Money, mediocrity, and the myth of 'making it' (part 1)
I can still remember when I first began working for UCCF in 2014 talking to a church minister who said that when he went to speak at a music college CU meeting, he would tell them just how few of them would go on to 'make it'. And though it might bring tears to certain individuals' eyes, nevertheless, it was worth it, he said, because it was the truth, and it's kinder and more loving to them in the long run to know the harsh realities of life.
I wonder how that makes you feel.
There's a certain brutal logic to it that can feel hard to refute, and yet, if you're anything like me, it didn't feel quite right. I wasn't altogether comfortable with it. In this four-part blog post, I want to explain why I think my discomfort wasn’t a mere bias towards music and why it might have some solid foundations. But before we get there, let’s explore what was good in this minister’s approach.
The good: Exposing the idol(s)
The premise for speaking so bluntly was the belief (false, I believe, but I’ll come to that in part 2…) that 'making it' is the only good outcome of a music degree. Now, if you do think like that, then statistically, unless you are one of the (very) lucky (very) few, you will indeed be disappointed. This church minister's aim was to forewarn so as to forearm. It was to protect the music student from a future disillusionment and the potential crisis that may follow.
To dig a bit deeper, therefore, we can see that it was to uncover a potential hidden idol - whether career success, fame or riches - and hopefully expose how precarious, even hazardous, it is to place our identity in such an idol. Because if we do, and then we don’t hit the heights that we’d imagined, the crisis that follows will probably be a serious identity crisis.
Now that’s bad enough. But imagine this idol had been coated in a ‘Christian’ veneer of ‘calling’, such that we’d convinced ourselves that to be a world-famous soprano/saxophonist/singer-songwriter/[insert your musical identity here] was ‘God’s calling for my life’. Well, then the identity crisis that would come from failing to hit such heights would likely turn into a full-blown crisis of faith, with them thinking something like:
Why would my Good Father leave me to flounder in penury, mediocrity, and obscurity?’
The result would either be to pull back from God and keep Him at arm’s length, no more fully trusting Him, given His supposed ‘track record’, or even to turn away from Him altogether.
I think it was these potential scenarios that led that church minister to speak so bluntly. And if, in doing so, a music student was protected from such a future disillusionment and crisis, then the Lord graciously used such blunt words to great effect, for which we should be very thankful. I really mean that.
Nevertheless, I do think there may be a better way. We’ll begin exploring that in part 2.