“Made it, Ma! Top of the World!”

You probably don’t recognize that quote. It’s from an old movie called White Heat with badass gangster James Cagney yelling it as he goes out in a literal blaze of glory. Why is that relevant to this post?  I’ll get to that in a minute.

It’s so hard to pursue this life with its ups and downs. We’ve all had issues with friends and family about “settling down,” “getting a real job,” and the like. My dad came up in an era in which there came a time for all men to lay down the foolish dreams of youth and support their families.  It’s what he did, and it’s what he expected me to do.  We had a huge blowout one year about it when my wife was pregnant. Not just a little pregnant either.  BIG pregnant.  Dad sat me down and started in about how the time had come for me to take on the responsibilities of manhood, yada yada yada.  Lucky for me I wasn’t getting it on both sides from him AND the wife.  Because I very politely told him that I had it covered, it wasn’t his business, and if he still felt he needed to butt in, to kiss my ass.  Okay, maybe not so politely.

The thing is, unless you have the most touchy-feely ultra supportive super-wonderful parents and family who never worry about how you are going to support yourself (or unless you are rich), you are probably going to have to deal with these kinds of pressures.  If you want to get married, your potential in-laws are going to put pressure on you regarding your lack of reliable income and your unconventional, unpredictable professional lifestyle.  How will you (help) support your partner (their child) and build a life together? How will you raise a family and save for the future? You’ll even get it from your own mother: “Look at your sister.  She went to law school and now she’s making a good living, settled down in her own condo.  Why can’t you do something more like that?”  You may not have satisfactory answers to those questions, other than being able to share your goals and plans for the future.  You should have some concrete goals and plans for the next two, five, and ten years, something I talk about in the book and in this blog.  Beyond that, though, you will just need to be confident that with a lot of hard work, a lot of talent, and some luck, you will persevere and achieve some of the success you desire.

So, where I’m going with this is that sometimes, quite often actually, you just can’t claim victory over the doubters. I have a friend who is in audio post for TV, has a double handful of Emmy nominations, has won four or five, lives in a million dollar house in L.A., and every time his mother sees him, she asks him why he can’t go into something like accounting.  This guy is married, has four kids, and is in his 40’s.  In my late 30’s, I had a lovely home, several hit records under my belt, regularly scored shows and commercials that were on network television, made a very nice living (albeit with all of the issues every freelancer goes through), and my mother would send me local newspaper clippings from Florida about things like this guy who would write a song about your dog for twenty five bucks with a note saying “Maybe you could do something like this?”

And people don’t really understand what we do anyway.  For the last ten years, I’ve been a professor of Music Industry at Drexel University, and my mom just couldn’t get that into her head.  Granted, she’s now in her 80’s, but no matter how many times I explained it, she somehow thought I did something with “industrial music,” and not the Nine Inch Nails variety.  I think in her head it had something to do with factories.  She thinks I teach people how to write music that inspires other people to screw in mop handles faster on assembly lines or something.  I can deal with that. So unless you get to perform on TV where your family can see you or read about you in People magazine, or win a Grammy, Emmy, or Oscar, your family may never really “get it.”  You may not ever get validated.  There may not be a big shining moment where you get to stick your finger in their faces and say “SEE?  I DID IT, SO SCREW YOU!!” For some people, those conventional careers like doctor, lawyer, banker, accountant are the pinnacle of success, and nothing you achieve in your “wake up at noon, wearing a tee shirt behind a console” life will ever measure up to that. You are going to have to be satisfied with the knowledge that you set your own goals, walked your own path, and did what YOU wanted to do with your life.

And that, my friends, is the definition of success, in my book.  Your family is just going to have to deal with that.  Top of the world, Ma.


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