Ah, legitimacy. As much as we want to deny it with the lifestyles that we have chosen, my dear artist friends, we are all looking for it. It’s part of the fabric of our society, something ingrained in us from the days when we had to announce our dream job to the class in elementary school—and that job generally came from a list of about 10 “normal” jobs. (Although, “astronaut” was usually an option, and somehow that seems to me more abnormal than “musician.”)
Ever since I was a little girl, I always knew that I didn’t want a “legitimate” desk job. In 1st grade, I believe I chose “teacher” from the career list, knowing that I could be physically active (at least standing!) in that profession, but also knowing that it was only a temporary choice. (In 8th grade, I was visiting a friend’s house, and her mother, who is a nurse, gave us a long lecture about how we should choose careers based on whether or not that career was compatible with having a family. That didn’t seem like the right idea to me; I already knew that somehow the work would “choose me,” and I’d build my personal and family life around it.)
Our daily lives bring constant reminders that we need to be “legitimate.” The neighbors are going on vacation because they have “real” jobs; we can’t afford it. Other people have weekends, and we…have rehearsals and a concert. Let’s not even talk about health care or paying our self-employment taxes. And, boy, is paperwork hard to fill out when you “work” in New York City, have a “permanent address” in Pennsylvania, and physically live in Germany. (P.S.: how do you explain to the German government that it is possible to work full-time for a non-profit while also “going to school”? Answer: you…don’t.)
Another par example: I recently had to set up the workers compensation insurance for the non-profit for which I am the only employee. While setting it up, the lady on the other end of the phone asked me several questions about my work. This included a question about my working hours (since I “work from home”) to confirm that I generally work 9-5, and that I’m not “up until midnight sitting on the bed with your laptop.” How am I supposed to answer that? The utter irrelevancy struck me as odd. (I literally told the woman: “That was a loaded question.”) And, wait a second: work is something that we are supposed to only do at the approved times? We’re not supposed to like it or find it so interesting that we pursue it outside of the 9-5 window? Am I a workaholic?
The answer to that last question is probably yes, and I’ve recently come to the realization that being somewhat of a workaholic in what I do is the way in which (I think) I cope with my need to feel “legitimate.”
But, I think that we all cope in different ways. Some of us get married. Some of us get a day-job. Some of us get a doctorate. And some of us courageously audition our asses off playing or singing the same 10-15 minutes of music for various juries over the course of 5…or more…years (i.e. orchestra jobs, young artist programs…)
Over the past months, I have been struggling with my tendency to be a workaholic. I couldn’t put my finger on what exactly what it was that I was trying to prove until I read (don’t laugh) Gretchen Rubin’s The Happiness Project. Blame it on my little sister (who coincidentally is also one of my best friends). She being an easy-going Virgo and me being a batshit crazy Scorpio, our life philosophies (and taste in everything from nail polish colors to what books we read for pleasure…) general differ greatly. But after her recommendation, combined with the Kindle free sample, I decided to give it a go.
I found a lot of interesting things in Gretchen’s book (at least the first half), including her own struggle with “legitimacy.” She left her “legitimate” job in law to become a writer and is, subsequently, happier.
Her book didn’t make me realize that I am happy with my life—I luckily knew recognized that. But, it did give me some insights into the little things in my life that nag me, like my workaholic bent, and that explained why I have done some of the things that I have done, such as: go to school, go to school some more, then some more, then pay to sing (or sing for peanuts), and finally adopt the mantra “Patience is a virtue”—all, somehow, in the search to become “legitimate.”
And, of course, I’ve opened the door for myself to go the “legitimate” route. Turning down a full-ride to a Ph.D. program located in a beautiful place was not easy, and I know that other people in my life were extremely disappointed that I turned away from that possibility. But, what I knew then (as well as now) was that I would rather live with something that I can change than something that I couldn’t. Meaning that I would rather live with a more precarious financial situation and a feeling of not being “legitimate,” things that I could find a way to change or cope with, than regret abandoning my career as a singer and artist.
I guess the ultimate judge of whether or not to “be legitimate” is the ol’ deathbed scenario. Will you lay on your deathbed and say “I wish I had had a ‘real’ job and been more ‘legitimate.’”? Probably not. But one thing is clear: we all need to support one another in this outside-the-box lifestyle and career paths. Because we are the ones changing the world with our courage to pursue our passions. Talk about legitimacy.