Last week, while walking along a snowy sidewalk in New York City, my head was filled with a request I’d gotten from the MTNA’s (Music Teachers National Association) Business Digest Online Journal. They had asked me to respond to the three following prompts in under 5 minutes:
1. Describe your current career.
2. What are the key steps or experiences that helped guide you to where you are now?
3. What advice do you have for others who may hope to follow a similar path?
My initial thought was, No problem! I could talk about this topic for hours! Then I realized it was much harder to narrow it down to only 5 minutes rather than hours. In fact, giving an answer to the seemingly simple question—How do you do what you do?—would not be that easy for me. I realized that my career is like a complicated web spinning from the core mission of being a classical pianist, which includes teaching, podcasting, performing, writing, speaking, coaching, creating online content, marketing, presenting concerts, and recording albums. At the same time, this is exactly why this journal wanted to feature me in their article as a new model for an entrepreneur musician in the 21st century. Unlike 200 years ago, being an excellent musician alone might not be enough to thrive in the current era.
I feel imposter syndrome whenever I have the opportunity to give advice to other musicians who want to do what I do. What worked for me might not work for their paths. However, when I think about what I would advise the 20-year-old younger version of myself, knowing what I know now, it feels easier to give some tips to the younger me.
So, here are the top 10 pieces of advice I would give to others who may hope to follow a similar path of being a musician in the 21st century.
1. Don’t wait for opportunities to come to you—create your own. No one will knock on your practice room door and beg to fulfill your dreams. The more proactive you are, the better the chances that you will become lucky. After all, you create your own luck.
2. Follow your curiosity and just DO IT. Curiosity is the inner compass of your interest and passion. Try to listen to that small voice within, and then take a tiny step into whatever that might be today. In the process, you will learn what works for you and what doesn’t. Remember, you can only steer a moving ship.
3. Know your why. Just like a company, your brand (yourself) needs a mission statement about what you believe in and how you hope to serve others. Imagine you have everything you hope for regarding money, time, and energy right now. What would you do to express yourself and serve others?
4. Redefine your idea of success. First, get in tune with yourself. Then, figure out what makes you happy, and then do that every day. Find your contentment without needing the approval of society or others.
5. Build your own community. If I had to distill everything I do down to one word, it would be connection. Create your community using various methods, such as newsletters, online content, in-person concerts, family and friends, colleagues, professional contacts, fans, and whoever believes in what you do. Then, nurture that connection with genuine care and love regularly and continuously.
6. When you are afraid of doing something, know that it is exactly what you should face. Sometimes, fear indicates life, telling you that this is a time for learning and growing. I remember having to take uncomfortable and fearful steps that I didn’t want to take. Trust me. Your future self will thank you.
7. You are a unique messenger. No matter what you do, no one in this world is like you. You don’t have to create the most exotic thing in this world to be creative. You are enough, just as you are. Just be a unique messenger through how you see the world.
8. Don’t stop practicing, no matter what concert/album/projects are presented for you at this moment or not. In the meantime, keep practicing for yourself, even when you don’t have any concert engagements. When the opportunity comes at the right time in your life, you will be happy that you are ready to share with others. I know this is easier said than done as it takes a daily discipline, but this is an important step for you to continue as a performing artist. Keep the momentum going.
9. Pay as much attention to your mind and body as you do to your work. Exercise regularly, meditate, eat healthy foods, and constantly hunt for your method of finding peace. On this path, at the end of the day, you will have to pick yourself up over and over again. A healthy mind and body will help you stay positive during stormy periods.
10. Stay humble, yet encourage yourself with positive affirmations. This is a delicate dance on and off the stage of performance. You can’t be too proud, but you need to take time to celebrate. You can’t be too egoistic, yet you must trust yourself to do the work well. If you understand that you are merely one puzzle piece in the big picture of the universe, you might be able to find this balance better.
I hope this list gives you a guiding light to inspire whatever you do on your career path.
I know this is way beyond the 5-minute limit that I was given, but I shall share my 5-minute talk video later when I produce it! I will have to choose only a couple of points. Is there any point that resonates with you? Please share it with me.