Now what?

by kattiewampus

It’s summer, which means that busy days in the faculty support office are a rare occasion. Right now, we just got back from walking over to Starbucks, and my boss has set up one of the computer monitors so that we have the Olympics streaming live all day. In fact, the biggest problem in the office right now is that the computer keeps buffering. I know, I have it SO rough.

And yet, as I sit here in my cubicle, sipping my iced caramel macchiato and enjoying the fresh air coming in through my open windows and keeping one eye on the women’s gymnastics in the corner, I still find myself endlessly turning over the question of what I should do next with my life. More specifically, I keep thinking about what I should do with that degree in music that I put so much work and passion into for four years. No matter how hard I try to convince myself that music doesn’t necessarily need to be a part of my career, I can’t believe how much I miss it when it’s not there.

When people hear that I have a degree in music, they are always asking me what I plan to do with it. The truth is, I feel like the art of turning a music degree into a financially viable but also fulfilling career is some sort of mysterious alchemy – a lofty secret that has not yet been revealed to me. I think there should be a class that all music majors anywhere have to take: Careers That You Can Pursue With Your Degree That Will Allow You to Use Your Degree.

Sometimes people ask me if I will go to grad school in music. Usually I say “No.” Or, if I’m feeling particularly open-minded, “Probably not.” When I finished my undergrad in music, I was tired and burned out. I didn’t want to practice anymore. I didn’t want to sing anymore. I knew I wasn’t going to be a performer: my unachievable standards of perfection coupled with my imperfect talent and technique, as well as my lack of stage charisma and my fear of being in the spotlight all seemed to signal that I was not destined for a career in front of an audience. I was pretty sure that I didn’t want to teach: I certainly did not feel qualified as a musician or as a teacher to be transmitting musical knowledge to the next generation. With no vision or sense of direction, what would be the point of going to grad school and spending more money to get another degree in a field that I clearly was not competent enough to succeed in? I didn’t even know what I would specialize in if I did want to pursue an advanced degree in music!

In fact, I didn’t know if I wanted to go to grad school at all. I didn’t know what I wanted to study. Or rather, I wanted to study too many things. But I didn’t want to invest in studying something if I wasn’t actually going to do something with it. And honestly, after years of letting my identity blur into a certain GPA, in addition to being burned out on music, I was also burned out on academia. My first year out of college was a breath of fresh air and the only thing I really missed about being a student was qualifying for student rush tickets when there was a good concert in L.A. Grad school did not appeal to me.

Then, about a month and a half ago, I dared to let myself consider the possibility of maybe thinking about the idea of the potential of… going to grad school. For music. I haven’t figured out how to say what I’m about to say without sounding pretentious, so please just hear me out and try to imagine that this is not coming from an over-inflated ego but from a place of genuine self-examination. Or something like that. God gave me a high-functioning brain and a high-functioning work ethic. He gave me a gift for writing, a passion for music, and a curiosity about too many things in the world. And he gave me a talent for doing well academically. I have the capacity for brilliance tempered (and sometimes hindered) by the fear of failure. I have the capacity to push myself and challenge myself to do something besides providing the best faculty support and administrative assistant services that I can. Those things are certainly good and important, but they aren’t what fulfills me and they don’t make me feel like I’m fulfilling my intended purpose.

And music, no matter how frustrated I get with it, is one of the few things that has remained a constant over these two plus decades of my little life. I feel like maybe there is something more that I am supposed to do with it, and I don’t know what that is!

But back in June, for the first time, instead of telling myself that I didn’t want to – that I couldn’t – pursue an advanced degree in music, I started asking msyelf, “What if I did?” I started, as I put it to a friend, trying on different dreams for size. Just to see how they might fit. No sudden commitments. No snap decisions. Just dreaming about topics of music research that actually interested me and wondering if any of them would be substantial enough to be the subject of a thesis or a dissertation.

But the question still remains: even if I did go for some kind of higher degree in music, what would I do with that?

Then, today I came up with the perfect internet search to help fuel ideas about what to do with the rest of my life.

Instead of just haunting job search sites and typing “music” into the search field and hoping that something comes up that maybe I would feel semi-qualified for, I realized that I needed some help in focusing my search. I realized that the big question isn’t so much “What am I going to do with my degree?” as it is “What can I do with my degree?” Or, as the epiphanous question phrased itself to me earlier: “I have a degree in music. Now what?”

Armed with my brilliant search prompt, I opened up Google and began typing in my question. You know how Google predicts what you’re typing based on popular searches? I had typed as much as “I have a degree in music” when Google automatically filled in the rest (“Now what?”) before I could even type it. I laughed out loud. Apparently, my ingenious search prompt was not as innovative as I thought. I guess I’m not the first person to get a degree in music and then not know what to do next.

Of course, I was so amused that Google’s auto-prediction matched up exactly with my question, that I decided to write a post about it, instead of reading the top search results that came up. I can save that for my afternoon entertainment. But then my blog post turned into me writing stream-of-consciousness style about grad school. And what was supposed to be a short, concise story about how Google read my mind became an extensive thought process about my hopes and dreams. Oh well. And there it is.