There is room to be true to yourself within the framework of a career. Today we have so many options that when we are not being true to ourselves we cannot really blame the system. We make our own choices and create our own lives.

It’s very hard to know what we want, though. So often our priorities get sucked up into a blender and spit out as a smoothie. I am having this problem right now with going to the gym. I was already just barely holding things together having added the blog on top of what I normally do for work. And now I’m adding promoting a book.

So it seemed really smart, one night, to skip going to the gym. I got so much done. Then it was four nights. And now I’m at that stage where I am so used to not going to the gym that the smell in the locker room is going to bug me. But going to the gym doesn’t just change my abs, it changes my mind and my heart, and it really disappoints me that I’ve let things get to this point.

So it makes sense that I was really touched by an article in the Washington Post by Gene Weingarten, Pearls Before Breakfast. With a genius combination of multimedia and journalism, The Post did an experiment with the world-famous violinist Josh Bell. He went to the subway in morning rush hour, unannounced, and he played classical music on his million-dollar Stradivarius violin, and left the case open for people to drop dollars. The Post documented the event on video.

When Bell plays in a concert hall he makes $1,000 a minute. Here’s how much money he made in the subway: $32.

Clearly, not everyone knew they were hearing something special. And it’s interesting to read Bell’s candid discussion of what it feels like to be ignored when he has been the focus of adoring fans since he was a young boy.

But the part of this piece that really gets me is the video of a commuter who clearly knows this music is special, but he looks at his watch, and he has to decide to stay or leave. It captures every issue on the earth for me right now: How to measure what is important minute by minute.

I am certain about what really matters: Love, kindness, relationships, respect. But let me tell you something, those issues are not on the table 90% of the time. It’s usually a way more complicated decision about how to spend my time, which is really adding up to how to spend my life. I have thought a lot about if I would have stopped to hear the music in the subway. The answer is that it depends on a lot of outside, mundane time factors. Like, did I need to run an errand before work.

This week’s Coachology is about getting help figuring out how much time you should pay attention to the music. We all have music playing inside of us, and we all make decisions about how much to listen. Some of us have actually made it so we don’t hear the music at all: There is no passion.

Peter Vajda is a career coach with decades of experience who is great when it comes to helping people match their work life with their values and their passions. Peter would be a good match for someone who feels like their work needs more meaning but they don’t know what to do about it. If this is you, send me three sentences about what you’d like to get from 90 free minutes with Peter. The deadline is midnight on April 15.

Hat tip: Ben from Amver.

9 replies
  1. Greg
    Greg says:

    When I worked in DC, I probably would have kept going. Not because I did not admire the musicians (some are quite talented and I often tossed a buck or my spare change), but people were depending on me to be somewhere at a certain time. After work, I probably would have sat on a bench and listened.

    But the rest of your post gets back to work\life balance, blending, or whatever we choose to call it. There is only so much we can do, so we have to choose. And rarely are the choices black and white. At what point does work move from providing for my family turn to neglect?

    As one who struggles with how to simplify while living the suburban life, I do not have any tidy answers. I do try to decide every day what is important and act on it.

  2. Rebecca
    Rebecca says:

    Thanks for linking to this great article– actually Bell only got paid $32 for his 45 minutes in the subway. $150 was a guess in the article.

    * * * * * *
    Thanks for letting me know. I changed it.

    Good to know people are reading the article :)

    -Penelope

  3. Rebecca
    Rebecca says:

    oops, also the article also states it’s $1,000 a minute, not $10,000.

    It’s really a great read though and I like how you’ve tied it to a lack of passion present in many lives and the choices we make.

    * * * * *
    Amazing that I could have both these errors in one post.

  4. Ted Slampyak
    Ted Slampyak says:

    Well, let’s not overlook something here. Sure, it’s not $1000 per minute, but $32 for 45 minutes of work ain’t bad! I don’t know what the going rate is for subway musicians, but if it were $32 an hour, my guess is we’d be seeing a lot more subway musicians! So maybe the crowd going past really did hear something special in Joshua Bell’s music.

  5. Trusha Desai
    Trusha Desai says:

    I haven’t heard a Bell on transit in Vancouver, but in summer there are free Festival events in downtown where you can spend your lunch hour (if you so choose) listening to internationally acclaimed musicians. There are crowds lingering about. Listening intently, returning on other days.

    Re. coachology (I hope I still squeeze in before the deadline). I would like to Peter to ascertain that I truly have matched my career with my passions. A tad difficult, since I have numerous interests.

  6. Donna Whitcher
    Donna Whitcher says:

    From Peter I want to learn how to infuse my working hours with enthusiasm. My motto is live, laugh, love. I certainly live and laugh often but I don’t always love what I do.

  7. Music_Lover
    Music_Lover says:

    I cannot imagine that music would also bring the life of Josh Bell into a complicated yet more meaningful way. The challenges he encountered were truly incomparable and that’s what really gives everyone of us the proper way to face life’s challenges. Besides, music will always be there to go along with us.

  8. MarilynJean
    MarilynJean says:

    I would have stopped and listened, even if it made me late. Marilyn Monroe once said, “I am invariably late for appointments…sometimes, as much as two hours. I’ve tried to change my ways but the things that make me late are too strong, and too pleasing.” Imagine all those people who later learned what an opportunity they missed!

    She also said, “I’ve been on a calendar, but never on time.” Now, I’m no Marilyn Monroe, but I admire her ability to put her pursuit of happiness before all else. Despite her consistent tardiness, she is Marilyn Monroe, an icon.

    Of course, we can’t all get away with movie star behaviors, but at the core of this is the ability to realize what matters the most in the big picture. Stopping to hear the music will almost always trump the demands of time.

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