Twenty-three years ago, between my sophomore and junior years in college, I moved home over the summer and worked for my dad’s business.
I also got together with some friends and formed a band. We practiced weekly and ended up playing a few gigs. The last one was in August of 1993, at the high school where I had graduated just a few years earlier.
I loved playing music that summer with my band, but eventually, fall rolled around, and it was time to head back to college. Unfortunately, I went to college 6 hours away from the rest of the guys, which meant that any additional gigs would have to wait for the future.
Little did I know, though, that our August 1993 gig would be my last one for a very, very long time.
I went back to college that fall and ended up working on campus the following two summers. After graduation, I worked full time for a year at the same place. And the year after that, I was off to graduate school.
I spent the next 6 years working toward my PhD in psychology, and as you might guess, that took a lot of time—time that kept me from playing guitar as much I would’ve liked.
Eventually, the academic world called, and I decided to pursue a career as a college professor. I enjoyed my work, but building an academic career required lots of hours—hours that, for the most part, took me away from playing.
As I worked hard over the next few years, my guitar playing pretty much stopped altogether. I’d pick my “axe” up every so often and strum a few chords, but that’s about it.
For the most part, I focused on my career and tried to establish myself by doing as much work as I possibly could. Most weeks, I worked Sunday through Friday (taking off Saturdays to do things like buy groceries), frequently racking up 70 or 80 hours.
That approach started to take its toll, though, and I soon found myself on the verge burnout.
As I approached my 40th birthday, I began to reevaluate what I wanted out of life. Although my career was—and still is—important to me, I realized that it wasn’t—and shouldn’t be—everything.
I also realized that it was silly not to be playing guitar—not to be doing something I had loved so much when I was younger.
And I so decided right then and there to make some changes, one of which was to make a concerted effort to start playing again.
Within a week, I had signed up to take lessons. I found time to practice by getting up early and by systematically getting things off my plate that didn’t meet my vision of what I wanted my life to look like.
(As an aside, most of the things I got rid of were things I had convinced myself I needed to be successful. But once I get rid of those things, I made two discoveries: that I had much more free time and that my career didn’t seem to suffer at all. If you’ve convinced yourself that you don’t have time for things you love, I’d strongly recommend taking a very close look at everything you do and getting rid of those things that truly aren’t important to you. When you do that, you’ll be surprised at how much additional time you’ll have on your hands.)
At first, my guitar-playing progress was slow, but my passion quickly returned. I found myself spending more of my free time plucking away and learning new things.
This went on for a couple years, and during that time, I decided that I really wanted to join a band again. Unfortunately, my fear of “not being good enough” kept me from moving forward.
“What if everyone else is way better than me? I better keep practicing!”
Eventually, though, my fear of never playing again overtook my fear of being an inadequate guitarist. And so I took a leap and contacted some musicians in my area. We got together for the first time in August of 2015. After a few rehearsals, we realized that we got along well and had similar musical goals. And so we decided to move forward in hopes of eventually playing some gigs.
Fast forward a few months.
Over the next 90 minutes, we flew through 21 songs and had a blast. I was nervous and made several mistakes, but that didn’t phase me a bit. (My parents even flew up from Florida and surprised me right before our gig started!)
After 23 years—most of which I spent thinking I’d never play in a band again—I was back doing what I loved!
And I’m not going to let it get away from me again. We have more gigs scheduled for the upcoming year, and I can’t wait to see where things go. (If you’re interested, check out our band’s Facebook page for upcoming shows.)
Am I going to be a rock star and play Madison Square Garden like I wanted to when I was a teenager?
My priorities are different now—I have a family that means the world to me and a career I enjoy.
But that doesn’t mean I shouldn’t pursue my passions. That doesn’t mean I shouldn’t chase the dreams that have lingered in the back of my mind since I was 15 years old.
Too often, I think we grow up with dreams that eventually get beaten out of us. And so we push them out of our minds and convince ourselves that they’re silly or that it wouldn’t be practical to pursue them.
Unfortunately, what that often does is leaves us feeling a little (or a lot) empty.
That’s definitely how I felt for many years.
But I’m glad I finally took the first step of picking up my guitar and starting to play again. And once I took the first step, the next steps were easier than I thought they’d be.
Look, just because you’ve taken the dreams you once had and pushed them to the back of your mind doesn’t mean they have to be gone forever.
Maybe the dream you pursue today might look a little different than it did 10 or 20 or 30 years ago, but that doesn’t mean it’s too late. In fact, there are many instances of people who decided to pursue their dreams later in life and found massive success.
Ultimately, whether you simply want to play guitar in a popular local band (like I do) or whether you want to be the next Samuel L. Jackson (who didn’t find movie success until his mid 40s), it’s not too late to give it a shot and do what you love.
It may not be easy. It may take time. But it’s definitely worth it.
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