As I have mentioned, there was a critical point that began this process, which was the moment I realised I was making a steady and reliable income.
This moment was largely the result of acquiring a post as a peripatetic drum teacher at a special needs school.
All of a sudden, I felt as though I was no longer waiting for my life to begin. I didn't have to worry about being able to pay the rent, I could for go for a drink or the occasional meal out with friends and know I could afford it; I even booked myself a little 5 day holiday to Valencia which was extremely memorable.
I am an avid subscriber to the belief that money doesn't buy you happiness, that the best things in life are free (or at least very cheap...) and that taking a job because it pays a bomb is a poor reason to do so. That said, there is a correlation between income and happiness up to a certain (very low) threshold - and I had previously been below that threshold. This extra bit of income, though not a huge amount, had changed my life significantly.
Critically, I no longer felt I had to spend my free time chasing work/networking/practising. The work I had was enough for me thankyouverymuch. Sure, a west end show or a pop tour would be nice but the truth is getting work in those areas is really bloody hard. There's less and less jobs and more and more people trying to do them.
I just didn't want to chase anymore. Continuing that rat race seemed to mean sacrificing my new found freedom to have a social life, make time for reading and creative projects, in favour of more practise, networking and job-hunting; and that was a sacrifice I didn't want to make.
So this was it for me forever; teaching, functions, an annual panto gig, and above all time. Time to think, write and be creative. And that'll do just fine for me, I thought.
Sadly, I was wrong. And here's why:
Primarily, loneliness. The lifestyle I have outlined above is a very solitary one, and I totally underestimated my need for social interaction. The jobs I have enjoyed the most (cruise ships and panto) are those where I am working in a team. Where, on a daily basis I feel a sense of belonging and connection.
Apart from the fact that the lifestyle that I have described above was likely to involve spending a lot of daytimes in my own company, as well as working at unsociable hours (gigging at evenings and weekends) my other main source of income - peripatetic drum teaching - is a very solitary job.
I have been working at a school for nearly 2 years now - There are many lovely people working there, and I am gradually getting to know them; but when it comes down to it, as a visiting part-time teacher I am not part of the team, and it does make things difficult from a social point of view.
Secondly, I get little feedback; a vital element of career satisfaction. With no one over-seeing me, coupled with the fact that the reactions of the kids themselves can be difficult to read, I am often left wondering if I am actually doing a good job or not. And this not-knowing can be exhausting. It can be easy to underestimate how far that little thumbs up from a boss or a colleague can go.
Combined with this, I cannot help but feel under qualified. I am trained as a musician, not a teacher. And whilst I feel I am doing ok at learning on the job, being a competent drummer does not necessarily make me a competent drum-teacher. I feel this most acutely with the younger kids, or those with particularly complex needs, where it feels less like a traditional drum lesson, and more like play-time or therapy, with the drums purely there as a vehicle for the session.
Now, you might say that if I have identified that what I value is teamwork and belonging, feedback and a sense of being qualified for the job, as well as a steady income and a good/work life balance, then a job on a west end show would be a good option for me. You might say it is a cop-out not to go for it. Perhaps you'd be right. However my counter-argument would be this:
If those are the things I value, then there are many more places to find them than in a west end pit. And many of these jobs can be fulfilling, meaningful and good for the world. It would just be bad tactics to concentrate all my efforts to get one very precise job (that lies in an intensely competitive industry), if ultimately these are the things I am seeking.
Moreover, it does not take into account one vital aspect of career satisfaction: Variety.
My Panto gig at Theatre Royal Wakefield has undoubtedly been one of the best things in my life for the past 6 years. But after the creative process of putting the show together is over and we get into 13-show weeks, what I enjoy most is the camaraderie in the green room before, between and after shows. Due to the silly nature of Panto, and the fact that my mate the dame Chris Hannon is an utter comedy genius, performances are always pretty fun. But after a week or so, the monotony of the playing does start to kick in. When the 6 weeks of the job is over, though sad that I won't be seeing my friends every day, from a musical and artistic point of view, I am very ready to do something else.
I've always thought that somehow a west end show would be different. But more and more I'm beginning to think otherwise. I reckon a pit is a pit.
My struggles last year were essentially a result of feeling I had to choose between following a career as a drum teacher, or as a freelance drummer. And for the reasons I have described, I came to realise that, in the long-term, I didn't really fancy either. And this lead to my next epiphany, the 3rd way; another career.
The more I thought about it the more sense it made, and in the next (and most likely final) part, I will explain why and how it has become more and more compelling idea, and also touch on the options I am looking into.