Follow Your Passion. Or Don't.Read Now
I discovered John Bohlinger a couple of years ago. It may've been more like several years ago. I remember he was doing a gear review for Premier Guitar on youtube, and I thought the guy was awkward and not really that good at it and really needed to quit having his hair colored because it looked...fake. Fast forward a couple of years, and he had become much more polished, let his hair do its thing so it didn't look bad anymore, and I now find his rundowns and reviews engaging so that I watch most all of them. I, also, enjoy his backpage of the magazine article every month that's called Last Call.
In his monthly column, he seems to try to give out that fatherly/brotherly advice to other players. Sometimes it's pretty practical and is something that can be used in very substantive way. I like these columns because I tend to be a very hands-on, practical person. Other times he comes across as being contemplative and trying to pass along something profound. I don't pay quite as much to these columns because I've never really been a theoretical kind of person. When I realize it's one of those columns, I just kind of scan through it.
I've always been this way. I realized it in 9th grade Biology class when I got the first C I had ever gotten on a report card. For the first time in my elementary/middle/junior high career, my name was not listed on the All A's or A/B Honor Roll. Everyone but me was surprised. My folks asked me what happened, and my response is that I didn't care about the class. They asked why, and my response was that it wasn't a fun class, the teacher was a sadistic idiot, and I couldn't see the practical application of what we were learning, so there was no point in learning it. So no ethereal, theoretical profundities for me. Start spouting them, and you quickly lose my attention.
Enter the December column. Mr Bohlinger was riding the line between practical application and trying to be profound. Then right there in the middle of the column, he said this.
"Many people (particularly Americans), live their lives doing what they don’t want to do so they can earn enough money to continue doing what they don’t want to do. People struggle like this for a lifetime and then teach their children to do it. If all your job is providing is a paycheck, you have the wrong job."
Now I don't have an issue with his first 2 sentences. He's spot on. Too often, we Americans get trapped in that cycle of a job we don't like that we don't leave because we want the stability of paycheck. After all, it takes money to live, and, when we don't have that money, even the daily grind gets difficult because you still have to put gas in the ride, food in the belly, and a roof over your head. However, that last sentence. I just have so many problems with that one.
"If all your job is providing is a paycheck, you have the wrong job." That's painting with as much of a broad brush as I would be if my response was "no you don't." More accurately, he should have said that, if all your job is providing is a paycheck you might have the wrong job.
I have a job. I've been in the workforce for the better part of 30 years. I've had all kinds of jobs. Changed careers a couple of times as well. The one thing I've learned is that, if you're miserable at your job, it's time to move on. However, just because a job is just a paycheck, doesn't necessarily mean a whole lot.
While I appreciate what I think he's trying to say, I think he's falling too far into that mentality that "if you're not following your passion, you're unfulfilled," and that's an extremely idealistic place to be. I'll use myself as the example, and say up front that, if I were to follow my passion, I'd probably be alone, homeless, and living in my car (if I had one) right now.
In my teens, I told everyone that I was going to fly airplanes. I got out of high school, got my first real job, and let the president of the company where I worked talk me out of going to flight school. It wasn't difficult to do. At the time, I was about as idealistic as I have ever been, working at a non-profit, and felt like I was living the change and making a difference. Fast forward a few years, I had seen the politics, problems, and blatant hypocrisy in the place I worked, become pretty jaded, and realized it was time to go. At the first good opportunity, I moved from the big city back to the town where I grew up and took a job, among other things, driving a tractor out in the field all day. Oddly enough, that job was the job that I look back on these days saying, if I could've made money doing that, I'd still be on that tractor. Believe it or not, that job was therapeutic, and just what I needed after leaving the situation I had been in.
While I was working on the farm, I had a friend ask me what I would do if I could do anything. My response was "be a studio guitarist." He asked me why I wasn't doing that. Simple. I wasn't (and am not) good enough. As recently as a year ago, as I was planning to leave the job I had at the time, I had one of my senior execs ask me that same question. That's still my answer when asked. If I could do anything I wanted, I'd be a studio guitarist.
Over the years, music and, especially, guitars has become my passion. One whole room of my house is dedicated to music. When I'm not in there playing or sitting at the computer looking up the latest gear or how to play something, you can bet it's probably what I'm thinking about. And, yes, I have viewed my job as just a paycheck for years.
You see, I have loved the guitar since I first started playing in high school, but was out and in the workforce before I was good enough at it to make any money with it. Add to that, I am NOT a good teacher (tried that with a few kids, and not a single one of them kept playing after their parents stopped paying me), and, although I will play in front of folks just to have the opportunity to play with skilled musicians, I'm one of those folks that would really rather not be up on a stage. And, generally, to have followed my passion of guitar playing, I would either have to teach or play out consistently.
Add to all that I started a career that required me working 80 to 100 hours a week, which left no time whatsoever to really practice and get better. For quality of life, after 5 years, I changed careers. Would have loved to have done something music related, but needed to put gas in the car, and my preference was to not live in said car. So I've always said that, at that point, I accidentally ended up in another industry. It paid well enough, and, although I would never have said that I really enjoyed it, it was also something that I didn't hate. It was a paycheck. Now I'm 20 years down the road, on the 3rd company in that field, and would still never be heard even hinting that it was my calling. It wasn't. And it isn't. And it won't be.
In fact, at the first company I worked in that field, my supervisor pulled me aside one day and said, "you really need to find your calling, and this isn't it. I know this because, when I bring a problem to the team, you are the only one in the room whose eyes don't light up thinking about fixing it. You're as good or better than most of the rest of the team, but I can tell that this is just a paycheck to you and not your passion. You need to find that calling and pursue it. As good as you are here, if you were really passionate about what you were doing, you'd be the best in your field." I told him that I couldn't argue with him. It was indeed just a paycheck for me, but a good enough paycheck that I wasn't planning on leaving. It took care of the bills, and gave me enough extra to fuel my real passion, guitars and gear. When I told him that, he just looked at me like a cow looking at a new gate.
Even though I am now a much better player than I was even 10 years ago, and am discovering that I can usually hold my own when called upon to play, I still don't see how I could be earning even half of what I earn in a music related field. And I'm still not good enough to be a studio musician. Truth is, I'm still one of those that's good enough to make the non-musicians think I'm a pretty good player while the real musicians know the awful truth. Or at least that's how I view my playing.
In fact, how is it any different than someone that likes off-roading and spends all their extra money on their jeep? There are jobs out there where you can make a living off-roading, but they're few and far between enough that not everybody with a 4-wheel drive can feed their fam or even repair their jeep doing it. It'd take at least both hands and a foot to count the number of folks that I know in that community that have a day job that has nothing remotely to do with the outdoors, and spend their weekends out on the trail.
Just because you have to have a paycheck and your passion appears to play 2nd fiddle doesn't mean that it's any less of a passion. Truth is, most of the folks I work with know that, given the right opportunity, I'd ditch them without a thought to go play guitar somewhere. Mostly because I've done it in the past and will do it again I'm sure. I just haven't come across that right long term opportunity (and probably won't), and I like my salary enough that I don't mind the grind 5 days a week so long as I have a guitar in hand when I'm not in the office.
With all respect, good Mr Bohlinger, you're wrong on this one. Just because it's only a paycheck doesn't mean it's wrong. Sometimes without the paycheck, the passion has no fuel and would die. If it's just a paycheck, it might be wrong. Or it might just be a paycheck. Like you, I also sell out. It's just that, with my skill set, the highest bidder means I'm an analyst somewhere during the week.
That said, on a different yet related note, having been there and learned the hard lesson, if you ever find yourself miserable at a job that's just a paycheck, you need to get out as quickly as you can. Life's too short for that nonsense.
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Snarf is a wannabe musician who currently resides in the great state of Texas. His wife is his favorite. He believes chocolate milk made from milk that is anything less than whole milk is basically water and deserves to be dumped down the sink so nobody has to suffer through it. He hates having to shop for clothes. But he has a thing for really cool bags, and, consequently, has more gig bags than guitars and a closet full of messenger bags and backpacks. He still misses his dog who was taken by cancer 5 years ago. Check out his Reverb shop and see if he has any gear he's trying to get rid of.