This past week, I had the wonderful opportunity to sit down with professional composer Stephanie Ann Boyd, and our chat was positively eye opening. The greatest piece of advice she had to offer was “start now,” and “it gets easier later.”
Any time you meet someone who is wildly successful in your field, like Boyd is for mine, it is truly difficult not to compare yourself to them. The thoughts begin to rush into your brain about how you’re so far behind and how you’ll never be like that other person, but you need to set those thoughts aside for a moment as you consider where you are. Rome was not built in a day, and neither are you.
As young people in the undergraduate level of college, it is easy to say, “I’ll do that thing tomorrow,” and this is not a slothful act normally. We are pushed to the brink in the modern era. From major historical events happening right before our eyes to the amount of schoolwork and projects we have to complete to earn our degrees. We deserve a breather. However, there are many instances where we put off a humongous undertaking because we’re afraid of the outcomes or we feel like we need someone’s permission. Newsflash: you don’t.
This is particularly cogent for me as a composer. For a long time being a music student, I was always under the impression that music making only happens under directors with advanced degrees and I wasn’t allowed to make musical events happen, such as performances of my own music. However, I’ve had to shake that off and realize that I am responsible for the great acts in my field. I can be a driving force in my professional community. Meeting Boyd refocused the perspective of this for me to a degree. Yes, it’s great to have the grandeur of a mentor guiding you, but ultimately, you can absolutely do the things you want to do.
Academic institutions serve a vital purpose: to educate the next generation of movers and shakers in all walks of society. They produce the next generation of teachers, doctors, nurses, writers, musicians, etc., but they can also be stifling, and not purposefully so. The teacher-student relationship can often develop into a relative comfortability that begins to stagnate a student rather than challenge them. It should also be noted that this a macroscopic view. Students are challenged every day by teachers, but students end up becoming comfortable with have someone give them an assignment and doing it, rather than trying to forge a path of their own, which is something they will eventually have to do once they leave school.
You don’t need to wait for a teacher to tell you, “Hey, you should go and do some fundraising for a charitable organization,” or, “Hey, you need to wait to make that short film you’ve always wanted to do.” The most important thing is you need to go out there and get your work, your passion, done.