On the value of candor
~ 03 December 2008 ~
About a year after starting college, I was settled on the idea of majoring in music, specifically music composition. It was the perfect blend of two passions of mine. The first was drumming. The second was a long-standing love affair with film scores. James Horner, John Barry, James Newton Howard, Alan Silvestri, and John Williams were just a few of the composers I grew up listening to. To become one of them was the impossible dream. In reality, I’d done a little composing prior to college, so it didn’t seem entirely impossible.
There was, however, a rather behemoth obstacle standing in my way, and that was the requirement of percussion performance and recital before I’d need to concern myself with composition. See, I grew up playing on a kit, but I’d done very little percussion work — timpani, glockenspiel, marimba, etc. Any percussion major will tell you one doesn’t get a music degree without mastering more than just the kit.
I was fortunate enough to have a willing yet demanding percussion teacher during my pre-major courses. After several weeks struggling through the marimba and countless paradiddles and double flams on the snare, I’ll never forget the day my teacher put it straight up for me:
Cameron, you better think seriously about another career, because you’re gonna have a tough time majoring in music.
That was a blow that was almost too tough to take. His remarks sank in over the next few days. I came to see his point of view. Soon I found myself in another major.
Would some say I gave up without a fight? Sure. But I don’t believe I did. In fact, because of my teacher’s candor and the ensuing switch to another major, I eventually found myself on the path that has lead to where I am today. I have absolutely no regrets or complaints about the cards I’ve been dealt in life. I like to think I’ll still compose music for films someday. But back then, the timing wasn’t right, and I wasn’t qualified. Maybe some day.
I’ve reflected a lot on this experience lately for some reason. Maybe it’s because I find myself answering one question more than others in email and in Q&A following presentations, that of becoming a better designer. Among the many answers I’ve offered, I think I’m coming to terms with adding another: “Maybe now isn’t the time. Maybe you need to think about another career.”
A harsh answer? Yes. One I’m not even comfortable delivering. But maybe, just maybe my candor — when appropriate and justified — will lead individuals down a path that would suit them better anyway. After all, I look back now and am entirely grateful for the honest criticism my teacher offered that day. Perhaps I owe others the same degree of honesty.
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