Two years ago, we started the journey of creating a degree that would address the current and future needs of music students at Houghton College. Today I found out that the degree had been approved by our second accrediting body - NASM (National Association of Schools of Music). The journey has been one of great triumph and, at times, extreme frustration. I have learned a great deal from this process - both personally and professionally. And, while I have wanted to throw the "towel" in and give up at times, it has been the journey that has been the most rewarding.
There have been some key lessons I have learned along the way and wanted to share them here so I could look back and remember this time - and the crazy journey. Here are some good lessons learned on this journey:
1. You will be the greatest champion of something you deeply believe in.
Don't expect everyone to get as excited as yourself when you are on the journey. At times you will feel like a lone wolf. That is not a bad thing. We are motivated by what we are passionate about and others will not be as passionate when it has nothing to do with them or their passions.....and that is OK.
2. Success requires hard work - and a steep learning curve.
Success and the learning curve require focus and perseverance. I will be the first to admit that both of those are not my strongest attributes. I was diagnosed with ADD later in life which brought about an "aha" moment of why I couldn't stay focused for a very long time. Through understanding and hard work, I came up with systems to help me stay focused - and on task - when dealing with my ADD. Now, throw in the mix of putting a degree together and there were days when I felt like the wheels were going to fall off my brain. This degree challenged me beyond what I felt I could be - and taught me more about myself and success then any one single thing I have done. Success in anything is hard work...I kind of knew that from life lessons, but this process brought that "hard work" thing to a whole new level.
3. Failure is going to happen along the way.
I would love to write here and say that our first attempt at having our music industry degree approved was a complete success. It wasn't. With New York State it only took around a month, but our other accrediting body (NASM) took two years with two full out rejections. Failure happens...and when it does we can either give up - or get up. Failure is a way to reevaluate and then readjust our course. It took two failures to reevaluate and then make the necessary changes to make sure the third time was "the charm".
4. Keep the main thing, the main thing.
Along this process I was pouring myself and every waking minute working on this degree. One day my former and wise bossman said to me, "Kevin...you need to keep the main thing, the main thing." What he meant was keep your priorities straight - which is your wife, your home and relationships. He assured me that the paperwork would still need work the next day, so go home and focus on what matters...my wife and home. In life, always keep the main thing, the main thing. Hard work is a good thing, but being a workaholic is not.
5. The journey is the destination.
We have reached our goal and destination...a new degree. All along I thought that the end result was the most important. It wasn't. The journey was the goal all along. The journey was filled with triumph and disappointment, extreme happiness with extreme frustration and moments of fast movement with months of waiting. The journey tested and stretched me along the way, but every step of this journey has been rewarding - no matter the stress or frustration. I don't want to go through this process again, but I wouldn't trade it for anything because over the past two years I have grown more than previous years within my career. I have also learned about myself - both strengths and weaknesses which is a very good thing.
Now...time to celebrate this journey!
In a few weeks, I will be saying goodbye to my assistant - John Buteyn. I have been wanting to write a fitting tribute to my assistant for some time, but every time I started thinking of writing this...my brain went into denial that he was leaving. I would then close my laptop and try not to think about this approaching day.
Many of you who visit this site (and blog) do not know John. But to me, John has been my right hand man for four years or so, and a brother-like friend for over seven. John was the first person I worked with as the new Director of Sound and Recording at Houghton College. From the start, I knew that John and myself would have a good working relationship, and more importantly, a good friendship.
A wise man once told me, "Kevin, when you meet a friend...a true friend, never let that friendship go because true friends are very rare in this life. When you meet the type of friend that 'gets you'...make sure you stay friends. That type of friend will walk the mountain tops and the valleys with you". The wise man, also known as my high school music teacher, was right on. I have traveled this earthly road for 45 years and have rarely found "true friends". I have many "friends", as a matter of fact over 3,500 "friends" on Facebook, but I have very few "true" friends...the kind of friend that sticks closer than a brother and gets me as a person. Many people become your friend with an agenda in mind. For many, that agenda is breaking into the music industry or befriending you to swindle you out of your industry contact list. I have had a few "friends" in my lifetime who attempted to use me as a stepping stone for the next level in their career...a few church tech "friends" come to mind here.
What I have always liked about John is that he never became my friend to "use" me, nor did he have an agenda to gather my contacts. He became my friend because we had so many common interests, especially in music technology and recording. We would sit in the office during the slow conference season time dreaming about Houghton, and what it could look like if we ever offered a music technology or a music industry degree. At the time, that seemed like a big huge pipe dream and talk, but as every year passed our dream and talks started becoming reality. It was the dream and vision that drove both of us at work - and common interests that drove our friendship.
After my first two years at Houghton, John went away to Georgia Southern to pursue his master's degree in music technology. When he left, during that time, you could feel the void that was left in my department. The old Charles Dickens phrase from A Tale of Two Cities, "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times..." was being lived out in real time during the years he was away. The department and staff just wasn't the same with John gone.
Then John came back. At first is was to head up the summer conference tech team. Eventually, after a couple of years and a couple of jobs he worked around Houghton, we were able to hire him in my department as the Assistant Director of Technical Arts. And a new (and very cool) chapter started to be written again.
This past year, John, our boss and myself, started to create and pursue a major in music industry at Houghton College. Everything we had talked about seven years prior to this, started to become reality. We created a music industry minor, had upwards of ten new courses approved and finally a music industry major approved at Houghton. I don't think either one of us could believe how much was accomplished this past year. At times it was stressful...and at others times it was filled with celebration.
And so, it seems right that John is now leaving to pursue the next chapter in his life. In the time he has been at Houghton, and my assistant, we have seen great things happen. We have had a lot of fun and laughs with events, concerts, conferences (for the most part), classes, our team and most of all our friendship. Bill Hybels (a leadership guru - look him up) once said at a leadership conference, "Surround yourself with the best. Because you are only as good as the people you surround yourself with." For me, John was and is the best. He has been the definition of excellence and work ethic. He is a great husband to Kaylan, a great father to Fin and has been a great friend and brother to me. My only hope is that each person who reads this will have the same fortune that I have had these past seven years. I hope that each of you will find that person who makes you not only a better teacher and tech, but a better man or woman. As iron sharpens iron....Yohann, you will be missed.
Yesterday I was channel surfing and came across the movie "Gangs of New York". I really love the historical value of that movie in showing the start of, and the struggle that existed to build what would become New York City. The movie is long, but my favorite part comes at the very end as Amsterdam Vallon states, "My father told me we was all born of blood and tribulation, and so then too was our great city. But for those of us what lived and died in them furious days, it was like everything we knew was mildly swept away. And no matter what they did to build this city up again... for the rest of time... it would be like no one even knew we was ever here." As the words are being spoken and the moody music starts to rise, the camera stays stationary on a cemetery, and the skyline, as New York transforms from decade to decade as buildings start rising and the modern era is ushered in. As New York transforms to modern times, the cemetery slowly disappears and is no longer visible being buried by human progress. It is a sad and sobering reminder that we are expendable and one day we will face certain mortality.
That part effects me for days after watching as I question my own life, and probe as to what my legacy will be here on planet earth. Yesterday I felt as if I could see what I would leave. I was privileged enough to be part of an academic council meeting where 6 new courses were approved for the start and possible future of a commercial music/music business degree at Houghton College. We have been laying the ground work for such a program for the past five plus years, but it needed time and the right people to bring it to fruition. All of that happened this past year when Houghton hired a new dean in the school of music - Stephen Plate. Stephen (Dr.) Plate brought with him vision and experience in building successful programs in other institutions. His vision and experience has been a driving factor in bringing this program from border-line obscurity to the spotlight.
As I listened and observed yesterday, my heart became full of joy as I finally felt that maybe my legacy could be more than just laying the ground work for a program, but actually seeing a program launched that would train future musicians and tech people in the creative field, thus allowing them to impact their world with their art and lives. The question then is; what will your legacy say about you? It is a question that can not be taken lightly or answered quickly. It requires deep thought and time to process. Will it be beautiful music that lives long after you have left? A film that still impacts decades later? A painting that will hang in a home or museum long after your last breath? Just like in "Gangs of New York" we will all become part of the earth again, and slowly be forgotten - but the legacy we leave can be the one thing that memorializes our memory for many decades. Is your legacy one that will impact others for ages - or will it be easily forgotten? My hope and prayer is that my life will be the first.
Everyday I see people who are miserable in their professions. For most individuals, it is truly a job and not a career. It is a place where they work, so they can pay the bills and nothing more. I can totally relate because I was that person too. I had dreams as a young high school student to be in the music industry, and do nothing more. There wasn't really a plan B, it was all or nothing in the music industry. After high school, I attended a college in Phoenixville, PA, where I would study both music and youth ministry. Looking back, I can see where both of those careers could intercept one another (music, youth...youth, music - they go hand in hand). In college, I got involved playing in, and for, many bands. I had a synthesizer in my dorm room, and wrote music constantly with friends. We would stay up to the very early hours of morning writing, creating and just having fun (not the best idea for grades, but terrific for creativity).
After college, I kept pursuing music where our band saw some regional and semi-national recognition. It was a lot of hard work, but the passion kept us fueled to keep going. Then something happened that changed the trajectory of my life. I found a woman who wanted me to settle down, start a family and pursue a "real" career. When you are young, stupid and in love - you will do anything, for the most part, to please the person you have given your heart. I always vowed that I would not wear a suit, Dockers or polo shirts, yet this is what I had to do so I could "look the part" when interviewing. I was definitely young and stupid. I was able to find employment as a retail manger trainee in the tire and car repair industry. Thus , started the most miserable years of my life.
I made a huge mistake back then thinking that money and prestige would make us happy. She was very happy because she had everything a young woman would want or need. On my end, I was the most miserable human being on planet earth. I had friend at the time tell me that I was the most miserable church goer that he had ever seen. It was true, I was tired, burnt out and angry at life. I knew I needed to make a change, and I knew that it had to be quick for sanity's sake.
Church involvement can put you in good contact with people who know people. Duh, right? It is very much like the six degrees of separation which states that everyone is on average approximately six steps away, by way of introduction, from any other person. I can tell you from experience, churches prove that theory...it is like a melting pot of who knows who. At the church I attended, the worship leader had a brother in law who owned a beautiful studio in Rochester, NY. The brother in law was looking for an assistant to help him with the running of the day to day business at the studio. I met with Dave (the studio owner) and we hit it off. Dave hired me which changed the trajectory of my life, once again. Working for Dave and the studio was the catalyst that would allow me to continue doing what I love....music.
When I am teaching at the college (Houghton College), I always tell the students to pursue their passions. I also tell them that in pursuing those passions they may need to work a job that they do not like, but if they pursue what they are passionate about it can and will work out. It seems like easy advice, kind of like, good things come to those who wait or any cliche. I truly believe that if your heart is set on something, and you are extremely passionate about it, then you can make a living doing what you love (as long as you have the talent for it - had to clarify that a little bit). I tell my students that life is too short to be doing something that you hate for your entire life.
Everything I am talking about boils down to this....risk taking. I have seen way too many people get stuck in their lives because they are afraid of failure, or, in other words, afraid to take the risk. Risk is scary, risk is crippling, but risk can be rewarding. If most people are afraid of taking risks, then a person taking risk is actually in a better position to succeed (it's all a numbers game). One of the great staples of being a great leader is that they are willing to take risks. Risk taking is not being reckless, risk taking is doing something that you wouldn't normally do, but doing it in a very calculated fashion.
When I think about risk taking, and being stuck, my father comes to mind. My father is a gifted musician, a gifted construction worker and a great person. From the time I was born, the only thing I can remember my dad ever doing for a living was construction work. He needed steady pay so he could provide for his wife and children. He is a great construction worker and went from working for others to starting his own business. It was a big risk, but he had built a good name for himself in the construction business. He is now semi-retired, and does little jobs for friends here and there. One day when we were camping, I looked over at my father and saw him lost in thought. All of a sudden it had hit me that I had never asked my own dad about his passions in life. I have done that year after year at the college with my students, but never with my own father. That day, while camping, I asked my dad, "What were your dreams and passions growing up? If you could have been anything in life, what would it have been? Would it have been a construction worker - or did you really want to do something else?" His answer almost broke my heart. He told me that his dream and passion in life was to be a musician.
He told me that growing up he and his sister had played at fairs, bars and various venues. They had played at a contest for a chance to win a recording contract with RCA records back in the day and won. When the chance came for them to sign the deal his parents said that no son or daughter of theirs would play music for a living. Their kids would work for a living and not be caught up in an easy life style like music. After that, my dad would continue to play music, but not pursue it as a career or living. I was very sad that day talking with my dad about his life and realizing that he never pursued his passion.
Life is a small journey we take from here to there. There are no guarantees on how many years we have - or have left. So why would we chose to waste away the very short amount of time we have on this earth? Why would we waste half our lives pursuing misery in professions that we can not stand? Life doesn't have to be that way. Life isn't suppose to be that way. And it is never too late to change the trajectory of our lives. I know of 80-somethings who have pursued a college degree and have finished. I know of 60-somethings who finally decided to pursue painting for a living - and have succeeded. It is never too late, nor early, to pursue our passions and dreams. All it takes is hard work and a little risk. Today is the day to start the journey and take the risk.
Good Ted Talk Video On Risk taking - "The Art of Living Dangerously"
Kevin "Danger" Jackson is a New York-based producer, engineer, composer, performer, educator and Berklee College of Music alumnus. He writes, produces and engineers music for a wide range of artists in the pop, hip-hop, rock, R&B, classical and electronic genres. His work can be heard daily on a multitude of albums, radio and television stations worldwide.