I get this question all the time. My standard response is that I would absolutely make the same choice again and that I'm much happier now, but the long answer is that I think about it constantly.
I'll admit it. I thought about going back to lawyering today. It was one of those days where I was desperate for anything that signaled success - a solid biweekly paycheck, a beautiful home, a small army of support staff, dinners at the city’s finest restaurants. These things never held that much appeal for me, but even I know that they feel good for a while.
Today was one of those days when disappointments loomed large, when progress towards my goals wasn’t fast enough for my ego, when it seemed that no one but me saw my potential. And so I wavered.
We all need to feel validated, and attaining society’s sanctioned markers of success is one way to get it. Unfortunately, I know from experience that those would be merely quick hits, leaving me unsatisfied in the end.
So I know it wouldn’t help if I called up a legal recruiter this minute. For better or for worse, I’ve chosen a life that is not about stages, levels, or markers of achievement. Rather, creating art is a continuous, neverending process towards higher and deeper enlightenment. No matter how the world responds on a certain given day, my work is the same - to find ways to play more communicatively and more profoundly. If I had to define success in music, I guess it would be the process of pressing forward, always. That's hard enough some days.
The great thing about a process-centered life is that starting or ending points fade in significance. The best illustration I’ve seen of this is that scene in House of Cards where Tibetan monks set up a table in the White House lobby and painstakingly, grain by grain, make a sand mandala, a beautifully vibrant and intricately geometric pattern. After what appears to be weeks and weeks, when the full design is finally complete, they then ceremoniously blur the entire thing into a colorful heap, sweep the whole thing off the table, and release it into a body of water in a process intended to signify renewal and healing.
My heart quivered a bit when I saw those countless hours of work reduced to a swirl of dust, but there was something cosmic in that too. Isn’t music the same? We spend days, months or years, honing tiny fragments of music according to our mind’s vision, playing with colors and patterns of sound until one day we release the entire thing into the air and let it float away. Then we start all over. Nothing remains except silence, but in the renewal and release we have done our job.
So. I have to quiet the inner voices that tell me I am not living up to my promise, that I haven’t achieved enough milestones. Every day, I can see and feel my personal growth, and that is all I can ask of myself, and mandate enough.
Learn more about the sand mandala and the monks that make them below.