would like to be as an artist, in terms of recognition for my music, but in the end, it doesn’t matter, as I’m too old for this shit, anyway. I would need to go through intensive cosmetic surgery, or sex change, or race change, and do some hip-hop/rap or top 40 music to have any chance in this business anyway! :smiley:

I’ve decided that I want to promote other’s indie music, from people I respect and music that I like, so I’m trying to build some influence, through a network of radios, blogs and music lovers in general, and trying to grow my following on social medias, problem is that this is a never ending work, unless you have tons of money to invest, and when you invest, don’t expect any financial return anyway, because music doesn’t pay, people don’t buy records, streaming is the biggest scam there ever was, so it’s all about sharing but don’t expect to make a living from it, unless you tour incessantly (with little expenses as well), sell a lot of t-shirts, or go through a successful Fundraising campaign (which means you already have a big “super fans” following, which is easier said than done).

All of this to say that I believe being a musician nowadays is not a reasonable career option, so maybe a combination of software engineering, audio engineering and music might be more sustainable long term, and you will learn to find the positive in what you do, provided you get to put your own “extra something” in.

Sorry for being so long, although there would be much more to say about this, but I was prompted to do so… :wink:


#17

The problem is your “extra something” is no more or less special than anyone else’s. So you either just out-work everyone else who also has the extra something, or you just get luckier than the next shmuck. The good thing about art is that there is no good or bad, so it’s not like woodshedding will get you anywhere. You just need to be popular somehow. That’s all.


#18

I spent years thinking about mixing and monitors and studios. But I put myself off, with a strange thought along the lines of “what’s the use of doing any of this if it’s not going to be commercially successful”. It’s like I put an end goal into a hobby. I put certain conditions on it that couldn’t possibly be met and then used that as an excuse not to do it. It’s worth noting that at the time I wasn’t happy with my day job either so it was an all around misery that I was in.

I then thought about a writer, or an artist, or people who like knitting or sewing. They sit and create stuff without putting any pressure on themselves and enjoy what they do. Imagine telling somebody who likes to paint that their creativity isn’t worth as much because they aren’t commercially successful.

Then my wife had an aneurysm and along with my daughter almost died in a car crash. That was my moment of clarity. I promised myself that once she recovered I would not waste my time or question my choices any more. She did, and I don’t! Now I’m kind of thankful for where I am, and what I’m able to do. I’ve also got vey philosophical about what happiness actually is and how much control I have over it.


#19

Very cool article. Financial insecurity is not a pain that I want in my life, and I guess that’s why I didn’t go the starving artist route. That’s not the route for me. I guess it makes sense that I chose a well paying profession, and am sticking with it until my wife can take over the “breadwinner” role.

Oh trust me, I am climbing! It’s just a long climb. :slight_smile: And thanks for the vote of confidence.

Yes, this is so true! Usually when I feel like I’m working on something for a long time with no results, I remind myself of this. Something along the lines of, “everything that you’re doing is exactly what you have to do to get where you’re going.” If it wasn’t, why would I be doing it? Even if it’s a mistake, it’s a necessary mistake. Even if it’s rubbish, it’s necessary rubbish. The important thing is to keep going.

Yeah I really agree with this. Being engaged with life is like… it’s like living vs. just letting life carry you along. Reminds me of this quote from a Buddhist teacher. Long story short, this American guy flies all the way to Thailand to meet a monk named Ajahn Chah and seek his advice. It’s an arduous journey, and when he finally gets there he isn’t able to meet with Ajahn Chah because he’s too busy. He says he’ll wait, and he waits as long as he possibly can, but no luck. He accepts defeat and goes in front of the monastery to wait for his taxi to take him to his flight home. He sees a broom nearby and decides to sweep the grounds to make some good karma while he waits. Just before he has to leave, Ajahn Chah walks outside, and says to him, “If you’re going to sweep the grounds, give it everything you’ve got.” And then he walked away. It’s the same lesson. Whatever you’re doing, give it 100%. Anyway, I like that story.

Thanks for sharing! I still believe that being a musician can be a reasonable career option, given enough time. But yeah like you said I know it’s a grind, because at the end of the day you have to have a lot of fans and building up that audience is not easy. I recently read this book called “Crushing It” (which hilariously is just kind of a book full of anecdotes of how people had success with his earlier book, “Crush It,” haha) and he talked a lot about this. My wife bought it for me. It’s incredibly nice to have her support.

I don’t agree with this. I think that different people have different strengths. For example a 6’7" guy with excellent athletic genes can make for a great basketball player. And maybe an intelligent, sensitive woman can make for a great artist. That sort of thing. I also think that there is such a thing as good and bad art. People will certainly disagree on whether something is good or bad, but it’s not a useless discussion. If art was never good or bad, how could someone ever improve?


#20

I think I remember that story. I know I have at least one of his books, “Being Dharma: The Essence of the Buddha’s Teachings”.


#21

I heard the story in an Ajahn Brahm talk. He’s one of Ajahn Chah’s students who now leads a monastery in Australia. He gives great talks, and may are online. Very funny and down to earth. (In case you haven’t heard of him.)