How to Be a Professional Pianist (Or Succeed in the Industry)

How to Be Professional in a Competitive Industry

Recently, I came close to having my face ripped off.

Through it all, I learned how to be professional. Maybe you don’t have to get your face pounded either; I can share mine with you.

In September, Tony knew that I was forming a design team when he snatched my fallen papers from the ground. Oh, thanks.

When he asked to join my team, I gave him the nod.

I completed the team with a few others; we’ve survived for the past few months.

Last Sunday morning, Tony wanted to restart part of our project milestone. We were almost finished; there was no way we can perfect a new one before the deadline, in less than 24 hours.

When I disagreed, it took him no time at all to start yelling, why can’t I see his direction. Professionals should act like something, something that I’m not; the cracks in Tony’s facade were helplessly widening, some undesirable liquid escaping. The group blew up, and he left for his side job at Microsoft.

5 hours later, Tony serial-texts us:

How to Lose What You Can't Win

Tony texts that he’ll be upset if he finds that I haven’t restarted my part of the project. The team needs someone who’s miles away to dictate our emotions– lovely.

I don’t know what Tony means by being upset. His fits are mostly unplanned, but now he wants to throw a fit. I’m nervous, but I brush it off.

I call Anette during my break, and she comes up with sensible advice.

How to Be Professional in a Creative Field

How to Be Professional in a Creative FieldI’m finishing at 8pm, when Tony returns, early.

He can’t tell if I’ve restarted, because his direction has morphed into a version of mine, I can tell that he likes my work. He asks about it, and I make the mistake of telling him; I should’ve asked him to guess.

“It’s not exactly the same idea,” I say.

Graaaace, he moans, threateningly. His anger spills. Why can’t I do what he wants? He pounds on the table, glares at me for seeing something different.

His idea isn’t halfway finished and there are 15 hours remaining. Wouldn’t it be smarter to present a polished idea?

He agrees to a civil vote but he can’t act civilly. Studies show that punching things when you’re angry just makes you angrier. So he’s fuelling his own anger.

The problem is that people working on his idea have already invested the day, of course they’ll take it. It’s the foot-in-the-door where once someone starts doing a task, they’re likely to agree to bigger requests.

This is like the fact that piano is a popular instrument to learn because you can play your first song in a day. You see the possibilities, and you’re more likely to keep going because you’re invested already; you might forget the time and effort required.

So the tables quiver; Tony jabs fingers at my computer, touches my screen. My eyes hurt after 20 hours of staring at it.

When the team votes, it’s close, but his idea wins. I didn’t push it.

Tony takes over when I leave. The team stays for the night, during which one person hides in the washroom and another moves to a new workspace.

Tony and I rarely speak anymore; there’s always the possibility that he’ll hit me.

I’m thinking, maybe I brought this upon myself, it could be my fault. When Kat texts me, tears slide down my face because she can’t see how I dread this, how the aggression rips me apart.

Tony spews mantras about how professional designers act; he thinks I’m not acting professionally. He says professional designers steal from others, they follow.

Should I follow if everyone jumps off a bridge, because being the only person alive is lonely? Would it be selfish for someone to stop suicide-goers, because she knows there’s more to life?

How to be a professional pianist

Somewhere along the way, the team began plopping a phrase in every other sentence: kinda thing. Let’s walk to the Pike Market, kinda thing.

Kinda thing has no meaning, but they say it anyways; it’s the easy way out when there aren’t any words. Or it’s just to tack onto a clean sentence.

Now I’ve found a similar word: professional. If you spend a chunk of your time doing a task, that’s a profession. People who have professions, are professionals. Dictionary.com defines professional as ‘following an occupation as a means of livelihood or for gain.’

Professionals don’t need to steal or follow or agree. We’re people, and people are brilliant in their own ways.

My buddy Penelope Trunk shares everything about her life, including gritty bits, and she gets paid $20,000 for stepping onstage. Ramit Sethi acts like a robot sometimes (by his own admission) and he runs a multi-million dollar business.

Until I took a jazz class 5 years after I first touched a piano, I didn’t know that improvisation was a skill; I’d been trying to bury it. Dang.

There’s no such thing as behaving like a professional designer, or a professional musician, because professionals are people; how can we expect people to act like anything but people?

So, let’s not be professionals.

Let’s strive beyond that, to be meaningful. Or brilliant.

[Update] Here’s how I perform under pressure, in case you’re interested.

2 Comments

Want more of this?

Get fresh music tips, leadership inspiration, and stories in your inbox each week, by joining below!

  • InnerFokus May 19, 2014 at 1:49 am

    Hi!

    I hope you also read comments to old posts :) I stumbled over this one.

    It’s not possible to fulfill the “expectation” to act like a professional. As you said, getting beyond that means, being human. Meaningful. You are going deeper than just fulfilling an expectation. For you stealing this isn’t the thing. You want to create something new, which gives you this satisfying feeling of having created. Stealing is lifeless. Without soul. Easy. BORING!

    When someone has a specific expectation from you, he is bringing up drama. You can’t fulfill his expectation, when you trust in your creativity, when it feels right for you. You will not sacrifice your “It’s feeling right.”-feeling for this drama. For you it feels meaningful and he is denying your humanity. Your creativity. I really repect your way of dealing with this.

    It’s his own problem. He has an expectation that can’t be fulfilled. It’s kinda like a boy fighting his parents, who maybe haven’t fulfilled his exceptions and now he has to repeat it again and again. It’s really deep psychology going on there. Really interesting.

    Best wishes!

    • Grace Miles May 19, 2014 at 9:19 am

      Hey, I read every single comment I get– I appreciate this a lot.

      Although he and I have gone our separate ways, there will always be people we don’t ‘click’ with, and from this, I really learned that not everyone has to be on your ‘side’, and the fact that people might hate being wrong, doesn’t mean you have to change your own truth to suit theirs. In fact, you can disagree without really doing it (which I’m still not excellent at).