Your internal deadline (shows alarm clock)

Memorial Day is both the day we honor those who gave their lives serving our country and the day we celebrate the unofficial start of summer—as though we have endless tomorrows. We don’t. Memorial Day always reminds me that life is short, so my question to you is, What’s the internal deadline for your music career success?

In terms of career trajectories, many musicians operate with internal deadlines. They tell themselves that they have to win an orchestral position or get a college teaching job by a certain age. And if they don’t, that they’ll go to law school—or pursue some other profession.

What about you? Are you operating with a do-or-die music career deadline?

Pinning all your hopes and dreams on attaining a specific link of job seemed like a good idea when I was young, but it now seems like a recipe for heartache.

When I was in grad school my goal was to get a tenure track college job, teaching cello. I thought that once I got that kind of job, I’d be set for life—that it would be happy ever after.

I found out otherwise. The truth is NO job or title provides ‘happy ever after.’

And it turns out that having a job or title as your career goal is a clear sign that you’re extrinsically motivated.

What’s really driving your music career deadline?

Extrinsic goals are often about achieving status. It’s about gaining external validation or approval: the semblance that we’ve “made it” in others’ estimation. That we are worthy.

We believe that once we get one of these jobs, that we’ll be happy and secure. That is, of course, a fantasy. Because tenured positions—whether with an orchestra or a university—don’t make us immune from depression, institutional politics, performance injuries, job disenchantment, or any other life occurrence.

There’s no “being set.” Life doesn’t work like that. There’s no coasting on easy street for anybody.

And because we don’t have a crystal ball to know how much time we really have, it’s fair to say we don’t have time to waste on the wrong goals.

So what’s the alternative to extrinsic goals? How might we focus our aspirations instead?

We could be intrinsically motivated. Intrinsic goals are ones that focus on life-long learning, serving others, creating community, and making a meaningful contribution.

That sounds idealistic, I know. You might be wondering . . .

Is it possible to be intrinsically motivated and be a successful musician?

It may seem counter-intuitive, but it’s the intrinsically motivated people in all professions who hang in there and go the extra mile, who find creative solutions, who work in a wider variety of contexts, who initiate new ventures—and who succeed.


Because they aren’t driven by their egos. They aren’t focused on proving themselves, or playing it safe. They take risks and identify more opportunities to make real contributions.

It’s the ones doing it for their artistic and spiritual growth who are daring to go further. And their financial success is a by-product of their growth.

It’s a paradox: because it’s the people who aren’t motivated by money, fame, power, or prestige who are going to get it.


3 internal deadline questions: your legacy starts now

To honor those who’ve gone before us, ask yourself these three questions:

1. When you are gone, how do you want to be remembered?

2. What contribution are you making now?

3. If you only had a year left, how would you choose to put your music talents to use?

Have a question about your career goals? Hit me up in our exclusive Musicians Making It Facebook group—happy to have you join the conversation!

And for more on motivation, check out the Motivation Matrix and this post on What Powers Your Creative Work.

Looking forward,

Dream Big, Plan Smart, Live Well


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