Embracing the Newbie

One thing I wondered about — not really worried about, just wondered — was whether my self-esteem would take a hit when I left my corporate job. Like it or not, we Westerners tie a lot to our occupations, whether it’s the prestige of high-dollar professions or the insta-halo that comes with social-good and faith-related jobs. When you leave the job, you leave the identity and associated cachet behind too.

Compounding that, when you change careers, you’re jumping into a new role in which you might have less experience or training than your peers and competitors. Especially if you were well-established in your former profession, it can be downright humbling to be the newbie again.

In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, in the expert’s mind there are few.

— Shunryu Suzuki

I experienced it pretty strongly this week when attending a welcome-back faculty meeting at the university where I teach a few classes in the music department. It’s easy to feel a little inferior there because I’m part-time, not even remotely tenure-track, master’s rather than doctorate, yada yada. That feeling is nothing new. And it’s possible that now, having forfeited my white-collar identity, I have less spare self-worth lying around with which to combat it.

Similarly, I have plenty of peers in the production-music business who are better instrumentalists or who have more training as audio engineers. Compared to some of them, I might never catch up.

Granted, I’m not really a newbie. I started my first band more than 30 years ago (yikes…) and haven’t stopped playing or writing since. I do have that master’s degree. I’ve got TV placements under my belt. But there are times, especially when a piece of music gets rejected, that I feel a little underdoggish.

So how do I deal? Certainly there’s the Presbyterian approach (per my upbringing): Work work work, harder harder harder. I do. I work my butt off, no question.

And there are plenty of books out there that say to play to your strengths rather than spending time chasing your deficiencies. Of course they’re talking business strategy, but it also relates to the topic at hand: it’s definitely toughest to keep your chin up when you’re playing someone else’s game. I especially like The Adventures of Johnny Bunko: The Last Career Guide You’ll Ever Need by Daniel Pink and Purple Cow: Transform Your Business by Being Remarkable by Seth Godin.

But as I write this, something else occurs to me: Embrace the Newbie. You know, as in Beginner’s Mind. Not just lack of knowledge, but also lack of cynicism. I’m not saying it’s easy to do, to get yourself past a bout of dejection. But if you can get there, you’ll see the other side of the Underdog coin: Eagerness, energy, openness. Now that is powerful stuff.

So flip that coin!  And while you’re thinking along those lines, check out the song, called “Got My Own,” that I wrote and recorded Wednesday afternoon/night — right after that faculty meeting 😉 — and mixed Thursday morning for a noon deadline. Because, well, why not?

Cheers!

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About CK Barlow

I'm a composer and music-technology instructor. In the summer of 2011, I decided it was time to give full-time music-making a shot, so I left my corporate job (I've always had one). That's part of what inspired Composing Kitchen, the blog I publish with my incredible spouse, Karen Milling. View all posts by CK Barlow

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