Making a Living vs. Designing a Career

June 26

I remember I was incredibly excited the first day of college because I was literally getting ready to meet all of my heroes in one building, and they were all going to answer the questions I had constructed in my journal.

I scanned my Juilliard ID, and I reported to the 4th floor to go to the newly appointed “Drum Practice Room,” take my things and start setting up. I ran into Carl Allen, aka “Jazz Drumming Businessman.” He was incredibly kind to me, as Carl can be, and had a “laugh” that could fill up the whole hallway with joy. I was literally shaking when I met him because Carl was one of the first jazz drummers of color, that had procured over a dozen musical instrument endorsements, had ads in drum magazines, and had his face literally everywhere. I had a great level of admiration for him, then and now. Now, he and I were literally sharing the space in the drum practice room and conversing! Carl and I had a pleasant exchange, and then he said he would see me the following week in “Small Ensemble Class.”

Fast forward a week later to ensemble class, and Carl made a statement that would literally impact me for a lifetime. He asked, “Are you guys interested in making a living or designing a career?” I immediately raised my hand and asked, “Carl, what’s the difference?” He essentially said, “Young brother when you make a living, you are working as a musician and only focusing on what gigs/performances you will take, based on the monetary value only. When you are building a career, you are incredibly strategic about the placement each performance will create for you. You also began to build your mind and your talent; learning to foster the right relationships, so that what you possess, is a career; not a mere means of paying your bills. 

Mind completely altered, and blown. 

I am so thankful to Carl Allen for this lesson because it allowed me to create a secondary statement, and multiple career avenues. I stated when I was a few years removed from college, that “I want to be an authentic jazz musician creatively but also have higher aspirations beyond the cliche’ jazz life.

What Carl challenged me to do was look at other friends and colleagues that have careers in medicine, finance, academia, etc.., and look at the goals and career arcs they have created for themselves and their families, and apply the same principles to my career. 

I am incredibly thankful because I chose to design a career, and that career has and will continue to lead me to some incredible experiences.