#100) Quitting my day job

Artist-difficulty

For musicians and other creative types such as myself, the million dollar question is: when do you quit your day job?

In my case, it was ten years ago, a few months after I turned 30. (A while back I promised an over-wrought, existential rant to mark my 40th birthday. Guess what 30 plus 10 is? Besides, for post #100, go big or go home, right?)

By the end of 2005, my wife had just gotten a promotion. One of my bands scored a weekly gig and the others were working regularly too. My roster of private students was as big as it had ever been. We had saved some money. If there was ever a time to quit substitute teaching in the Long Beach public schools, it would be now. What did I have to lose?

Within two years, I had the answer: my marriage and my love of music. As both started to falter and then vanish, I would often find myself wondering if I should have just kept the day job.

Almost a decade later, now with a terrific marriage, a house, two great dogs, a good social life, a few bands that are doing pretty well and a newly discovered love of hiking and the outdoors that I’ve parlayed into a successful website and digital photo library, it’s easy for me to wave the “I regret nothing” banner. But what if things had not turned around in the way that they did? I believe that even if my life was worse now than it was ten years ago, quitting substitute teaching–my day job–was the right call.

While the stress of my music career certainly didn’t help my marriage, had I continued to substitute teach, or become a classroom K-12 teacher as I had once planned, we would have just swapped out one set of problems for a new one. A teacher for whom I once subbed had written herself a note on her desk: “Don’t take it personally; don’t take it home.” I likely would have done both. If I’d bypassed teaching altogether–perhaps if I’d actually done my homework and made an effort in school instead of messing around with music and had pursued a degree in law or medicine–I might have landed a better-paying job, but while financial stress played a role in my divorce, no amount of money in the world could have changed the fact that I simply picked the wrong person to marry. She was what I had spent my whole life not having and when I met her, all bets were off. It took several years to realize that while we might have had fun dating, we weren’t built for a lasting relationship, but try telling a male 25-year old to look at the long term picture. Just try, I dare you.

Would I have continued to enjoy music if I hadn’t spent hours teaching unmotivated students or grinding out the same grunge rock and country songs in bars? I’ll never know for sure, but while I didn’t have a choice in how my first marriage ended, I’m grateful that I have a choice with music and I’ve chosen to keep playing it.

The biggest lesson I’ve learned in the 10 years since my last day as a substitute teacher is that the results of a decision don’t necessarily dictate the soundness of the decision. We’ve all made mistakes that have been absent of consequences; we’ve all made honest, well-informed decisions that simply didn’t work out. When I gave up the lukewarmness of substitute teaching, I knew that I might get really hot or ice cold. Sometimes during the cold periods I would miss the lukewarm, but getting back there would have gotten boring pretty quickly.

I leave you with the words of GoPro founder Nick Woodman: “When I have a difficult decision to make, I imagine myself as a 90-year-old guy looking back on his life. I imagine what I’ll think about myself at that point in time, and it always makes it really easy to go for it. You’re only going to regret that you wimped out.”

 

 

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