The most important decision I had to make for my career...

career lessons mindset Jun 11, 2021

I want to share a story.

I was 20 years old...a percussion performance major at UCLA...studying with Mitchell Peters.

I knew I loved performing...I loved music...and this is what I was going to do for the rest of my life.

At the time, I was also still a performer in drum corps - I had just completed 2 seasons with Pacific Crest, and was preparing for a summer with the Santa Clara Vanguard.

We had just had an amazing (and intense) memorial day camp, and I was basking in the glory of being a part of my dream drum corps. Everything was finally starting to really pay off with all of the hard work I was putting in.

When I walked into my private lesson that week with Mr. Peters, I knew I wasn't as prepared as I wanted to be...I had just spent the last week immersed in the drum corps experience - and had spent all my time learning my show music for the SCV camp.

While, Mr. Peters was always supportive of the drum corps side gig, he was always curious as to why my hands and approach changed so much every time I came back from a camp.

During the lesson, I definitely wasn't proud of the level of preparedness I had shown up with - and of course Mr. Peters could tell as well.

I was ready for the smack down I knew I deserved...and not that Mr. Peters ever got angry like that, but I knew I had let him down that week - and I was preparing myself for the worst.

I wrapped up my botched snare etude, and awaited my fate...Mr. Peters just sat silently for a minute...

Finally, all he asked me was a question:

"Are you sure you want to do this?"

I was caught completely off guard.

Of course I wanted to do this! I had always expressed my love of music. It was in my blood! It was all I dreamed about, its the thing that inspired me everyday!

...but the reality of that question hit me hard over the next week, and honestly to this day.

With that one question, Mr. Peters taught me the one of the most important lessons I would learn from him. 

I was telling myself that I wanted to pursue a life in music, but I hadn't REALLY committed to being a professional.

I didn't really know what that meant at the time. I thought it was just work really hard, have a great attitude, show up, and it will all work out!

Here's what was missing: 

I had to MAKE A COMMITMENT to myself and the universe that not only am I pursuing this artform because 'I love it' - but that I need to pursue it with the commitment to do it at the highest level possible.

Not JUST the best that I could do it (because lets face it, we're always growing and there's always "better" that we're striving for) - but aiming for a level so far beyond my current abilities that there could be no doubt to the question "Are you sure you want to do this."

This wasn't about talent, and it wasn't only about work ethic or preparedness. 

There have been countless times where talent and improvisation have gotten me out of a jam. 

This was about the taking a "passion" and reframing it and evolving it into a "profession".

And it was all about mindset...making a commitment to yourself and doing things for the right reason. Messing up an etude and worrying about Mr. Peters getting mad is a totally different motivation than setting personal goals, and striving to achieve them.

Our teachers and mentors can only do so much. 

We need to have our own solid 'WHY'.

A commitment to ourselves to be a professional - or the best in the world at what we're doing.

To me, that means you need a good balance:

  • having the confidence that you can and are worthy of pursuing your craft to be the best in the world
  • having the humility and work ethic to keep pushing past your limitations

I'm ever grateful for Mr. Peters and the countless lessons he taught me, and above all he helped me understand the importance of making that personal commitment.

My hope in sharing this story is that it might resonate with you and help you find more clarity on your own journey.

If you're still working through those things for yourself, here are some questions that might help you gain some more insight:

  • What are you passionate about? Why?
  • What does your dream job look like?
  • Do you have the desire to be the best in the world in your field?
  • What does your life look like if you're pursuing that vision?
  • Who can help you get to where you want to go?
  • "Are you sure you want to do this?"

- Kevin Shah