What Do You Want?
This isn’t as much about music as it is about a general principle that effects anybody’s life outcomes. This post is about the audacity of confronting your deepest desires and the courage to answer with honesty when asking yourself the most defining question of your life:
What do you want?
Why this is such an audacious question is because what we truly want is likely not very practical or likely. We might be embarrassed to answer honestly to such a question, and not because our deepest desire is to find a way clone Scarlett Johansen’s derriere (just the caboose, not the rest of the body) for use as a desk knick-knack. Albeit if that is your deepest desire, please don’t read the rest of this article. You are a strange, strange person and should be forced to walk the earth ringing bells crying “SHAME! SHAME!”
For the rest of us, the reasons we are embarrassed to answer honestly to such a question is because our truest desires seem so impractical, so unwise, that they almost appear as ridiculous as the aforementioned knick-knack. We want to give an answer that seems closer to earth, closer to our abilities. If we do that, then perhaps we can save ourselves the embarrassment of not fulfilling our goals. If we look our desires full in the face, we might come to realize just how small and inadequate we really are.
Yet, for all of that, I’m going to recommend that you answer honestly to this question, no matter how far short you might fall. Asking this question isn’t a question of finding the answer, because we already know the answer. Asking this question is our willingness to face the answer and name it out loud. Your biggest dreams stand in judgement of your current state must. Face that which judges you and shy not from it! No, not for moment may you look away. Refuse if you want, but it will always be there. Some of you can hear it, shuffling around in that filing cabinet you last threw it in – the cabinet in your mind’s basement where you put once important ideas. They’d just get in the way now. You thought they’d eventually die. Why can you still hear them?
But why, if our dreams are so removed from practical wisdom, should we acknowledge them? I’m of a moral philosophy that the best way to approach life is to swallow the hardest truth with the most stringent morality. For example, it is a hard truth that not everyone is equal, and this mostly by virtue of genetics. Some individuals provide immense value to society, while others, by no fault of their own, will take more than they could ever give. There are even situations whereupon you might be called to value the life of one person over another, and it would be based on the productive value that each person possesses. Yet, in spite of this nasty, amoral fact, you must be anchored in a morality that demands you recognize the intrinsic human value possessed of every man, regardless of their societal value. Life is full of these dichotomies. Without the hard truth, your life will lack structure, constantly caught off-guard by its cold and unfeeling whims. Without the strong morality, then you will become the agent of cruelty and chaos.
In the case of truly knowing what you want, you have a similar dichotomy. Chances are you will never fully achieve your dreams, but how could you properly structure your life if they go unrecognized? You might not have the ability to achieve the fullness of your desires, but if you know the direction toward which weather-vane of your heart points, then at the very least you can take your good sense and practicality and move in that direction.
So, I’m sure many of you are now wondering, what is it that I, the writer, want? Certainly, I couldn’t admonish you all in this subject while ignoring myself. What thing lurks in the depth of my soul? What would embarrass me to admit it still held my greatest desire, fearing that everyone else would laugh at the ridiculous nature of it?
What do I want?
In short, to be an international concert soloist. This was my open dream as a child. I would tell anyone this when I was 13. Yet as I got older, especially as I entered school, the impracticality of this idea thrust it deeper and deeper into my soul. I knew, or at least felt that I knew, that I wasn’t up to snuff. Whether or not I’d admit it (and I wouldn’t) I was desperate for the validation of both peers and overseers, and would never state my desire out loud. To state such a desire would be met with abject scorn and laughter. You? Who the hell do you think you are? Yet my soul’s commitment to honesty wouldn’t allow me to pursue something else. I hated orchestra and didn’t care much about chamber music (two things, interestingly enough, I enjoy now, though they don’t rest at the foundation of my desires). So, what then? I was stuck in a limbo of denial. I couldn’t admit my deepest desire out loud, but I couldn’t pursue another career path. I kept working on that which fed my desire, focusing still on solo music and my own development as a violinist.
I did try branching out into more “practical” arenas like learning orchestral excerpts, though as those who have desperately tried to get an orchestral job might tell you, that pathway is far from the traditional definition of “practical.” I tried to bury my desires in the pursuit of “the job” yet my heart would not sing in harmony with this direction of life. Finally, I had to make a break. Slowly, that shuffling little desire I had suppressed came out of the old filing cabinet. Subtly, it worked its way into my life again, edging its way into my periphery. It affected me greatly, as I gradually became committed to its ideals, rather than the practical pursuit of bettering my excerpts and making myself a respectable student within the school I attended. Before long, it stood directly in front of me. I could not ignore it any longer. But suddenly, I saw its true, unadulterated form. It was not even the career of international soloist that I desired. It was something much deeper. What I wanted, at my deepest level, was supreme competence; I wanted a mastery rivaled only by the violinist’s gods.
I think it inevitably true that our most fundamental desires are not career goals or trajectories. They are questions of being itself. They are questions of life direction in the broadest, but most important, sense imaginable. Facing what I thought was my desire showed me instead that what I wanted most was to reach a certain way of playing, to fulfil the Platonic Ideal that was Tobiah Murphy, the Violinist(™). It was this that stood upon the pillar in my mind, and looked down upon me with judgement. If I could not achieve it, what worth am I? If did achieve it, and died the next second, my only regret would be that I could not share it then with the world.
By being honest with myself about my own true desires, not only was I able to come face to face with their root, but also could strip away the conditioning that had kept me in doing the “right” thing in participating in the modern conservatory system, racking up debt for a supposed chance at some kind of job “security.” Now, I know what I want, and how that plays out in the world can take many forms. The pathways are open for me. All I need is drive and intelligence, and I will make my own path, and build my own house, and that will be my security. From this I know that I can guide others in their own musical desires, which is the point of the Murphy Music Academy, to circumvent the modern music school and help musicians get what they really want and need.
So, what about you? What do you really want?