Today's entry is the first in a series of "Life's Little Secrets". I have intentionally avoided the word, "Secret" in my blog since the term is over-used in publications of every kind. But I have come to realize that this word most aptly fits the definition: something unknown to the average person. This word definitely applies to living a purposeful, rewarding, fulfilling life. If the essentials of living a great life were known to everyone, you could cite them at this very moment and give examples of each in your daily life.
I'm sure some of you reading this have developed an understanding of what is essential in living a good life. Yet many more readers are asking themselves, "what are these secrets...I need to know more" and some are thinking, "there are no secrets to life". We each live life through our own lens. Our perspective has been shaped by our experiences, observations, influences and reflection. Most of us have the experience necessary to discover a secret precept of life, yet we have not reflected in a way that led to changing our behavior. Others literally know many important life lessons and can easily recite what they do not themselves put into action.
Today's topic, "Passion vs. Progress" was inspired by Joey Tartell's latest blog entry: Time Management which I encourage you to read. Joey offers clear, honest, helpful insight into personal growth as a musician and trumpet player. I read his blog regularly and truly enjoy his perspective as an educator, musician and leader.
On the subject of Time Management, I see eye to eye with Joey in terms of getting things done. I completely agree that we all need to manage our time to meet our goals. This is especially important for me as I build three to five trumpets every week for very demanding musicians. I also make hundreds or even thousands of trumpet parts and accessories each and every month. I balance my production demands with planning and designing new solutions for brass musicians, giving private lessons and advice to professional musicians, working with my teams at Harrelson Trumpets in Denver and Minneapolis, sharing life experiences with life-long friends and living a full life personally with Jolene as we discover the world in beautiful loving relationship.
I know the importance of balancing my priorities with my time, but as a creator, inventor, independent musician and artist, I also have a different perspective. Sometimes it is more important to feed the flame of passion than to live by a regular routine day in, day out. What is the point in living if we only produce more goods or services on a timeline designed to meet arbitrary deadlines? What is life without opening our eyes and ears to new ideas, experiences and realities? What is life void of living in the moment?
This topic really hit home for me when considering my years attending St. Olaf College in Northfield, Minnesota. I was a dreamer who intentionally plunged into a world of goal-oriented realists. My peers had defined goals on a level I had never considered. They knew they were on the road to success and that veering from the path was folly. Future doctors, lawyers, scientists, politicians, accountants and me.
Maybe it was obvious to my friends that I was different? Maybe some of them suspected I would design, build and perform on trumpets for a living? Or maybe they saw me as the poor kid from a little Montana trailer court who wore worn out jeans that were out of style because that's all I had? Regardless, my eyes were opened to a world of goal-oriented perseverance that changed my attitude and habits for the better. I did not see myself assimilating to any of the professional career norms as I have embraced the entrepreneurial spirit since I was a young boy. But I listened and learned from my peers and discovered the essential elements of organizing my ideas and goals and taking action.
I knew that I would become more than a musician, inventor and educator. I knew that I would see the world through more than one lens as my perspective was formed by multiple realities and disciplines. I was a dreamer, a lover of experiencing each and every moment and I was a realist with tangible goals. I was nothing like my peers, which was the catalyst to forming some great friendships with students and professors alike.
I was me, which is the secret I am sharing with you today. It sounds simple and you've heard it a hundred times, but being me is an essential element of my great number of challenges, failures and successes. Be true to yourself is much more than poetry or lyrics to a song. Being true to yourself requires great sacrifice, integrity and strength. Being someone else is often much easier than being the person you know is hiding inside. Assimilation is important on many levels, but it rarely trumps living by your own personal expectations.
In reality, college is often not the best avenue to becoming a great musician, artist or innovative creator. Many of the best musicians I knew in college managed their time very well and their regular hard practice was reflected in their skill. But looking back, I now see how mechanical and trained these people sounded in terms of musicality. Of the few that perform publicly today, many of them sound overly rehearsed. Sure they play the right notes in the orchestra or on their weekend cover band gigs, but do I go out of my way to hear their musical expression? Do you?
In my opinion, life's hardships, challenges and rewards build better musicians than practicing the same 14 fundamental exercises day after day, year after year. College taught me that I do not want to sound perfect in my technique, tone and nuance, which is the exact opposite of what my professors were attempting to teach me!
Individual musical personalities we recognize in just a few notes are grown through life's experiences. The most memorable musicians who came before us were most often lovers of music and nothing more. I doubt many of them sat down every day to practice their scales, arpeggios, etc. I would bet that the vast majority of them had moments of inspiration that compelled them to hide away in a room with their thoughts, ideas, passion, music and a pencil. Diligent repetition of drills had nothing to do with their successes musically. Of course learning fundamentals is extremely important, but being me and sounding like me is more important.
Having taught thousands of lessons, I see Tartell's perspective and agree that it is frustrating when students do not manage their time well enough to practice. But this is like comparing french horns to tubas. Some students thrive on regular mundane repetition, which is a fairly common attitude in college. And others may not practice for weeks even though a red hot fire burns inside them to create musically. Great leaders provide opportunities to spark imaginations with something more interesting than the routine set of exercises.
Challenge yourself to be your own leader and spark your own imagination. Do something musically that is important to you personally. Pick up a pencil and write down something that will inspire you to become a better musician right now and start a new habit today.
For what it's worth, I honestly did not care about grades in college and I skipped many trumpet lessons for the reasons previously stated. I dropped out of school in the last week of my senior year because I did not want a degree to help me through life. I made a conscious decision to end my formal education to make room for real life learning experiences. Like I said, my multiple perspectives led me to make choices outside the comfort level of my peers. But dropping out of college was definitely one of the best decisions I have ever made. Moving forward with my musical career without a degree put all the pressure on my own shoulders, which is exactly the kind of challenge I anticipated. And I've enjoyed every minute of strife, struggle and hardship!
Having practiced martial arts and Zen for most of my life, clearing my mind every morning and evening is one of the few the routine activities I practice daily. You've probably heard of people who sit peacefully in the grass meditating early in the morning and wondered what that's all about. Well, you're reading the blog of someone who meditates every single day so I'm happy to offer some insight in another blog entry. But self-reflection and removing the extraneous noise of the world through meditation was one key element that encouraged me to be me.
How can one know who they want to be in life or what they want to achieve without first reflecting in a manner that removes the expectations of others? The "Passion" in your life must be balanced with your daily "Progress". I challenge you to explore the concept of being me, which is essentially your passion. Then develop an actionable plan to achieve your passion in the form of goals or tangible progress.
Your comments are always welcome...
Inventor, Musician, Educator and Founder of Harrelson Trumpets, Trumpet Momentum and Harrelson Momentum.