Careers in music, sports and the ongoing search for significance

From the time I started learning guitar, I thought I wanted to live the life of a professional musician. I realize now that what I wanted more than that was the validation and affirmation of being famous and loved by all. To be considered special by my fans, to be thought of as "one of the best". I spent countless hours practicing guitar because I had a point to prove. I was going to be the best anyone had ever seen. Funny even as I write this I remember a time when it wasn’t just about music.

As a 7th grader, I discovered that I had a talent for basketball. I became obsessed with Michael Jordan. His playing was the best there ever was, and I wanted to play and move like he did more than anything. So I played, and I played, and I played. I spent many long evenings on the local courts. I was able to dunk a basketball by the time I was in 10th grade. I was not an outstanding jumper before I started playing basketball, but the drive to be like Mike compelled me to practice my double-pump layups, and dunking so much that by the time I was in 10th grade I could out-jump nearly everyone on my team. I never amounted to much as an organized basketball player, but on the outdoor courts of Manheim, PA, I became a small legend. I remember many nights where we were playing under the lights, and due to the 6" low rims at our courts, we had some spectacular acrobatics. 360s, double-pump reverse dunks, even windmills, and windmills after a toss, off the backboard. It became a challenge to imitate the dunks we saw in the annual NBA dunk competition. By the time I got to college, I had seen the writing on the wall and knew I wasn’t ever going to be an NBA superstar, but there was a time as a kid that I wanted so badly to get there that I told my parents (while in tears) that I was going to be better than Michael Jordan.

I loved basketball, but even more than that, I loved attention, and I wanted people to talk about me the way they talked about Michael Jordan. Then I discovered the guitar, and the music and legend of Stevie Ray Vaughan.

As strongly as I was gripped by the image of the superhero in red and black,wearing #23, the passion and ferocity of Stevie Ray Vaughan’s guitar playing reached out and shook me like nothing I had ever experienced. Before that, guitar was something I enjoyed, but watching Stevie play "Say What" on SNL absolutely floored me. I couldn’t even move I was so mesmerized. And later, watching him play "Texas Flood" at the El Mocambo club on video, there’s a moment where he’s turned looking at the camera with his eyes closed, as a really excruciating bend on the High E String just screams. At that moment I understood why this music was touching me the way it was. The way he looked was how I felt. I had always been an emotional person and had suffered through two very disappointing relationships in junior high and high school. Those relationships had ripped me apart because of my need for validation and acceptance, and my fear of abandonment. When I saw Stevie playing the way he did, I saw someone who was able to express what I was feeling in something much more powerful than words.

So I played, and I played and I played. When my fingertips started separating from my fingernails, I put superglue under the tip of my fingernail to keep them together. I played until my fingertips were shredded. Just like when I learned how to imitate MJ, I learned how to imitate SRV. But this time it was much more personal. Beneath the love of the music was still a deep need for validation and a desire to be important and respected. I began to think that music was my future.

Fortunately God orchestrated the events of my life so that I couldn’t move to Texas and become the blues phenomenon that I knew I was supposed to become. I ended up getting a very good job in State College which I took gladly because I had grown accustomed to eating and having a place to sleep. But for years I considered this a temporary thing. I honed my songwriting skills, my singing skills, and wondered when it would be "time". I still dreamed of that day when I’d be the one on stage, playing for everyone.

Then I got married.

And still I kept pressing. It won’t be long now, any day now I’ll be ready. Something’s going to happen. I’ll be discovered soon.

Then something funny happened. Someone taught me about what real significance is. I read a couple of books, took some courses, and my whole perspective on life changed. All of a sudden, being famous didn’t matter. Being on stage didn’t seem as great. Even being a successful local musician didn’t seem so great. At first I wondered why this was happening. Why did my dream of playing music seem to be evaporating with every passing day as I learned that nothing in this world would make me more important than the fact that Jesus accepted me?

Then it hit me. I was chasing the lights of the stage because of a need for significance. But I found that significance in the only thing that would ever satisfy me, and all of a sudden, music didn’t seem to matter as much. I could stay at home, write songs, and never get signed to a record deal and it would be fine with me. Music is a very hard industry to make a good living in. I’m not a "on-the-road-touring" kind of guy. I like being at home. I plan on having a family. And I’m extremely thankful for the fact that God’s given me the ability to work with computers because it will be much easier to provide for my family at home with those skills, than to be on the road for months out of the year playing music.

I may never do music as a career and I’m fine with that. If I do it will be because the God leads me in that path. I am no longer driven to get there. When you finally find what you’re looking for, don’t be surprised by what leaves when you find it.

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