Don Quixote and your impossible dream

I just saw the Huntington Theater’s production of Quixote Nuevo. It’s a terrific contemporary retelling of Cervantes’ Don Quixote. (You may know the storyline from the musical Man of La Mancha). The essential story is also what musicians experience in life. It’s the hero’s journey of setting off on a quest to become the artist you are meant to be. Along the way you experience many challenges, at times even questioning your own sanity for pursuing your “Impossible Dream” — here’s Don Quixote for Musicians.

First, a quick recap of the plot.

Cervantes’ Don Quixote (written in the early 1600s) recounts the adventures of a Spanish nobleman who reads so many chivalric romances that he loses touch with reality and believes he’s a knight. With his loyal servant Sancho Panza serving as squire, Quixote sets off on a quest to defend truth, justice, honor, and love. The duo encounters enemies, both real and imaginary: Quixote ’tilts at’ (jousts with) windmills, believing them to be evil giants. In their adventures, Quixote encounters cruelty and dishonesty, along with kindness and disillusionment. Ultimately, like all of us, Quixote must face death.

Just like life, the story is both a comedy and a tragedy. It asks us to consider some tough questions. Like whether your own quest is a worthy one.

We are ALL Quixote

We each view the world through our own skewed lenses. And the way you interpret your opportunities and challenges—that becomes your own reality.

The disappointments and set backs that can slow or stall your progress—think how you interpret these.

Let’s say you don’t get the grant, or a commission falls through or your email pitches for bookings don’t get results. Maybe you fail to attract the number of students you’d hoped for or a key collaborator backs out of a project. What’s the story you tell yourself about the setback?

As the hero of your own journey, you get to choose how to respond to challenges.

Most of us don’t choose—and end up in a maze of discouragement, low self-esteem, and procrastination. We don’t take responsibility for our own state of minds and we pay the price for it—with stalled careers.

How do you view your circumstances and opportunities? Ask yourself if you are tilting at imaginary windmills or if you are confronting the actual enemies of self-doubt, procrastination, and fear. And if you’re getting the support you need for your quest. Maybe you’re asking yourself . . .

Is your dream impossible?

We all have times when we doubt our abilities to succeed with a project. When we question our choice to focus on a particular project—booking a tour or releasing an album. Or when we question our choice to pursue music all together.

For me, there’ve been many times when I thought my idea of quitting my day job and being music career coach was lunacy. My recurring nightmare was I’d become a bag lady. And any small setback or disappointment would bring up these old fears and my scarcity mindset.

It didn’t seem to matter that my full time coaching practice is going strong and has been since transitioning from a part-time side hustle to my full-time practice more than three years ago.

And I love my clients and am excited to do the work — it’s the most fulfilling and creatively challenging work of my career and I wouldn’t change it for the world.

But the fear is still there. Any time I’m faced with a task or project that stretches me. Any risk I take.

So I’m learning to expect the fear and to dance with it. To get over imagining that I’ll outgrow it. To accept that fact it’s going to be here and to not let it stop me from moving forward.

I’ve come to realize that dealing with fear, disappointment, and setbacks is the real work. That a key part of my job is to keep choosing courage over comfort.

Consider where courage factors in to your work. And what helps you get past fear and do the necessary scary work to move forward.

Are you dreaming too small?

You’ve poured time, effort, and money into your music—all to build a rewarding career out of doing what you love.

So after years of ‘paying your dues,’ you may find yourself wondering why you’re not further along in your career.

It comes down to first clarifying your BHAG—your big hairy audacious goal. The change you seek to make in the world through your music.

To illustrate this, here’s a bit of my own story. In grad school, my goal was to get a tenure track college teaching job.

What I learned after getting first one and then another of these jobs is this: that getting a title, a job, and a paycheck doesn’t add up to a worthy career goal. Because once you achieve the goal, then what?

Don’t get me wrong. If your immediate goal is to get a job, that’s fine, go for it.

But your longer-term life goal should be bigger than a job. Your dream of the artist you want to be, of the impact you want to make, of the person you want to become—that should be a lifelong quest. So that you continue to stretch, learn, and grow no matter what job you’re in.

Here’s to the Don Quixote in all of us: Here’s to Pursuing Your Quest

Growing up I thought this song was corny and overly dramatic. Well, maybe it took me getting older and a little more battle-scarred, but I no longer find this corny.

See what you think: read the lyrics and listen to Richard Kiley, from the original Broadway cast of Man of La Mancha. 

The Impossible Dream (The Quest)

Lyrics by Joe Darion, Music by Mitch Leigh

To dream the impossible dream
To fight the unbeatable foe
To bear with unbearable sorrow
To run where the brave dare not go

To right the unrightable wrong
To love pure and chaste from afar
To try when your arms are too weary
To reach the unreachable star

This is my quest
To follow that star
No matter how hopeless
No matter how far
To fight for the right
Without question or pause
To be willing to march into hell
For a heavenly cause

And I know if I’ll only be true
To this glorious quest
That my heart will lie peaceful and calm
When I’m laid to my rest

And the world will be better for this
That one man, scorned and covered with scars
Still strove with his last ounce of courage
To reach the unreachable star


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Here’s to your forward motion,

Dream Big, Plan Smart, Live Well

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