You Can Make It There and Anywhere

On a recent trip to New York City, I spotted a young man studying a musical score on the subway, deep in concentration. I’ve traveled to New York nearly a dozen times, so I know it’s not uncommon to board the train and see musicians setting their instruments beside them on a seat, or to overhear two young actors quizzing each other about their current roles, or to listen to a couple of young writers chatting excitedly about the bookstore reading they just attended.

Some of them were born in the city, some have come to New York from far-flung places because, as the song promises, if you can make it there, you’ll make it anywhere. Some were raised by parents who nurtured their artistic dreams, some by parents who scorned them. Some have arrived in the city to get art degrees from prestigious colleges, some have come knowing only they will sleep on a friend’s couch and busk on the streets for their share of the rent. Some have come fully intending to make it big, some have come just to give it a shot.

Their excitement and ambition are infectious. Their frustration and despair are palpable. They are the kids we told to follow their dreams no matter what. They are soul wanderers, and I feel such affection for each and every one of them.

But a part of me also wants to remind them we are in charge of our goals; they are not in charge of us. Success doesn’t lie in New York or Nashville or Chicago, success lies within us. Our journeys will take us down many paths, but the yellow brick road always leads back to the home we find within ourselves.

Not every young artist will be “discovered” in those great cities, and many who move there will “give up” and go home, but it’s only giving up if you stop doing what you love! Just because things didn’t turn out the way you hoped they would in the Big Apple, doesn’t mean your art has left you. Maybe you only got one gig per year in New York while you also waited tables and worked in retail stores and delivered pizzas, but in that smaller town where you later choose to live, you are cast in nearly every local show. You’re acting six times a year, doing what you love. The big fish in the little pond. The actor or singer or writer or artist who helps build a community, and who is truly appreciated for what they offer, sometimes even outside their area.

And for those who get their big break in the big city, rejoice! Revel in it! But remember those accolades, those hits, and the fame that might accompany them do not define you, and your fame does not own you. Your goals belong only to you. You are allowed to change them any time you choose. Ambition is not just tied to work. We aspire to be many things in our lives. Your achievements are not your measure. You’ve proven you can follow your dreams, so always, always follow your heart.

And to those of you ambitious artists who knew all along chasing that big-city dream of success was not for you, congratulations. I trust and hope you’ll never have regrets. After all, you started local theater companies that have run for 50 years, you taught middle-school students how to find their voices, your downtown murals are the first thing your neighbors show their visitors when they come to town, your regular gig at the wine bar is the thing people look forward to all week. You are the reason people like me found our way into the arts.

And for those of you who’ve chosen to set your art aside for a while to pursue other dreams, you inspire us, too, because you value what matters to you right now. You are still and always following your dreams. In all your news roles, your artist soul is guiding you.

Ambition, at its core, is a desire to achieve something coupled with hard work and determination. Only you know where your ambition can and will take you, if you keep your heart open. There’s no straight path for any of us. We’re all zigzagging in the direction of our dreams, setting new goals one moment, shedding old ones the next. Working hard, resting, searching, and growing. Embracing the art of living.

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