The journey through academia is a long road for anyone who drudges through it. And while my tender age of 27 probably still keeps me on the younger side of college graduates, my journey through hasn’t been the most direct path up the mountain. In fact, I went up, down, left, right, backwards, and forwards. I took almost every route other than the most direct one. And now, finally, as I type this entry, I am sitting on the eve of my last final of my last class of college.
When I was about 22 or so, I made a pact with myself (that I broke shortly after). It was at a time when life at a community college wasn’t “doing it” for me, and I had little-to-no interest in completing my degree at a proper four-year institution. This decision was coupled with the desire to work, to hold a steady job, and to proudly champion my own independence. And for two years, I did exactly that. Those two years were spent stocking and maintaining the 100-plus ATMs for CEFCU here in central Illinois. Though it may sound random (it kind of was given my worthlessness at machine maintenance), it was a good job, and one that I (mostly) enjoyed up until the day I left. It was during my time there that my interest in music began sprouting. I had started writing songs and playing shows regularly across the second half of my time there. It was then that I made a pact that I was going to pursue music full blast and if I hadn’t “made it” (whatever that meant) by the age of 27, I would then return to school and still make it out with a bachelor’s degree before the age of 30. To me, this felt like the perfect middle ground of wanting to be a self-supported musician giving his all to his craft, and showing I had some degree of sense by keeping friends and family from thinking I had totally lost my mind.
It took me about a year to realize that the job I had servicing ATMs not only made it impossible to return to school (different schedules weekly, nights and weekends occasionally), but it made it impossible to put any kind of real effort into “being a musician.” Never mind that I was writing generally forgettable songs and had garnered little attention from, well, anyone. It didn’t take long to recognize what benefits returning to college might have. I have never cared or aspired to climb the corporate ladder, and soon realized that I was fast becoming stuck in that exact environment, unable to do the things I really wanted to do. At that point, the choice to return to college and abandon my financial stability felt like an easy one. Now three years having blazed by, I’m less than twelve hours away from being done with the college work I wasn’t sure I’d ever finish to begin with.
So, here I sit, at age 27. Though my “pact” with myself has long dissolved, parts of it remain in spirit, and it feels strangely significant that the last lingering echo of academia fades just after that 27th birthday –the birthday that now celebrates an accomplishment, as opposed to an approaching dream-squashing deadline. In a way, though, it’s done both. I’ve slowly accepted the reality that my music will probably not lead me to fame and fortune. I’ve even reached the point when I’m not even 100% sure I’d want it to. That might just be a consolation prize attitude from someone realizing that where they fall in the pecking order of talent/drive/luck just isn’t that close to the top, but it’s also semi-liberating, regardless. And when you’re fast-approaching the end of college, “liberating” is a verb you’re willing to entertain often.
Since those months and years at CEFCU, I’ve written 56 songs (and parts of about 30 others that died along the way) and have played shows in 33 different cities across 8 states. And while frustration and disappointment have ruled every bit as often as excitement (if not more), it’s impossible to say that my experience with music hasn’t been a successful one. Perhaps not the fame and fortune every musician seems to dream of, but a success all its own. I’m confident I will continue to enjoy the glimpses of success music has already afforded me, even if it’s never on a large scale. As I move beyond college, I’m ready for that to be good enough.
Music became something for me around the time I left CEFCU (March 2010) –my first EP came out just three months later. It became something significant around the time I started at Eureka College the following year. So when I reminiscence about the bulk of my, relatively young, musical life, most all of it overlaps with my time at Eureka. Perhaps, then, you can forgive my reflective state of mind this evening.
I’m not going to write pages and pages about all of the life-affirming memories I made at Eureka because, honestly, I didn’t make that many. I was a non-traditional transfer student who commuted from 25 minutes away every day. This insured that my time on campus was spent primarily in class, and sometimes doing homework. The friends I made were mostly based within my major (since we all had the same classes –Eureka is an extremely small school), and by my second semester, everyone who lived on-campus knew each other more than I ever could only showing up for classes. After all, they were living with each other. I was just a familiar face on the outskirts.
That doesn’t mean that I didn’t love my time there. This is where I learned how to write well (whether or not I do, I’ll leave that up to you),where I learned to love and value good writing, and where I developed my love of doing it. It’s where many of my creative impulses and interests began intersecting and crafting the guy you see today. So, three years and $36,000 of debt later, it’s hard to say it wasn’t worth it. Feel free to ask me that again when I’m struggling to pay my loan payments every month.
It’s not always a smooth transition while my music finds its place in my life, but I have little doubt that I’ll be happier for it once that transition is complete. As my post-college life prepares to begin with no record deal in sight, 27 has ended up being the transitional year I ultimately planned it would be five years ago. Except now I have the college degree at 27 instead of starting it at 27. So despite taking one hell of a roundabout way of getting here, I’ve still managed to save myself three whole years. That, dear friends, is better than anything a record deal could possibly offer.