Before you read this article, check out this sweet video. I saw this video a few years back, but it still is as relevant as ever. In 2013 at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee, Billy Joel was speaking in a forum when he was asked a question by fresher, Michael Pollack. While the video quality is a bit variable, the sound quality certainly is not:
Let’s be honest. We all have dreams about what we want to do with our lives, no matter what career path we aspire to. We were often told while we were growing up that we will get what we want, and that we are special and lucky. We dream that we will be independent, successful and have fulfilling lives from the get go. We dream that we will succeed in everything we do. It’s not bad or selfish to think like that at all. Far from it. It’s good to aim high. But of course, our paths to happy, fulfilling lives are not so easy.
These days, many people seem to think that success and fulfilment can come easy. Maybe it is because we believed that we could do whatever we want. Good things will come to those that wait, right? It’s good to hope that those dreams will happen, right? Well, not quite. If you only hope, and don’t chase, that is when dreams start to die.
When I was young, I often had dreams of being a writer. I would go into my Dads office, trying to avoid knocking over the hundreds of papers that my dad had stacked and organised for his work. I would sit in front old Apple Mac 98, and mimic my Dad doing his weekly column for the Australian Financial Review. Exactly what I would write about would range from what my day was about to pre-school. Of course, I had no indication back then of how hard it was for my Dad to get to where he was. I was only a few years old, how could I know?
It was only in my time at university, and now subsequently, that I have realised how hard it is to chase that dream. Not only that, but I have realised that in our world of social media, writing may be seen as increasingly irrelevant, especially in the face of online platforms where people can speak their own opinion to their hearts content. It would be very easy to give on my dream, or fall into the idea of hoping it will all work out.
The truth is, I got it wrong. Hoping is not a way to go. Dreams don’t come to us, we go to them. Dreams are something you work for, you go and get, and never stop trying to achieve. If we all had things laid out for us, life would be easy, and kind of boring. In all honesty, if life was easy, you probably wouldn’t appreciate the goals you reach as much. While achieving dreams is hard, what is great about striving for them that when you work for it, it makes it even more sweeter when you succeed. You earnt that success. It inspires you to try more.
But in truth, sometimes we have to be prepared to put ourselves out there, and take a chance. That’s daunting, not just because of putting yourself out there, but because of the fear of failure if you don’t succeed. But even then, I have always found that I have learnt more from failure than I have from success. So really, it’s a risk we all SHOULD take.
Credit: Daniel Dubois
That brings us to the kid in the video, Michael Pollack. He had been playing piano since he was seven years old, and was originally from Long Island, the home of Billy Joel. He himself had confessed after the fact that he had dreams of playing alongside the Piano Man, and of walking out onto the stage and playing a recognizable tune that would see the whole crowd erupt in excitement.
Read Michael Pollack’s Vanderbilt Magazine article here
After he took a chance in asking to accompany Billy Joel, Pollack became an internet sensation. He went on to appear on CNN and The Today Show in the US and was also interviewed by Rolling Stone and The Huffington Post. He also released his own EP online, and had his first major gig later that year.
Access Michael Pollack’s EP here
However, that great moment also is a great indication of the man Billy Joel is. Yes, he’s a six time Grammy winner, has sold over 150 million records, and has churned out so many recognizable songs. Yet, he didn’t hesitate in saying “Okay” to a kid who dared to ask. And once Pollack started playing, I wondered what went through Joel’s head? Probably, ‘Jeez, this guy can play!’ or ‘I can’t believe I inspired this kid.’ My money is on ‘that was me once.’
To me, it said a lot at the end when Joel commented, “Nice going Michael. Guy’s got chops! And that’s how you get to be a horn-player in New York City. Take a chance.”
I think that is what chasing dreams comes down to: taking a chance. For all the stuff that has been said about how we were told when we were young how we could grow up to get all that we wanted, there is no denying that we are all special. There is no one like you. No one has quite the same talents as you yourself. You are unique.
So rather than hope for dreams, instead set yourself a goal or a dream and don’t stop chasing it. In truth, that is how every single greater artist, musician, writer, journalist, whatever career started. Work towards it, but don’t worry about how it comes to pass. Have faith in your dream, that you working towards it will lead you to somewhere great. Work hard, but have fun along the way. And above all, don’t worry about hoping for success. If you work hard enough, success will come. Have faith that that will happen.
And, above all, if you rise above the odds, make it and achieve your dream, appreciate what you’ve done, and enjoy the success. And, do what Joel did, and be humble and recognize others who are on their own journey to life goals of their own.
In the end, that’s what we are all doing. Taking a chance and hoping for the best.