A Funny Thing Happened to Me on the Way to My Life

By Dave Haertel

My story is about my experience of the past two and a half years and coming to grips with Shakespeare’s famous line, “To thine own self be true.”

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It is my hope to save lots of people a bit of pain; however, pain can be quite the teacher at times. I am always told, ” you wear too much of your life on your sleeve”. My response to that is, “PLEASE!!” with a smile, when was the last time you were in my shoes? I ‘m sharing some personal stuff for sure but my motives are clear and I only aim to help others that may identify. This story is only the last Two + years, and I am 54.

As a Composer or a Musician, securing a steady income in this industry is not a simple task. You must truly define who you are using the skills you have acquired and developed. It is not about how fast you can perform a guitar run, or how high you can sing a note. Once your skills are developed to an acceptable level by hours and years of practice, “being good enough” is not the issue anymore. The question you must ask now is who can use your skills, talent, and most of all who can use YOU?

Anyone, paying attention to this last paragraph and realizes the truth will save probably about 10 – 15 years. “Just saying”

My story starts at the Liberace museum; it’s the last year of its existence for the museum here in Vegas. Excited, honored and nervous describes that experience for me. The singer is standing straight in front of me as I am looking over to her for instructions. What comes out of her mouth next was not expected. She said “Dave do you know why I am standing in front of you?” I said, “I was wondering why you repositioned at this rehearsal”. She said “Because if I don’t, you will take your eyes off the music and focus more on who is watching us at the door over there. You seem overly concerned about what people think.”

That comment immediately reminded me of a comment my wonderful, beautiful and patient wife said to me 15 years back when I was on tour with a band. “Who you are is not defined by your performance”. I was bored with the tour, bored with the act and had just performed a very embarrassing and sloppy performance at the Fillmore in San Francisco (Of all places). I realized then that this tour, fame, band thing was not defining me at all. I left the group shortly after.

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Another gentleman I was performing with at the Liberace museum on a different day said, “You are a talented and unique individual, no-one plays that instrument like you because no-one is you”. Thus there is no competition and no reasons to worry about what people think or if you have a good or bad performance because it’s your journey and no one else’s.

My other major problem had been focus. One thing led to another and one day my doctor suggested I may have a little bit of ADD or ADHD and he may be able to help me. As it turns out I am ADD, after finding out I shared the information with some of my friends and they would say to me “I could have told you that”. My response to them was, “why didn’t you”? Their response was, “we are just used to you”. My doctor started me on a small dose of Adderal, if I had only known this information years ago my life could have been so different, my confidence level would have been normal and I wouldn’t have kept beating myself up and I wouldn’t be so nervous all the time.

I had been studying with a man in San Francisco named Frank Martine who ended up becoming my mentor; one of the first questions I had asked my old famous Mentor was “do you ever get nervous”? His response was ” I am nervous now” I asked “why” He said,” I am about t go into the studio with some world class musicians”, I stated,” but you are world class”, his final response I never would of expected he said “yeah but these guys are really world class”. At that point I had realized everyone and their mother compares themselves but not necessarily in the way I was comparing myself to others.

They would compare themselves more to push themselves to always be the best they can be. Not the best player or best this or that, the best them. No one in that class of players that I know are struggling with identify crisis. No one I know in that class is performing punk rock if their skill is Blues or Country. They all know the actions they take, they define who they are whether as a father, mother, piano player, or preacher. People hire and love these people because they define uniqueness in such a great and motivating way.

OK, here is the ending, I am realizing it’s not the piano I love but the music that comes out of it. I am a composer and my music only serves to define my love for this art. I am my biggest fan because I listen to the music and find so much peace. Fortunately music supervisors and a few publishers are also starting to catch on.

Anyway, in a frenzy trying to catch up for the last 30 years, (Note this is not the Adderal this is my thinking) I am ignoring everything, my wife, kids, friends, health, etc. Needless to say I did what it took to become pretty decent at songwriting and composing, however, the cost was alienating my beautiful patient wife an missing part of my kids growing up.

Now here’s the kicker. A month ago I am feeling chest pains; I am like many with no insurance so I think oh this is just gas:), within a few days my ribs and back are killing me and I am almost immobilized. My wife finally takes me to the ER, and we discover my left lung is collapsed, engulfed in fluids my blood is poisoned and a couple more things, it wasn’t just phenomena. I am not ready to die, so I did not ask. What I did do was spend the next 3 and a half weeks in the hospital switching off between two chest tubes in my lungs. To add to all that activity my mom falls, hits her head (She’s 90) and dies three days later while I am still in the hospital. She is in San Francisco I am too sick to leave and so I was forced to listen to my mother’s funeral on my iPhone in the hospital as my sister is kind enough to make that happen for me.

This is my first full week back, and of course I am back at work {Just on the computer} but not with an urgency but with an appreciation for my surroundings and why I love this work, why I love my kids, my wife, my dogs, my home and my life. I am forced to stop and take deep breathing exercises every hour because of shortness of breath. Anyone who has ever had phenomena in the mildest form gets this, and I have a new outlook.

The journey is now.

The question will always be, how do I define myself both in my work and in my personal life? The job in which I get hired has specific demands but they want to hear me come through in my work. This could be recording a track piano only, to a Yanni like orchestrated piece.

In my personal life who am I being when I’m telling my grandkids stories, when I’m holding my wife with more gratitude and passion than I never realized I had?

One day I spoke to a man who had just barely escaped Death from a cancer scare. I asked him, “how has that changed you?” He said “not at all” I looked at him cross-eyed and said my famous “huh? He said ” I always lived life as it was my last day”.

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