Careers At A Crossroads

March 2, 2015



Yogi Berra has an expression, “When you get to a fork in the road, take it.”

The passing of one of the all-time great jazz trumpet and flugelhorn players, Clark Terry, has me thinking this week of what might have been had I stayed in the music business.

When I finished my undergraduate degree, I immediately pursued earning an MBA. That decision meant I’d have to give up playing trumpet professionally. I knew I could always return to music if and when it made sense.

I was concerned that if I did not stay in school, I’d get distracted and end up paying a huge price later. Working full-time in high-tech and the evening MBA program left me with no room for playing my horn.

Clark Terry had a gift for inspiring others to attempt the jazz life. “The technical demands of this art form are so high, and the financial rewards often so slight, that only the most gifted and intrepid souls need try” writes Howard Reich in the Chicago Tribune this past week. Musicians know this all too well.

Clark offered me inspiration to “attempt the jazz life” as Reich offered. Yet, I resisted, believing that the financial rewards might be lacking and intermittent and, recognizing that, while I was talented, there were other trumpet players both known and unknown to me who could replace me.

Being a professional musician is very competitive and, often, a cut-throat business. I encourage you to see the movie Whiplash which offers some perspective. Towards the end of the movie, we hear (and I’m paraphrasing), “If you do really well tonight, it can launch your career and if you don’t, you’ll be looking for a new line of work.”

Did I make the right choice? Yes. No question.

I knew what happened to musicians who lived on the road and, frankly, it wasn’t pretty. I knew what the musicians playing in the studios lived like and their lives were very stressful. I didn’t want to do something I loved so much for a living. And, I didn’t want to always be looking over my shoulder wondering if the trumpet player across the room would be replacing me on the next gig.

How does playing trumpet impact my consulting today?

  • I still have to play to the crowd–my clients
  • I have to lead with a strong, clear intention if I am to succeed and my clients are to succeed
  • Improvisation teaches that there’s more than one way to get to an end result while still achieving the objectives within a framework
  • I can’t rush or drag in terms of tempo–each client is different in terms of the tempo at which they can absorb change
  • I have to have fun along the way

Photo Credit: of Dave Gardner playing Taps for a Wounded Warrior event on September 11, 2011

Thought for the week:

“If a user is having a problem, it’s our problem.” – Steve Jobs
What do you think? I welcome your comments!


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