But I Want to Be An Artist!
An excerpt from Being Here, Modern Day Tales of Enlightenment
By Ariel & Shya Kane
One fall, my husband, Shya and I held one of our business courses called “Transformation in the Workplace,” in New York City. Folks from all different fields were there to discover what it takes to experience wellbeing on the job, and how to effectively communicate. As the weekend progressed, we got to hear each person’s individual reasons for attending and what they hoped to achieve.
As we spoke with Charlotte, a soft looking man in his mid-forties, Jonathan, sat up straighter in his chair. He was totally engaged in the conversation and since we had read his confidential questionnaire, we knew what he was grappling with.
When our conversation with Charlotte concluded, Shya asked who wanted to speak next. Without missing a beat, Jonathan leapt to his feet shouting out, “I do.” He grinned and folks chuckled at his exuberance.
“My name is Jonathan and I work at a large bank, running a bunch of their computer systems. I make a lot of money there, but I’m not happy. See, I’m a professional clarinet player, and I find that working during the day exhausts me and ruins my playing.”
“How so?” Shya asked.
“Well, Shya, at the end of the day I’m too tired to practice. I play my clarinet but most of the time it’s lackluster and I make mistakes. I know if I wasn’t so worn out from working at my ?*$%^&# job I could play better. I go to gigs now and I’m uninspired. I’m thinking of quitting the bank but I have a family to think of and the money is so good and I have a 401K but I don’t want to sell out for money. I want to be the artist that I know I am!”
As he spoke, Jonathan had worked himself up, his face flushed with passion. Others in the room were nodding as the professional actors and directors in the room could empathize with how day-to-day work gets in the way of being artistic. You could see it written on their faces, If only I could just act rather than have to get jobs, then I would be happy.
“How is the quality of your playing these days Jonathan?” Shya asked.
“Stale, Shya,” he said sadly. “Stale.”
“Well, Albert Einstein once said that you can’t solve a problem from within the system that created it,” Shya continued. “It sounds as if your possible solutions to your dilemma, stay and be stale or leave your job and forfeit benefits, will both result in creating problems. With transformation there is no down side.”
“I have a suggestion for an experiment,” I said. “But it will involve taking a risk. Are you ready?”
“Oh, yes!” he replied. It was obvious from his face that he hoped we would finally give him the permission he had not granted himself to chuck the job and his responsibilities to his family. Then he could go for being a full time musician at last. His eyes glowed with anticipation.
Shya and I glanced at each other and I continued, “Here is what we suggest. For the next two weeks, forget about your clarinet. Put it away.”
“Let go of all thoughts of being a musician,” Shya said.
Jonathan’s face fell and he looked ready to fight. He was sure we were just like his parents who didn’t want him to go for his truth. He thought we wanted him to do the sensible thing, the boring thing, the nine-to-five thing. He opened his mouth to protest as I finished the thought.
“…and at the end of these two weeks, see how this has improved your ability to play and how much it enhances your abilities as a musician.”
Jonathan repeatedly opened and closed his mouth in disbelief. “Wait a minute. Ariel, Shya, are you suggesting not playing for two weeks as a way to improve my musicianship?”
“Yup, exactly,” I said. “What do you have to lose? Are you willing to give it a go?”
Jonathan nodded slowly. He looked confused and he wasn’t sure what good it would do but he was willing.
“That’s great, Jonathan,” I said. “When you get home, put your clarinet in its case, and put away your music, your music stand and everything you associate with playing and practicing. For the next two weeks, pretend that your clarinet and your skills as a musician do not exist. You may think about it at first but if you find your mind wandering there, bring your attention back to what you’re doing. OK?”
“Absolutely, I’ll do it!” he pronounced with the same kind of enthusiasm he had demonstrated in the first place. The course continued and came to its natural conclusion. Two weeks quickly came and went and then Jonathan joined us once again for one of our Monday Night weekly seminars, but this time there was a bounce in his step and a glimmer in his eye.
At the first opportunity Jonathan stood and spoke. I noticed he was standing taller and looked more grounded in himself.
“I am so excited,” he announced. “Two weeks ago, Ariel and Shya gave me the weirdest, neatest, strangest, most inspired suggestion I have ever had in my life. I’ve been playing the clarinet since I was a child but for the past few years, particularly the last six months, there was no joy in it for me. I came to the Kanes’ business course hoping to find a way to bring some life back into my playing as I feel like I’ve been doing everything by rote lately.
I was shocked when they suggested that I put the clarinet and all my music away for two weeks and pretend it didn’t exist. I mean, I’m a pro! What kind of professional lets it slide for two weeks and expects to be able to play well?”
At this he grinned, “Ariel, Shya, I got my music and stand and clarinet out of the closet yesterday. It had been two weeks and a day! They were all so familiar and yet so new. I was excited to be able to pick a song and test the reed and I realized that I hadn’t felt this kind of spark for a long, long time. My fingers flew. Music flowed out of the tips of my fingers and the tone was so pure and I played for an hour without stopping and it seemed like just a moment had passed. All I can say is Wow! And, thank you both.”
“How was work the past two weeks?” Shya asked.
“It’s a little embarrassing how well I did. I guess I’ve always held a piece of myself back at the bank. I know it sounds irrational but it seemed that if I succeeded there I might get stuck in a 9- to-5 job and I might lose my creative juice. I’ve always been holding back with the hope of being an artist.”
“Are you an artist and did your work these past two weeks take away from that?” I asked.
“Yes, yes I am an artist and no, working at the bank didn’t take anything away. In fact, I got things done far faster than I ever thought possible this past week. I created new solutions to some old programming problems that we’ve been having for a while now. Even my boss noticed the difference. He stopped at my workstation yesterday and thanked me for a new piece of software I wrote. That has never happened before.”
“See Jonathan,” Shya said. “If you hold back your full expression of yourself in one area, you gradually get dimmer in all areas of your life, including or maybe especially in those areas you’re trying to protect. Life is like a magnificent river and it takes energy to stop the flow. Going about your life with excellence in your ‘day’ job turns it into a brilliant experience and it then becomes a creative act. As you go about your life with totality you become an artist wherever you go and whatever you do.”