“Everything can be taken from a man but one thing; the last of human freedoms – to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.” – Victor E. Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning
It was December of 2000; we were in the last months of Bill Clinton’s administration and the work in NYC for corporate functions was at an all-time high. My bread-and-butter gig for paying the bills, when I wasn’t touring, had 23 corporate holiday parties in the 24 days before Christmas!
I had been with this agency band for a few years. Having steady work with relatively good pay was much appreciated. Yes, the wages were sufficient for working in town, but despite the top-flight musicianship, I was getting bored and jaded by the music. Of course, being a professional, I did my best to conceal my feelings.
One night, while on break at the Marriot Hotel in Times Square, our charismatic and talented singer named Michael A., originally from the Brooklyn ghetto, approached me in the men’s room and got “all-gangsta-up-in-my-face.” Now I know Michael loved me, and we were goods friends, so immediately, I took his posturing as theatrics.
Whoa! My first reaction was thinking that this is an incredibly ridiculous and crass thing to ask. Then, being the clown that he was, he proceeded doing his schtick to everyone else in the band.
But, his gesture did the trick; it got me thinking, “What an awful choice to have to make.” What do these two occupations, I guess you can call them that, suggest in a symbolic or metaphorical sense; that surely is what he meant.
More connotations came to mind:
victimizer vs. victim
sadist vs. masochist
aggressive vs. submissive
active vs. passive
assertive vs. unassertive
Free Will vs. Fate
self-actualized vs. unfulfilled
engaged vs. disenchanted
Are you “doing life” or is “life doing you?”
Within more subtle contexts, I began to question the source of all my motivations. Were they a result of being the “doer” in consciousness or the “doee” where actions were driven by unconscious forces or fears? Were actions and decisions made with thoughtful and purposeful intent; with a calm clarity of understanding, humility, and love? Or, were they executed from impulse, compulsions, unconscious drives, greed, avoidance, anger, or even hatred?
Were actions and decisions made with thoughtful and purposeful intent; with a calm clarity of understanding, humility, and love? Or, were they executed from impulse, compulsions, unconscious drives, greed, avoidance, anger, or even hatred?
I applied my prevailing situation. After all, why was I still doing this gig? It was affording me quite a nice lifestyle; I enjoyed the camaraderie of the band members and the proximity of the work. However, I didn’t much care for the repertoire or the volume.
Reflecting on Victor Frankl’s quotation and Michael’s question, I decided that I was doing what I wanted. I almost always did what I wanted. That’s why I was a sax player and not a businessman.
What was my attitude about playing in this party band? Was I a pimp or a ho? Was I self-actualized or making excuses?
Up until that point, I hadn’t much considered my attitude. It was a job that I did well, and it was great to be living in Manhattan with a good income. I felt as though it was helping me get from point A to B.
Or, was it? Certainly, having been posed a question that was so crude and base simplified and defined a fine edge to my situation. It was clearly not the music that I wanted to be playing for the remainder of my career? I wasn’t getting any younger.
What was I waiting for? I decided to begin preparation to leave the band. I would branch out and start teaching again. In a year, I had a private teaching studio that was thriving.
One day, the band leader insisted that the horn section dance while we played. What?! That was it! I told him right then and there that I was done. Since that day, I haven’t played a commercial gig. Not one!
Quitting meant losing half my yearly income, giving up my new sports car, the parking garage, and eating every meal in restaurants. (Oh, yeah, I was a bachelor at the time.) My life in the fast lane went off-road.
Michael A.’s question me follows like a shadow. It urges self-awareness and further examination of every action.
Life is too short to let slip by with meaninglessness. It’s why I’m devoted to my family and write these articles.