Live an Experiment

What do you do when the unexpected happens? You had the perfect life path laid out ahead of you, and you realized it wasn’t going to be easy, but at least you knew where you were going and how to get there. And that summit would be glorious with the thrill of achievement.

But then the ground beneath you begins to crumble, and you discover that you can’t continue on this path. Well—you could continue, but you know deep in your bones that it’s not right. Maybe you discovered that the summit isn’t quite the paradise you imagined. Or maybe you realized that the bruises you’ll suffer along the way won’t outweigh the benefits of the climb.

Some people keep plodding forward even when all the signs tell them to change course. There’s this pervasive narrative saying that perseverance on its own is a virtue. Don’t give up. But should you keep driving if there’s a cliff up ahead?

Abandoning one goal for a more worthy one doesn’t mean your efforts were in vain. It doesn’t mean you should regret the work you put into it. It simply means that you’re moving on.

Just because a certain path isn’t right for you now doesn’t mean it wasn’t the right decision in the past—only hindsight is 20/20. And if you berate yourself for going in the direction all your instincts pointed to, then you’ll be afraid to try anything new in the future. It’s okay to justify your past decisions even when they end up not working out. You learn what you can, and you move on to something better.

If you see life as a series of experiments to discover the best way for you to create meaning in the world, then you don’t have to feel guilty about changing trajectories. You’ll never figure out what you want just by sitting and meditating—you have to go out and do things. And then don’t be afraid to give up when it doesn’t work out.

You never know until you try. So go try something.

Can Commercialization be Beneficial?

We often think of great art as priceless, isolated from market pressures—or at least that in the ideal world it would be. We complain that contemporary music is dumbed down for the audience just to make money, as if commercialization leads to debasement of the art form. I myself have committed the snobbery of denouncing symphony orchestras for putting on pops concerts where they play music from popular movies and video games. Musicians lament that the high standards set by the great composers of centuries past are being lowered. But the truth is, when you look at the history of classical music more closely, you find that the greatest composers that we still revere today were very much commercialized. Like other entrepreneurs, they saw a market demand, and used their creative genius to meet it. In the process, they made money and often lived quite well, and consumers received some wonderful works of art that we still enjoy today. This win-win interaction was made possible by the system of voluntary trade known as Capitalism.

Now, I won’t deny that market pressures can at times be detrimental to music, but I want to argue that they can also have a positive impact. Let’s look at composers of classical piano music as an example. Many of them could outperform most other pianists of their day. Had it been up to them, they probably would have stuck to writing complex pieces that only experts like themselves could play. But they still had to make a living. In fact, like the rest of us, they preferred to make a little more than just a living wage. So they followed the money, writing sheet music for average pianists.

In the mid 18th Century (and for all of time before that) no one had the luxury of radios or mp3s—the only way to listen to music was to have someone play it. This necessity inspired a lot of people to become musicians, and it meant that they needed sheet music to play from. Composers and their publishers recognized this demand from the market and created a product to fulfill it. Mozart, Beethoven, Chopin, Brahms, and numerous other pianists each wrote dozens of pieces for amateur pianists. Historical evidence shows that they did this mostly for the revenue. Yet they produced works of incredible aesthetic quality, which earned them great fame and wealth. Mozart recognized that it was often more difficult to compose simple yet profoundly beautiful music than to compose complex arrangements for professionals.

Had they received grants from a foundation or government to compose whatever they desired, they probably would not have produced as many lasting masterpieces that mediocre pianists like myself can enjoy. I’m eternally grateful for the commercial demands that pressured musical geniuses into making great music available to the masses. It has enriched my life as well as so many others.

Clearly, the world we live in today is much different, and I’m no expert. But certain genres of music have been greatly distorted by inorganic incentives and are suffering as a result. Instead of endlessly lamenting the current state of affairs, perhaps we should recognize the positive impact of market forces as we contemplate the future of music and art in general. As Jeffrey Tucker explains in an article about the future of Classical music, “this sector of life has been ever more removed from the commercial world through state education, subsidies, union control, copyrighted and monopolized musical scores, a culture of the entitled guild. None of it has worked and, needing to pay the rent, there has been a steady stream of young musicians leaving years of conservatory training to enter some other profession like making lattes.” Perhaps if we allowed this rich genre to evolve naturally with the market, we would see a revival.

Let’s reconsider the stigma we attach to “selling out.” Let’s seek to understand what has produced great music in the past so that we can move towards a brighter future.


This post was inspired by a lecture by Paul Cantor, part of the Praxis curriculum.

Let’s Expose our Failures

What are you failing at? Your job? Your relationships? Your personal goals?

Think about it. Write it down. Talk about it.

It will be painful at first. Nauseating feelings of self-doubt may creep up, or they may hit you like a freight train, squashing you into the mud of self-loathing. But then you can muster the strength to pick yourself and climb higher on the path towards becoming the great person you know you have the potential to be.

We must recognize our failures not simply because we’re focusing on the negative, but because if we want to grow, then we have to set higher standards for ourselves than the ones we’re currently meeting. And that means we are necessarily failing at something. Only when we accept that failure can we begin solving the problem and moving forward.

Pinpointing your failures gives you a glimpse of where you want yourself to be, and it’s an exciting opportunity to set goals for yourself and redirect your path.

I’m failing at blogging. I could pretend that it doesn’t really matter, that blogs are a waste of time anyway. But deep down I know that I must write to be true to myself. As Audre Lorde said:

Only one thing is more frightening than speaking your truth. And that is not speaking.

I am afraid. People will misinterpret. People may criticize and judge me. But the pain of judgment is much less than the pain of suppressing who I am. So I resolve to speak my truth on this blog.

As T.K. Coleman says on the Praxis blog, keep failing forward.

Blogging

When I was 6 years old, my Grandma gave me and my sisters diaries for Christmas. Mine was pink. Although I was somewhat resentful that I was supposed to like pink just because I was a 6-year-old girl, I was excited at the prospect of having something to write in that would be just for myself. But then I encountered a problem: what are you supposed to write about in a diary? I remember asking my sister about it. She told me to just write about what I did every day, so I started. After a few days, for some reason I became convinced that I was doing it wrong, so I went so far as erasing several pages of writing (oh for the days when I wrote everything with a number 2 pencil). Then I went back and started over, writing what I thought was correct. My writing gradually evolved from describing my everyday activities to exploring deeper emotions and venting about the trials of growing up and the horrors of high school. By the time I moved out of the house, I had filled up at least 8 other notebooks with my thoughts.

My journal became my best friend, and I learned that it was deeply cathartic to get my feelings onto paper. It made them real and significant. It made me feel like I mattered, at least to myself.

Whenever I go back and read my old journals, I always wonder—could the person behind those words really be the same Kristina? So much has changed. I don’t even remember ever thinking so many of those things. Sometimes it seems like the only thing I have in common with that girl is the ugly, deformed handwriting. And I fear losing that part of myself, forgetting who I used to be. Because whether I realize it or not, that part of my life shaped who I am. That’s one of the reasons I’ve faithfully kept a journal over the years, and still do, now in digital form.

There is another way I’m the same as that Other Kristina. I love the idea of writing a blog, but I keep thinking there’s something I’m supposed to write, or at least something I’m supposed to sound like. So I look around at other people’s blogs and try to imitate them and inevitably fail.

At this point, I don’t think there is anything I’m supposed to be writing about. And I know you’re not supposed to qualify sentences with “I think.” But at least I’m confident in my insecurity, so that’s how I’m going to leave it.

I’m not trying to be persuasive here. The only thing I’m trying to prove is to myself, that I can overcome my fear and get my thoughts out there. I think there’s value in writing just to express myself. But this time I’m going to let The Whole Internet watch.