I Don’t Want to Change the World

I know it’s only my first year of college, but already there’s a lot of pressure to figure out what I want to do with my life. You spend time and money taking classes that will hopefully facilitate your ability to have a successful career once you graduate, which you might not even do in time. You expect to be making a decent salary, enough to live by; have a happy family at some point; and live your life, perhaps not as a billionaire, but at least comfortably. You have high hopes and dreams, of making your mark on the world, of being the best at what you do. So I’ve been spending a certain amount of almost every day thinking about my life plans, and I’ve finally realized I have a confession to make: I don’t want to change the world.

We’re raised in a society where we idolize people who have acted in this or that movie, who have solved this or that world crisis, who have found a cure for this or that disease. We admire impossibly beautiful people we’re all supposed to look like. We’re told that you can be whoever you want–that if you want to be President, your dreams can really come true.

However, that’s not what I want to do. I don’t want to be the researcher who works my whole life to cure AIDS and receives a Nobel Prize. I don’t want to be the next Poet Laureate. I don’t want to be the leader of any country or world council. I would rather see my name printed in a New York Philharmonic program than in lights. I don’t want to be the headlines of a newspaper or all over internet gossip sites.

Does that make me sound unambitious? Cynical? Lazy? Because while I am, of course, all of those things to some degree (aren’t we all?), ¬†this idea of wanting to remain more or less anonymous is not motivated by a lack of motivation. I want to be a great musician. But as a musician, you’re taught very quickly that you will never be as good as you want to be. No matter what you do, there will always be someone better, and there will always be something you can improve upon. I guess that’s arguably true for many fields, but if you’re an accountant you’re not aspiring to be the best accountant in the world; if you’re a scientist, you have a shot at making some discovery no one has ever made, making you the lead expert on something. But if you’re a violinist, there will always be Perlmans and Menuhins and Heifetzes to make you feel unworthy. As a musician, you always have professors and concertmasters of famous orchestras to look up to, who you may eventually match in talent and/or accolades but who will always be seen as role models.

It kind of sounds like you’re set up for failure from the very beginning, but that’s just how it is in the music world. A very rare few ever make it to a that legendary level. Perhaps that’s why I seem so pessimistic about my own future. I want to do music, and I know I will never get on Perlman’s plane, so I’m not going through life expecting to get there.

So I’m not going to change the whole globe. But I definitely plan to make my mark on a tiny sliver of the world, anyways. If I’ve learned anything in Intro to Philosophy so far, it’s that you need a good teacher to guide and mentor you. I want to be that teacher, maybe not to thousands of kids, but at least some who can also learn to love music as much as I do. I want to communicate my lessons, beliefs, and values to any children I might have in the future. I want to be in a sickeningly cute musical duo with my future husband, and we’ll play intimate concert venues and draw tears from audiences with our adorable-ness and beautiful songs. I want to be the orchestra member who comes to high schools and coaches potential future musicians, famous among them but perhaps not to the rest of the world.

If I can make an impact on anyone’s lives, so thirty years down the road they–they being ordinary people, kids and old friends and family members–say, “So I used to know this girl…” or “That woman from the Chicago Symphony is coming to do sectionals?? She’s so good!” or “My mom raised me to believe…” I will be perfectly content with what I’ve done with my life. I don’t need media attention or my name published in official-looking journals to feel like I’ve been successful or that I’ve accomplished something.

So here, to all of you braver, perhaps more ambitious people: best of luck with your endeavors. I hope you succeed in whatever you want to do. I hope you find out what success means for you. Here’s me stepping out of your way so you can be published and have your name lit up on a Hollywood sign. Go be President, go cure cancer (please, someone cure cancer), go make it into the tabloids. I will support you every step of the way (except for the President thing, it depends on what you believe)–I just won’t go with you. I’ll take my slice of the world and stay there, living my own happy and successful life.

~J

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