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Will I Make It?

Updated: Apr 12

A student raised a hand in the last part of the Q&A during a recent public talk and asked me,

“Do you still think about ‘Will I make it’?”

Her question caught me off guard. That question surely sounded familiar, as I had asked that myself many times before in my youth. For a long time, however, I haven’t thought about it in the context of what she meant.

In the years of my doctoral studies, I remember asking the following question:

Will I make it sufficiently to have 1) enough money, 2) concerts, and 3) fans, to able to 4) buy a house and a 5) Steinway piano, while also 6) having jobs that are secure, along with everything else I think I need?

What is interesting is that I clearly remember asking that question of myself, but I don’t quite remember putting those numbered items as goals for my life. For me, it felt like an open question that I hoped (or knew) would work out somehow, as long as my intention was in the right place and I worked hard.

In that Q&A, I asked the student a question: “Do you know what ‘it’ is for you? Do you know what makes you happy in life? What is your definition of success without defining it with numbers or needing approval from others?”

I didn’t expect her to be able to answer right then and there. My intention was to give her food for thought, so hopefully, she can ponder it over and over again as she goes through her life.

I grew up under the enormous cultural pressure of the exam system for entering universities in Korea. Studying every second awake and cutting sleep for those tests in your teenage years was expected. I remember literally taking a textbook everywhere, even to the bathroom, to spare more time to study. Then, when I came to the US in my early 20s after my undergraduate studies, one of the biggest awakenings was that many people do not work as hard as you think they might.

When I prepared for my exam here, I realized that more than half of them didn’t study as much as I did, so I got relatively better results. (Even though I still felt underprepared.) I gave presentations with maximum effort, even though I could have done so with much less preparation. I approached my teaching with care for each student. I prepared everything I did with the utmost intensity: work, teaching, concerts, and studying. Every time I made a total effort to do my best, I felt the door of my life opening unexpectedly and experienced new growth in the process.

I learned that by establishing my work ethic as my basic principle, financial independence naturally followed without having to actively chase it. Since there were not many who would work as hard as I did, showing up to do my work consistently was the fastest way to make ‘it’ as far as my early definition of success was concerned.

Surely, when I walked onto the beautiful stage of Carnegie Hall, I felt that I had made it. When my Korean book reached #3 on the bestseller list, I felt that I had made it. However, even after whatever great accomplishments I have made, the search for ‘it’ continues to be elusive and never-ending.

That was when I realized that the ongoing search for ‘Will I make it?’ was very much about where my mind was—success depended more on my internal than the external landscape.

Nowadays, I still ask that question. This time around, however, my definition of success is more like this:

“Will I make it to be in flow with music? Will I make it to be at peace when the storm of my life hits me? Will I make it to be happy today? Will I make it to be positive even when I feel discouraged? Will I make it to be in the now in everything I do today? Will I make it to serve and communicate better in my relationships? Will I make it to be vulnerable and open in life? Will I make it to be inspired and inspiring?”

Somehow, when I change my perspective, the never-ending chase of ‘it’ doesn’t seem draining anymore. It is such a joy to deepen my relationship with myself and to search for a better version of myself in the process.

What is your answer to the question, “Will I make it?” Please share it with me!

Have a wonderful week!


The snowy mountain view + Piano = Happiness

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