These days, James Rhodes is a successful concert pianist. But for a decade, he didn’t play the piano at all, while he pursued another career that made him something like Don Draper, “albeit a few inches shorter and a few women fewer.” Then he gave it all up to pursue his childhood dream. He sacrificed everything — including his marriage and his income — to do it, but in the end, it worked.
In an inspiring essay for the Guardian, Rhodes quotes writer Charles Bukowski, who once advised a friend to “find what you love and let it kill you.” As career advice, it’s bold. I’d prefer to find what I love and spend a few hours doing it after a nice dinner. But Rhodes’ speaks from hard experience: He earned nothing for five years while he practiced the piano for six hours a day. He lost his wife, and spent nine months in a mental institution. This guy was not messing around.
Anyone can do something like this if they really want to, Rhodes says, and it needn’t be so dramatic. You may not be able to make a career of it, but you can still find creative fulfillment. He does the math, a bit optimistically, perhaps, but reasonable: Sleep six hours a night, work for eight, spend four on errands and other duties. That leaves six hours to do what we want. We can waste it on social media or we can drink or we can “numb out and give Simon Cowell even more money.”
And then consider how quickly that time adds up: Buy a piano for “a few hundred quid” (British people!) and spend a bit of time practicing each day, and “you could learn a piece you’ve always wanted to play within a few short weeks. Is that not worth exploring?” It’s the same for many similar creative dreams: If you’ve always wanted to write a book, join a writers’ club and bring three new pages of work to read aloud each month.
“Write your damn book,” he concludes. “Learn a Chopin prelude, get all Jackson Pollock with the kids, spend a few hours writing a Haiku.”
Maybe it’s time to revise Bukowski: Find what you love and let it make you happy.