How Real Life Experiences Build Real World Skills

Andrew Vait

Jul 13, 2017

I’m sure there are a host of reasons that might accurately explain the phenomenon of the “millennial side hustle”. As a millennial, I was raised, like most millennials, without the irritating notion that my greatest ambitions to pursue a career in Shopping Mall Architecture (3rd grade), Horror Movie Director (4th grade), Science Fiction Writer (5th grade), and finally, musician (6th grade — today) would be anything but a finger-tips’ pluck from the vine of destiny. As it stands, I use every ambition I ever imagined every day in my pursuits as a musician, business owner, educator, and would-be-horror-movie-director, because my real life experiences inform my real world skills.

The way I was trained in music and the way I was raised in life make it a natural step to infuse my business (private music lessons) with practical skills. These skills are meant to transcend the practice room and, if the Gods of discovery smile upon us, transcend beyond the very pursuit of music.

I’ve never reprimanded a student for taking the same shortcuts that I use in my everyday life. To me, it’s not a natural step. And so I am left with one option: teaching real world skills.

I pay my bills by performing, writing, and teaching music. You might call it a blessing; I call it obstinate. Today, at a music camp at Cornish College, I recounted my personal entry into a career in music: “I decided early on I would play music, and that was that.”

I might be paraphrasing, but the kernel of truth is there — I never considered another option. The real world would accept me as the song-birding, saxophone-toting, guitar-slinging, ivory-tickling man I would become. My mentors would sigh at my bravado; parents of friends who had “given the biz a go” would raise their eyebrows and shake their heads, but no one had the influence to convince me there was anything but a career in music quietly assembling itself in the back room of my future.

I wish, in this moment, that my business plan included even a morsel of business acumen. But hindsight doesn’t pay the tax man. And thus, I feel obliged to pass along to the generations marching boldly in my footsteps how to skip over *a few* piles of baloney.

Peering Beyond The Classroom

I was not trained to teach music lessons. A younger me would say I was forced to teach, but I’ve moved beyond passing off the opportunity to educate as circumstantial. Frankly, I love teaching.

I love the human connection. It’s thrilling to help people solve problems, not just regarding lyrics or intonation, but about relationships and anxiety; self-worth and personal health. My students open themselves to me — they share their insecurities and ambitions, and I listen as carefully and often as I can, because it would be a terrible waste to miss out on hearing a good story, even if the path to it is winding.

I remind myself that we are sharing with each other, so I take my turn, and I walk and gesture through the formalities of music theory and correct posture, and I share about my life as a gilded rock star, gracing stages the world over that are too small, too dark, too late, too early, and every so often, almost just right.

Some of my students want something like this for themselves. They tell me that’s why they have come to me. I ask them if they have been kind to themselves along the way. I slip a backwards low-five to them with a note that reads, “You Are Not Your Successes Or Failures”.

I lose track of the target when I go too long without connecting what I’m teaching to something I actually do to make a living. If we’re talking about the benefits of habituation, I’ll tell them about my time spent creating vocal ID’s for a radio station in the UK, which was long and tedious work. Then, I’ll sing one of the hooks that I can remember for them three times in a row, and we’ll talk about which iterations would have made the track and which would have been replaced.

We talk about paying taxes as an independent contractor, and how, until the Affordable Care Act, none of us had insurance except for John Mayer. We talk about how most of us still don’t, and how it looks like it’s going to get harder before it gets easier.

We talk about what a career in music means to me, and I talk about building community by actively trying to participate in community. They ask me about key signatures and we talk about what equality means between sexes because, inevitably, they have heard the acronym, “Every Good Boy Does Fine,” and we come up with a new one that feels more gender inclusive. We talk about the implications of living on the road and how difficult it is and would be to leave our loved ones for swaths of time.

I tell my students about my early pursuits as a Horror Movie Director, and we collectively cringe at the working title of my then-masterpiece, Bloody Hell. (The cover depicted a Freddy Krueger-esque character holding a bloody fish.)

We always laugh, and sometimes we openly cry. We commiserate about crushing defeats and ecstatic triumphs and we discuss what to do with ourselves between them.

I tell them in any case to try to do it a little better tomorrow, but that your best is more than good enough.

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