Music School without a Back-Up Plan?

In his 11.7.12 column, Inc. journalist Jeff Haden writes about “Things Remarkably Successful People Do.” He’s writing about people in business, but the characteristics apply to most any field. Guess what’s #1 on his list?

“They don’t create back-up plans.”

Interesting, huh?

If you’re a student entering or already in music school, you probably hear a lot about having a back-up plan. If you’re a parent of said student, you’re probably hoping your offspring will create a back-up plan.

But what’s a back-up plan for music school about, anyway? Isn’t it your envisioned safety net, in case your front-and-center plan fails? Given that times are tough and that thousands of new college grads in every field are having a rough time finding a job, isn’t a back-up plan what you need?

Not according to Jeff Haden. He says that back-up plans “can help you sleep easier at night” but “can also create an easy out when times get tough.” He goes on to say: “You’ll work a lot harder and a lot longer if your primary plan simply has to work because there is no other option. Total commitment –– without a safety net –– will spur you to work harder than you ever imagined possible. If somehow the worst does happen (and the worst is never as bad as you think), trust that you will find a way to rebound. As long as you keep working hard and keep learning from your mistakes, you always will.”

I’ve talked with music majors who’ve confided that whenever they attend classes or seminars where back-up plans are advised, they feel undermined and untrusted as musicians as well in their ability to make smart decisions and choices. They also feel pulled in divergent directions, which makes it hard to really “go for it” and succeed in the area where they’re most passionate.

I’ve also heard music school students (and certainly their parents) talk about taking music education classes as a back-up plan in case they don’t succeed in the performance world. Performers can be great teachers, but not when they feel like failures in the area they really want to be working in. Children and older students deserve music teachers who are in the field because they’re as passionate about teaching music as they are about performing it.

Success is more than talent. It’s also about learning the skills that support you in getting your talent in front of decision-makers and prospective clients. It’s about knowing how to be in the right place at the right time. And it’s about learning to deal with disappointment,
correcting mistakes, and walking with your head held high into the next adventure.

So what would you do differently if you didn’t have a back-up plan?


  1. Miring'u Kamwati

    I would leave the search for a back up plan and focus on outperfoming myself as a performer and vocalist and instrumentalist.

    Find ways to fund my growth.

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