Anyone who has met me for five minutes, regardless of the season, will learn quickly that Christmas is my favourite time of year. I buy in to every aspect of it. I am an advertising executive’s dream. I’m obsessed with the music, the food, the traditions, the shopping, and of course, spending time with the family. Naturally I’d like to share the holiday joy, so here’s a collection of some of my favourite things.
Anyone who says they don’t like Christmas music is probably just looking in the wrong place. This is why, every year, I take it upon myself to make about 5 Christmas playlists so that I can instill Christmas spirit in every Grinch. 8tracks is a particularly great place to find these gems. One of these playlists should do the trick for you: there’s a jazz playlist for a nice relaxing evening by the fireplace; a pop Christmas for those of you who secretly (or not-so-secretly) love Justin Bieber and Mariah Carey; an indie playlist for those of you who are just too hipster for the mainstream; and of course, a classic playlist for all the traditionalists.
TV & MOVIES
My family and I literally have to schedule our time down to the hour sometimes so that we can fit in all the Christmas movies and TV episodes we watch every year. Some of my family’s favourites include It’s A Wonderful Life, Love Actually, and all the Christmas episodes of The West Wing. I also love the abundance of Christmas specials that take over my television.
I don’t mean to brag (except I totally do), but earlier this month I made candy cane brownies for the office and they were pretty much a work of art. For a long time my favourite part about Christmas food was eating the Christmas food, but it turns out making it can be just as much fun. Here are some tasty recipes for you to try over the holidays:
I don’t think a holiday is a holiday without some obscure facts, so here’s some fun information to send you off – Merry Christmas, everyone!
In Canada, Santa Claus has his own postal zip code, H0H 0H0.
Christmas trees usually grow for about 15 years before they are sold. Approximately 30-35 million real (living) Christmas trees are sold each year in the U.S.
The world’s largest Christmas stocking was made by the Children’s Society in London in 2009, and measured 106 feet and 9 inches long, and 49 feet and 1 inch wide. It weighed as much as five reindeer and held almost 1,000 presents.
In the age of the internet, many new “micro-celebrities” have been created. Just head on over to the Twitter Most Followed list to see the current rankings. What does this list tell us in terms of popularity? Not much - seeing as the top people on the list are all musicians and celebrities that we already know and love. But what becomes more interesting is when we scroll down to the ~50th position, where we can start to see some unknown names. Have you ever heard of Pete Cashmore? If you aren’t in the tech industry, probably not. How about Tony Hsieh? No? Going further down the list, somebody like Gary Vaynerchuk may pop out at you - seeing as a bald guy that tweets a lot has over 800,000 followers. Impressive right?
So is this what we define as influence? Probably not, seeing as we have had influential people since the beginning of man. The bigger question, I believe, is what constitutes influence? And how do we interpret it? Realistically, there are very few influential people on this planet, but we are affected by many more. I believe this is because there are multiple forms of influence upon each person, and we will attempt to take a look at some of them here.
The effect that something or someone has on your cognitive processes. With this broad definition, simply going for a drive every morning results in you being influential to everyone around you. But of course when we talk about influence, we are talking about a person and who they are. The problem I see is that we lump everyone into the same boat. Your teacher may be influential on you, but so is Bill Gates. But do we classify them the same way?
When you go to school or work, you begin to develop a relationship with the people around you. It doesn’t matter if you have passed these people on the street a thousand times beforehand, when you are forced to interact and collaborate with them, a bond is formed. Thus, friendships are a result. I’m sure that everyone reading this still has a close group of friends from high school and university, as well as another set of friends from their workplace or social place (gym, etc…) These people that you know very well are called “strong-ties”, and have a pretty powerful effect on you. In the context of the internet, these are the people on Facebook that you add first and interact with the most.
Whether you think so or not, you have a very strong influence on these people, and vice versa. If one of them moves up the corporate “ladder”, you will begin to feel differently about them. Does someone get better marks than you, yet doesn’t seem to try as hard? This may change your behavioural patterns when it comes to school. And of course in terms of morals and ethics, our strong-link network strongly influences our decisions. But the reality is, zooming out to a 20,000 foot view, is very, very few of these people are influential on anyone but your core group. Do you have a boss that you can’t stand and you complain about to your friends? That’s fine and dandy, but almost 100% of the time that boss has no influence on your friend whatsoever. And this is where we can fall into the “small-minded” trap.
Take the example of a high school. You are a math teacher that does the best job you can every single day. You play by the rules, donate your time after school and genuinely care about your students. But your principal, the boss, is not correctly allocating your budget so that you can purchase new computers. Naturally, you are upset. And so who do you turn to in order to complain? Your co-workers, family and friends. The principal has a massive influence over your life each and every day, which is negative in this case. But once again, zooming out to the 20,000 foot view - that principal is a mere speck in planetary system. To other humans, he is not influential at all. So we can determine that he has a large personal influence, but a very poor global influence.
The next level up the ladder is people that interact with you on a very rare basis. In the case of the teacher, this may be your superintendent or maybe the minister of education in your province. Obviously, this person holds a lot more power, as he or she is responsible for whole batches of school districts. Accordingly, no matter what school you go to in the region, everyone has heard of this person and follows their decisions. Every time they pass a new bill in parliament, you think that it is a massive influence in the world. What if a new bill is proposed to add five minutes to the school day. Does this influence you? Of course! You may join a protest, sign a petition or send an email to the minister himself. This person, while not being a strong-link, is a very powerful industry-link.
The problem with this level of influence is that people believe these people are mini-celebrities. In the land of the technology world, bloggers like Michael Arrington have a lot of influence. But in reality, 99.99% of the world has no clue who Michael Arrington is, and don’t care to know. They don’t care that Yuri Milnar is giving every Y-Combinator team 150k, or that Quora is growing like a weed. In fact, all of that is like space language. But if you are in the technology industry, the Ontario minister of education means nothing to you whatsoever. And the dentists association? They have an association? you might ask. You see, the issue with the internet is that we get trapped in our “worlds” rather than realizing that industry-influence is very limited. Sometimes we need to step back and look at the broader picture.
Weak-Link Influences (Global Power)
The last category of influence is the furthest away from you personally. Going back to the teachers example, a person of global influence may be Michelle Rhee. Is she involved in education? Yes - she is trying to do many great things. Does she influence your career? Probably, seeing as if you are a good teacher you will stand by her philosophies. Do you know her personally? Not even close. But the thing is, not many people do, but many know who she is. Her influence not only extends into the education industry, but also technology, finance, health-care, sports, entertainment, etc… Why? Due to the national media coverage she has gotten (ex. Oprah) and the success of Waiting For Superman - she has transcended her industry.
She is one example of somebody who is influential across the three level. Her actions can determine changes in your day-to-day activities, effect your industry due to changes made and globally influence education leaders. Other examples of global powers can include people like: Bill Gates & Steve Jobs in technology, Michael Jordan & Tiger Woods in sports, Barbara Walters & Oprah Winfrey in media, etc, etc… These are people that have not only reached the top of their industry, but have transcended into all other industries. When this happens, true influence is reached.
World-class individuals are very rare indeed, but very important in the global sphere. They are heavily scrutinized and always in the limelight. Every action is watched and analyzed closely (usually by non-influential people). Books are written about them, websites dedicated to them. All of these are measures of global influence.
Are these people influential to you? Like we mentioned before, probably on some level. They are definitely nowhere near as influential as your strong-link connections, but they still affect how you think and act. The balance is remembering that usually the people that affect you the most are the people that have the least amount of influence. It’s a tough balance, but I believe that we need to learn to balance all three levels in order to continue along the path we need to.
I’m a voice over talent. I read and record scripts for every type of project from documentary narrations to on-hold messages, commercials to training videos and almost everything in between. Video games and cartoon voices are on my project wish list and with deep respect, I don’t narrate audiobooks.
Armed with a quiet, professional studio and an Internet connection, I voice twenty or more projects everyday and send them to clients all over the globe. I’m excited to go to work everyday!
How did you get there?
The biggest misunderstanding about becoming a voice over talent is that simply having a good voice is enough to have a successful career. It’s not. More important than having natural talent is taking the time to learn and practice the skills required to become a professional.
The first time I stepped behind a microphone to record a radio commercial for my employers, it felt like home. I was terrified and my voice cracked, but I knew right then, that becoming a voice talent was what I wanted to do. I quit my job, found a voice over coach and never looked back.
I worked with my coach for two years taking private lessons and weekend workshops. She taught me the fundamentals of voice over including how interpret a script, how to avoid popping my Ps and how to deal with a sore throat. My teacher set the bar high for skill and professionalism making sure I would be ready for any project no matter how complicated or challenging. She taught me the importance of practice both in and out of the studio and pushed me to take more classes in acting and improvisation, along with singing lessons to strengthen my voice.
Becoming a voice talent isn’t about being good at only one thing – it’s about having a variety of skills that have been honed through practice and the ability to put them all together when you need to, like in front of a room of eight casting directors just waiting to be wowed.
After cutting my first demo, I created a marketing strategy to land projects. When I started, it was cassette tapes, outside recording studios and the only available projects I could get were where I lived. Now it’s Mp3s, home studios and a global market. I record from a home studio and email finished audio to my clients around the world. It’s really cool and never ceases to amaze.
Why do you like it?
It’s fun. Don’t get me wrong – it’s hard work every single day, but I have such a great time every day I step into the studio and hit record that it’s worth it any struggle to keep going. I can’t imagine doing anything else.
When you were a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up?
I wanted to be a French speaking marine biologist, a la Jacques Cousteau, a family court judge, a dancer, a gymnast and an international business mogul. However, when no one was looking, I read the back of toothpaste tubes out loud and watched British comedies so I could practice my British accent.
A professional voice over talent with more than eighteen years experience, JoJo Jensen has recorded every type of project from short, snappy television commercials to YouTube marketing videos, long form documentary narrations to on hold messages thanking you for your call. With a background in sales and marketing years before ever standing in front of a microphone, JoJo runs her voice over career with a sincere dedication to customer service and satisfaction! Listen to JoJo Voice Over demo samples at www.jojojensen.com!
You’ve likely gathered from my last blog post that food makes up a very important part (or parts) of my day. I’ve found that what I eat really affects the way I feel all day long; there’s nothing worse than being too full from lunch and too sleepy to work, or having a salty lunch and being thirsty all afternoon. As a result I’ve made a point to stick to a food routine for most workdays, and pick foods that will boost my energy and keep me feeling fresh. I’ve found a few things that work, and a few that don’t for workday lunchtimes.
Bring plenty of snacks: snacks keep me going and I always bring an assortment to work. Yogurt, fruit, veggies, and nuts are all great options and they are perfect for in between meals to keep energy levels high
Make extras: something I like to do is make a few things on Sunday to have ready to go for the first few days of the week. One of the easiest recipes is a quinoa salad; they’re easy to make and very filling. You can find one of my go-to recipes here. It keeps for a few days in the fridge and is great cold. The same can be said for dinners; if you add a bit to whatever you’re making for dinner you’re sure to have enough for the next day’s lunch and the work is already done.
Keep spares: I keep some extra granola bars in my desk drawer just in case. It’s a great solution on days where there weren’t any snacks that excited me for lunch at home. It also gives you the opportunity to be a savior for a hungry coworker!
Tomatoes on the side: I absolutely hate soggy sandwiches. When I make my sandwich I pack sliced tomatoes on the side in some tin foil so my sandwich isn’t wet by the time I eat it.
Be adventurous: I often put almost anything I can find in my salad; canned corn, chickpeas, sundried tomatoes, tons of vegetables, olives, tabbouleh, and anything else that may be in the fridge. It keeps my meals from getting boring and makes each lunch a little bit different. Don’t be afraid of strange combinations; you might be pleasantly surprised with what you come up with!
By Spencer Thompson (original post from Sokanu Posterous blog)
Life is an eternal education. We are almost always students of life, learning more every day. Every person we meet, show we watch and book we read - we are learning. Part of the problem with our society is that we seem to define education as the standardized years in which we go to “school”, when of course this is not the case.
What most people don’t realize is that we are also teachers. For every person we are influenced by, we in turn influence others. Our actions cause other people to stop and question why we did what we did. Our actions show kindness and compassion towards others. We are always leaving an impact, day by day. Our circle of influence grows along with ourselves.
The way that I try to see life is as a giant classroom. In that classroom there are teachers (your mentors, parents, and influencers) and there are students (the people you influence). Your job is to learn and to represent both sides. If you are constantly growing, your platform for teaching will grow. Your words will become more powerful, and your influence will spread further.
One of the things we must realize is that the world is completely open. You are influencing others whether you believe so or not. We are all teachers now, more than ever. We all tell stories every day. Remember:
Every life has a story. Stories are made up of experiences. Your experiences make up the lesson plan for your life. Use your life as a class.
I am a Professor in the Chemistry Department at the University of Massachusetts. I have a group of 30 researchers working on biomedical applications of nanoparticles, including new anti-cancer strategies and diagnostic tests for cancer and other diseases.
How did you get there?
Undergraduate and graduate school, a postdoc, and a lot of hard work!
Why do you like it?
It’s like running a start-up company focused on making peoples lives better. I work with a great group of students, postdocs and visiting scientists, and have the ability to move in new direction—as long as I can get someone to fund it.
When you were a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up?
I wanted to be a chemist—I’ve always liked making things, and that’s what we do now.
Get Energy for Your Work Day with a Breakfast Belly
By Sara Halickman
Anyone who knows me knows I love to eat and cook (also a reason why anyone who knows me also knows that I am a very regular gym-goer). I’ve always been an adventurous eater thanks to a pact my parents made with me at the age of three when I swore I would try everything once and only once I had could I decide what I did and didn’t like. I have to say it worked; there are very few foods I turn my nose at.
Lately I’ve become more and more aware of how important what I eat is during a workday; it dictates how tired I am, how productive I am, and how well I feel. There’s nothing worse than feeling sluggish after a big lunch and too tired to get anything done all afternoon, or being distracted by hunger and on a hunt for food (which generally doesn’t end well). I’ve found that it is incredibly important to eat properly for a workday to make sure I have enough energy.
I have always been a huge proponent of breakfast being the most important meal of the day. I can’t understand how people go through an entire morning without eating anything and somehow muster up the energy to get a morning’s worth of work in. I love breakfast. I have been one to admit that upon finishing dinner I start looking forward to the next morning’s breakfast. I’ve gone through a lot of breakfast phases, and the meals that stick tend to be ones that actually keep me full from breakfast until lunch .
A vegetarian friend of mine introduced me to a website devoted to vegan recipes over the summer and recommended something called Vegan Overnight Oats. I was intrigued. I’ve always been a fan of oatmeal in the morning and once I tried VOO (as the website’s creator affectionately calls them) I was immediately hooked. The recipe extremely filling and is one of the few breakfasts that can get me all the way through until lunch. It’s made with rolled oats, almond milk, chia seeds, and a variety of other ingredients that can be used to customize it to your tastes. The secret is in the chia seeds; they act as a binding agent and by some miracle of chemistry absorb the milk into the raw oats and make everything moist but not soggy.
It is my current favorite breakfast to start a workday with, along with a nice cup of coffee. I usually prepare mine when I make my lunch the night before, which is not surprisingly when I start looking forward to eating it.
The Five Things You Need to Know About Finding the Work You Love
Written by Leo Babauta from the blog Zenhabits
“You’ve got to find what you love. And that is as true for your work as it is for your lovers … If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle. As with all matters of the heart, you’ll know when you find it.” - Steve Jobs in a Stanford commencement speech
One of the keys to happiness — as well as productivity and effectiveness at work — is finding work you love, that you’re passionate about. Work youwant to do, instead of just have to do.
If you really want to do it, it barely seems like work at all.
I’ve finally found that work, in blogging here at Zen Habits and with writing in general. I don’t drag my feet to go to work anymore — now I can’t wait to get up early and start working.
And I’m just one of many who’ve done that — there are people all over the world pursuing their dreams, working with passion, losing themselves in their work. Are you one of them? Do you want to be?
The difficult thing for many people is finding what that work is in the first place. They don’t know where to start, and it seems a hopeless cause.
It’s not. You can find that work, but it’ll take some effort. Here’s what you need to know about finding the work you love:
It won’t find you — you have to seek it. Doing the same ol’ thing everyday isn’t the way to find the work you love. Sometimes, you get extremely lucky and it just lands in your lap. Most people, however, aren’t that lucky — you’ve got to take action, and you’ve got to seek it.
You can’t stop looking until you find it. As Steve Jobs said, never settle. If you find something that’s just a bit better than your current job, that’s better … but don’t stop there. Keep looking. Don’t give up the search.
You’ll have to look in lots of funny places. Really explore. Try new hobbies. Talk to new people. Read articles on different blogs, in different magazines and books. Inspiration might come from someplace you never imagined.
You might not love it completely until you get good at it. Most likely you’ll know that you love something once you find it … but at that point, you’ve got to work at getting better at it, with all your might. Once you get good, it’ll be something you can’t stop doing, because you’ll get a thrill at doing something great.
Once you find it, you have to pour yourself into it. If you find the work you love, you’ve been given a gift. Don’t spoil it — truly pour yourself into that work. That doesn’t mean you should ignore the other loves in your life, including family and friends, but when you’re working, you should devote yourself completely to that work.
Here’s how to go about seeking your passion:
Break out of your routine, and dare to ask. You’ve got to stop what you’re doing (maybe not at this moment, but today, or tomorrow, not next week) and be bold enough to ask yourself if you love what you’re doing. And if you don’t, then what is it you really love? And if you don’t know, then are you going to look for it?
Spend time thinking about it. It’s good to take an hour or two to really think about the question. It’s worth the investment. Really think about what you love, about your life, about what you want to be doing.
Think of what you already love. Do you have hobbies you’re passionate about? What do you like reading about? What do you talk about with others? Is there something you always wanted to do but forgot about, or were too afraid to pursue?
What are your dreams? Is there something you’ve always wanted to accomplish in life? Almost everybody has some dream like that, sometime in their lives, but often they don’t think it’s realistic. Give it more thought now.
What are you good at? What are your strengths? Do you have any talents? Is there something you’ve always excelled at? Pursue these things.
Take action. If you don’t actually do anything, you’ll never find it. Start doing research, start making calls, make appointments, take career assessment tests. Take action, now.
Explore new things. Try out new hobbies that sound interesting. Read about new things. Find new ways to explore — break out of your patterns.
Once you find something interesting, pursue it. Read about it. Learn, and try it, and do it, and get better at it. Don’t be afraid to pursue it — fear is what stops most people from finding this happiness.
Then take action – again. Now that you’ve learned about it, give it a try! You might be able to pursue it within your current job, or do it as a side job or just as a hobby at first. Write to people who are doing it to find out how they got started. Check out a few books on the library and do some research online to find out about the first steps you need to take — and then take them! Pursue your dreams!
“Getting up in the morning and having work you love is what makes life different for people. And if you get into a position where you really don’t love what you’re doing, get off it. It’s easy to be on someone else’s track or something that sounds like a safety play.” -Bob Woodward
By Spencer Thompson (original post from Sokanu Posterous blog)
The world around us moves at the speed of light. With planes, trains and automobiles we can travel to far corners of the earth. With the Internet we can access any piece of information we want. With the advent of social networking, we can connect with virtually anyone we want. But through all of this innovation and the new ways that we can connect with one another, is there really any difference in the way we interact? Humans have always had very poor judgement systems when it comes to meeting other people. Our interactions with one another are interesting simply because of the multitude of ways that we judge instantly.
The world would be a lot simpler if humans were built to be the same, or at least very similar. We would understand how one another are thinking, our paths to get to a certain point in life would be the same and our opinions would be non-existent. But of course, uniqueness is what makes the world go round. I am not going to get into the philosophy behind perspective, as that could easily become a book-length blog post. Instead, due to the nature of Sokanu, I am going to focus on how perspective affects us when it comes to careers and career choices.
Growing up in the Western world, most of us are used to the luxuries that we receive on a daily basis. And no matter how hard we try, we still take these things for granted. If we truly appreciated what we had, each and every one of us would wake up and start jumping up and down because we are living with shelter, have instant access to electricity and can eat anything we choose. A lot of the world does not have the basic necessities of life, and therefore their perspective is based on the first level of Maslow’s pyramid. I will not be talking about that today, as it is extremely difficult to understand the perspective from that world.
Instead, let’s focus on the traditional path that a westerner takes through life. Grows up in a middle class neighborhood, goes to public school, has friends, plays video games, graduates from high school, goes to university, graduates from university, gets a job, gets married, has kids, advances in his career, retires, and eventually dies. This is the typical path of a person from birth to death in North America. Now, where does perspective come in? Well, between each step in life, it’s the blank space that determines what kind of person we are. It’s the non-traditional things that we learn that defines what we believe, how we think, who we talk to and how we live our lives. And the first rule we must remember is, everyone’s blank spaces are different.
Filling In The Blanks
When you take the bus or train to work, do you ever stop to listen to some of the conversations going on around you? If you are someone that just puts in earbuds and shuts out the world, try this on Monday. Check your Blackberry, read the paper, or just sit in silence. Observe the people around you. Realize that every single person sitting around you has had a unique life path to get to this point. No two people are the same. That person sitting across from you can be a banker, lawyer, doctor or he can be a pastry chef or farmer. And his path to get to that point has been totally different than yours. Isn’t that amazing? As obvious as that may sound, every single person sitting around you, at that exact moment, has had a unique life. Their blank spaces have been totally different than yours. Sure they have gone to school, gotten married and had kids, just like you. But that person is so completely different you have no idea.
I’ll explain with a story of my own. On the way back home Thursday evening, I was sitting at the front of the bus. A couple came in and sat down. The lady was older and couldn’t hear very well. Her partner was making sure to talk directly into her ear so that she could hear. As a result, the entire bus could hear exactly what she was saying. He was talking about loan sharks, politics and conspiracy theories. Normally I would internally roll my eyes and stop listening. But I was also reading The Happiness Hypothesis on my Blackberry, and had just read a passage on perspective. I realized that these people may not have gone to Harvard, may not live in a $10 million dollar house, may not have invented a revolutionary technology, but they were still entitled to their perspective on life. And my opinion on what they should or should not believe is irrelevant.
Their blanks in their lives were completely different than mine. I spend my time worrying about financial forecasts, UX mockups, hiring, marketing, designing, reading, writing and thinking about Sokanu. My perspective is generally focused on the tech world. If I had asked these people who Mark Suster or Fred Wilson was, they would look at me with confusion. But on the flip side, if they asked me any question about any other industry, would I be any better off? In each industry, I am beginning to realize certain sets of people have a very narrow view of the world through their eyes. The science world thinks that the art world is flaky, while the art world thinks that scientists just aren’t creative enough. Finance guys think that technology people don’t understand capitalism, while tech people think that finance guys don’t understand entrepreneurship. It goes on and on. We generally exist in one world in our entire lives. Our “tribe” and information is all related to that world. And because of this, all of our gaps are filled with the same thoughts, opinions and beliefs as others in that world. Thus, our view of the world begins to narrow. We begin to realize what “the real world” is.
The Real World
When you were growing up, did your parents ever talk to you about “the real world”? You know, the one where money doesn’t grow on trees, you have to work extra hard to pay the bills, promotions aren’t real, a $20,000 car is all you can afford, owning a house is the greatest achievement you will have, a university degree is a key to life, etc… And the problem is, we are a product of our environment. So whatever our parents deem as the real world, we usually accept as our own. The only issue with that is there is no one real world. There are millions of real worlds co-existing on this planet at the same time.
You create your real world. Every single action that you take determines your world. And that is why perspective is so important to consider. We co-exist with billions of other people that live in their own worlds. And when two people or more share overlapping features from their world, they form a tribe. And collections of those tribes form the industries that we know today. So when it comes to careers, we generally find ourselves funneled into a category that we live our lives in. And this is wonderful, because it allows the plethora of different personalities and talents available on the planet to shine through.
Next time you are talking to someone new to your world, or from a totally different world, don’t just dismiss them. Remember, we live in a world with multiple intelligences, and so what we may be intelligent at, others may be lacking in. But remember this works both ways. There is something to learn from everyone. Sometimes the worlds are so far apart that your perspective can’t understand theirs, but that doesn’t mean they are wrong and you are right.
Choosing a career path is tough, and the education system doesn’t make it much easier. They try to guide you towards one of these worlds that exists on our planet. The problem is that most of the time, schools don’t understand the unique perspective of their students, and they don’t adapt their needs to the situation. This is why finding your passion is so important. Passion is not the be-all-end-all, but rather the guiding force that allows us to make the right decisions as we travel through life. Finding your passion, connecting with your tribe and achieving your goals are the steps that you must take in order to find a career that you will find rewarding. But having a sense of perspective for the world around you allows you to understand that your opportunities are endless.
Never let someone with little perspective guide you away from your passion. Next time you have a conversation with someone who doesn’t understand why you are doing what you are doing, try to understand their perspective. How were they raised? What was their path in life? This will often let you understand why they are making the statements they are. By getting this, you can understand where they are coming from. People that are not in your world will very often not have the same perspective to you. Remember, that’s what makes the world so unique and wonderful.
I’m a composer of “classical” music. I write on commission, mostly chamber works, vocal music, and staged pieces (opera). I work primarily with acoustic instruments, although I also use electronic and mixed media elements on occasion. My music primarily gets played in North America and Europe. Most people would consider what I do to be avant-garde, but basically I just write the music that I’m interested in hearing. I’ve also done a fair amount of private teaching as a percussionist (though less so in recent years), I blog and write actively on musical topics, I’ve led music ensembles/organizations, and I’ve held a range of non-musical jobs. I’m lucky though that I’ve always been able to work in creative fields with forward-thinking people, regardless of the discipline. I’ve never done the barista/bartender, starving-artist-type jobs, and every job I’ve had has done something positive for my musical career.
How did you get there?
As a kid I was always drawn to music. My mom tells me I was pulling out pots and pans to drum on them from the time I could crawl, and not just once or twice—this was one of my favorite activities as a toddler. Naturally, I bugged my parents to let me play the drums when I was old enough to talk. They put me in piano, hoping I would forget about the drums, but I kept at them until they acquiesced when I was in 3rd or 4th grade.
From then on, I became a very serious student of percussion, seeking out the best teachers I could find. I quickly gravitated to jazz, which was my first love. In my early teens, I started writing music. I didn’t think of it as composing, I thought of it as a way to get to play the music I wanted to play. After high school, I attended jazz college, then took an extra year to do the composition option they offered.
Gradually I found myself composing more than playing. I transferred to a full B.Mus program at the University of Toronto, majoring in jazz, but after a few months I knew I would be happier as a composer. At the end of my first year there I transferred into the composition program and I never looked back.
Around the end of my undergrad, I started to have my first career successes. These continued throughout grad school, and I won a number of awards, attended music institutes, and did the other things young composers are supposed to do. Following my graduate degree at UC San Diego, I went to Holland for an extra year of study, where I became quite ill and had to drop out. I spent about half a year recovering under medical care. Prior to then I always assumed I’d end up in academia, but during my convalescing I realized I didn’t want to be in school anymore and wasn’t interested in an academic career.
This posed a problem because most composers survive by working “day jobs” as university professors. There are, however, notable exceptions, and I figured the challenge of not falling back on academia would force me to find a solution like that.
I have, but wow, it has been a hell of a journey! And it’s not over yet. When you’re in a field that does not fit well with mainstream economics, you either need to relegate your work to hobby status or you have to blaze an entrepreneurial trail. I chose the latter, which means I’ve learned a lot about networking, the value of relations, how to be self-disciplined, how to organize my time, and numerous similar skills. I’ve learned that you need to develop the talents that come naturally to you, outsource the stuff that you can’t do yourself, and work around the clock. I gradually started getting up earlier and earlier and I’m usually up these days by 4:30am to get it all in (I felt more than a little smug when I learned Barack and Michelle Obama do the same).
I’ve also learned that the journey is the end goal. Today you’re earning a living on your commissions and grants, great! Next year might be a dry spell and you have to get a job. You just keep at it, and keep trying to do it smarter, more effectively. All the while, you want to grow as an artist, to create work that you’re proud of, that will change history. Composing as a career isn’t about modest goals. You have to want to change the world, otherwise why would you sacrifice so many other comforts?
So in summary, becoming a composer or following any other vocation that is not financially rewarding is a process of self-discovery that never ends. I didn’t “get there” because there is nowhere to get to. I’m constantly going somewhere, and trying to enjoy the journey as much as possible.
Why do you like it?
People become composers because they have a vocational drive to become composers. There’s really no other explanation. I like to work independently, I need creative tasks, I don’t mind details or meticulous work, and I’m a control freak. Those are some of the requirements to be a composer.
Beyond that, the existential, self-discovery aspects are rewarding, if often difficult. I feel like I have a truer outlook on life than many people. My friends describe me as having a certain wisdom.
Somehow though, liking being a composer seems the wrong question to ask. The truer question is, why haven’t you quit? Being a composer is very tough, there are innumerable obstacles, and the rewards are few and far between. The people who keep at it have had numerous opportunities to say, “You know what, this isn’t worth it. I’d doing something else.” But we don’t… That’s the true test of if you’re a composer or not.
When you were a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up?
I wanted to be a geneticist. I saw a show on genetic engineering on TV around 8th grade and thought it was the coolest thing, changing the DNA of plants in order to make them more resistant to pests or environmental conditions. But in high school I had terrible biology teachers and that completely killed my love of science, at least in the career sense.
80% of the world lives on less than $10.00 a day(1). 50% of the world lives on less than $2.50 a day. The fact that you are able to sit and read this article is a semi-miracle. Our ability to read, interpret and process information is a gift, not a right. We are lucky in so many ways - yet people continue to complain about their “lot in life”, regardless of how bad that lot really is.
The chances that you were born in North America is extremely low. If you were born into a “modern” society, one that values freedom, education, health, innovation & diplomacy, you have already won. You have won The Ovarian Lottery, the greatest leg up you can have in life.
The world is filled with people who love to complain. They complain about how terrible their marriage is, how badly behaved their children are, how soul-sucking their job is, and frankly - how life sucks. And you know what? They are right.
“Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t—you’re right.” ― Henry Ford
Most people sit around and wait for their “lucky day”, the day where all of their dreams come true. They sit and pray, hoping they win the lottery, so all of their problems will be solved. What they don’t understand is - they’ve already won. Just by being born here, by being alive past the age of five, by having the chance to be educated in a public school system - you have won. You are in the top 20%.
Life is hard - we know this. Next time you start to complain about how hard your career or life is, think of this.
There are 7 billion people on the planet Earth
80% of them make less than $10 dollars a day
1.2 billion people have a disability
7.6 million children a year die before the age of 5
23 million Americans are addicted to drugs or alcohol
What are you complaining about again? Remember - you have already won. Billions of people would trade anything to be in your position. You are the envy of the majority of the planet. You have already won the lottery. Now don’t waste that winning ticket.