For What It’s Worth

I have been pursuing my musical and artistic goals professionally for about three years. In many ways, this is a privilege. My music doesn’t yet bring in a livable salary. Mostly that’s because we put most of the money we make from the music back into it. It’s a lot like running a small business. We give it everything we can. Shawn and I both care a lot about it. Music is my passion. And it’s something that I’m thankful to do.

Because it makes the most sense for us, I stay home with my youngest daughter during the day. She is one and a half. I often write emails with her literally crawling on my back. I compose songs in my head when I push her in the swing at the park. I am writing this blog post right now on the couch with my two daughters beside me. It’s not always easy to be an adult. Dreams take time. As with everything, there is a lot of balancing and prioritizing that takes place. There are many days when my kids watch a lot of ‘Curious George.’ Sometimes it’s the only way that I can get everything done that I want to do.

I have goals. I have dreams. I see a vision that I am coaxing into matter. I love my life. I’m proud of it. So why do I sometimes feel a pang of inadequacy when I tell people what ‘I do?’

Maybe I’m embarrassed that I don’t yet make a lot of money at it. Looking at my decisions over time, you wouldn’t guess that wealth matters to me. I have a history of following my heart above all else. So why do I feel ashamed that I’m not yet raking in the dough? I don’t really know. I never thought that it was a value of mine. I don’t think that it really is. But I know that I feel self-conscious when I talk about my job with people who have more lucrative careers. It’s an interesting contradiction. I am curious about it.

Maybe part of it is that a career in the arts is so variable. It has the potential for high success. That can seem like a reflection of how good you are. Of your very worth.

Maybe part of it is that I wonder what other people think about me. Do they see how hard I work or do they think that I’m lazy? Do they see how important art and music is or do they think that this work is frivolous? Do they know what I’ve done to get where I am or do they think that everything I’ve worked for was given to me?

I don’t know what other people think. Does it even matter?

I feel the desire to actively define my values. To explicitly name them. To take an inventory of them all and to root out any unwelcome ones I might find there.

What matters to me? What confers worth? Is it freedom? Is it wealth? Is it prestige? Happiness? Are my actions in line with my beliefs? Do I care what other people think?

Maybe a good way to figure out what you value is to think about the things qualities you don’t want attributed to you. That seems like a pretty good test. I know that, for myself, I really don’t want people to see me as lazy, self-indulgent, or frivolous. I guess that means I value hard work, selflessness, and dedication. I value the idea of giving back. Of trying.

My partner, Shawn, is a teacher. He spends his days teaching seventh graders how to appreciate the written word. I know that what he does is important. He has made a difference in hundreds of lives. He does it every day. I am in awe of that. I respect it.

When it comes down to what I value, there are some other things I know for sure.

I value the feeling of exhilaration I get when I write a song. I value the feeling of connection I get when I’m performing. I value the pride I feel when I secure an opportunity, I value that feeling in my heart when someone tells me my words made a difference to them. I value working hard. I value doing things my own way. I value people. I value my happiness. I value love. I value words. I value music. I don’t really care what other people think. I love what I do. I know it’s a privilege. It’s precious to me. It’s everything that I have always wanted. I wouldn’t trade it for a million dollars. 

And, hey, once I write that hit song, I won’t even have to.

Jackie McLean is singer/songwriter Roan Yellowthorn. Listen to this Thorn&Yellow playlist while you read.