Entrepreneurial Thought of the Week

No shame in anxiety The last few weekends have been Audition Days here in the College of Music, and as always I give a little spiel on the ECM and what we’re about. I like to start these things with an informal survey of the prospective students (and their parents) who are in attendance, so I start out by asking for a show of hands from parents who are experiencing some level of anxiety about their son or daughter attending music school. Usually about half of the hands in the room go up. Then I pose the same question to prospective students, and again about half of them raise their hands. In both cases, there are two things that I find interesting. The first is that more hands don’t go up (sometimes it’s as many as 2/3rds of the hands, but it’s never 100%). I found myself thinking of that scene from Return of the Jedi where Luke tells Yoda that he’s not afraid, and Yoda ominously replies: “You will be. You will be….” Because let’s face it: there are NO guaranteed careers these days, particularly in the arts. Some level of concern about that is reasonable.

The second thing is that I usually get a lot more hands raised once I do a little coaxing of my audience: parents and students alike seem reluctant to admit to any anxiety about pursuing a music career. It’s as if they equate anxiety with a lack of commitment or conviction about pursuing this path.

But here’s the thing: the fact that there are challenges for artists pursuing a professional career is simply a fact. Denying it is not going to help us engage those challenges constructively. So rather than ignoring the elephant in the corner, let’s call it out. Let’s go ahead and identify not just our anxiety, but the source of that anxiety: is it fear of failure? Fear of letting down our parents and loved ones? Embarrassing ourselves? “Wasting” our education? Or simply the fear that we won’t be able to earn enough to build a life for ourselves? Whatever the source of the anxiety, bringing it to light is the first step. The second step is to define the challenges and barriers that exist and devising a plan to overcome them.

But first ya gotta raise your hand.

Jeffrey Nytch, DMA
Assistant Professor
Director, Entrepreneurship Center for Music
University of Colorado – Boulder

Office: 303-735-1272
Fax: 303-492-5619

Imig Music Building, N105
301 UCB
Boulder, CO 80309

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  • You know, it’s so funny to come across this post today. I am not a musician, I am a filmmaker. I knew from a very early age that I wanted to act, and have pusued that all my life; during which time I have fell in love with many more crafts that I pursued originally to better my acting career. As a youngster, I always equated being nervous about pursuing my career as not being committed, so I was very bravado-y in my denial of feeling any such heinous emotions. As I grew older and learned first hand the facts of chasing a career in the arts came with enormous levels of stress and headaches. For the first part of my adulthood I was really ashamed of myself for it, very rarely admitted it, even to myself, all of which (of course) ended up being even more stressful. As a “grown-up” (is that what I am? I am not so sure) I realize that’s silly and that stress is a part of life, especially in an arts career AND in this economy. But being down on yourself for being stressed is a habit that is easy to fall back into. Just today I was freaking out about one of my current projects and how I can’t seem to get it off the ground. Reading your post reminded me to go a little easier on myself. Yoda’s comment “you will be…you will be,” made me laugh out loud (I refuse to use LOL). All in all, thanks for reminding me that stress is part of this journey we’ve chosen for ourselves, and that it’s normal!


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