The toughest thing about being successful? That’s easy…you have to keep on being successful. There is no mystery as far as I am concerned. It really does not matter what your profession is, the statement is true. To be honest with you, I am anxious to complete this article and post it. Because if it is successful, how will I top it on my next post on-line? In music education success can be defined a number of different ways (please visit my article on for one such definition).But no matter how it may be defined for your group or ensemble, know this (insert your own Yoda voice here): once you raise the bar forever will it dominate your destiny.

First of all, I am not saying don’t raise the bar. We must raise the level of expectations with your ensembles and individual students whenever possible. Often students look at expectations as a limitation, something that will be difficult to obtain. In my own work as a composer and arranger of band music, I find limits to be very necessary. Limits force me to be creative. Limits force me to be decisive. Limits force me to think and create a way to obtain my goal that at the onset of work I did not consider. We hear all the time about the untapped human potential people possess. Why does it remain untapped? My guess with some people is that upon hearing a comment that they have untapped potential, they do not seek any limits (expectations) to see if the statement is in error. It is much easier to say you have no limits in your abilities than to actually test them and find out.

Limits help to define what will constitute a success for ourselves, our students, and our ensembles. Once it is realized we should take time to reflect on what we have accomplished, analyze how we have grown as a person and in our abilities, and what we have learned through the process. But we have changed – and besides exceeding the limit or expectation that was placed upon us, we have raised the level of expectation for everyone who is around us. The process is not microwaveable (a rant for another day) as our society would like it to be. The next encounter we have in achieving success requires the same methodology as the first: planning and preparation, implementing new concepts to a new problem or goal, plenty of attempts and experiences. The one intangible that must be present each time in someone is that of tenacity. We must have the ability (as a good friend so eloquently put it) to “put our blinders on and plow on through”. Our eyes must be on the prize, the goal, our definition of success. Our focus should move us forward in such a way that is consistent with the quality of our goal. There are plenty of things that can become an unnecessary distraction and slow us down or make us weary. If all else is present, our tenacity separates High Honor Roll from the kid who never applied himself, All-Pro Football Players from 7th round draft picks, and Ph.D. from A.B.D. (now a doctoral student at Kent State, this is on my mind).

Does success have a price? Yes. Ask Mike Krzyzewski and the Duke Blue Devils last spring when they were upset in the first round of the NCAA tournament. Ask Drew Brees and the New Orleans Saints this year after an 0-3 start. Everybody expects you to more successful the next time. That is not impossible. We must be honest with ourselves and the limits we set. We must decide upon goals worthy of our commitment. We must acknowledge that we will fail at some point in the process, and we must be willing to learn from failure. We must be willing to embrace the process anew each time, and we should accept that the process can be different each time.

The toughtest thing about being successful is that you must continue to be successful, and that can come with a heavy price. The most rewarding thing about being successful is not the prize (although it is pretty nice at times), but the process. It instills in us good habits that speak to the core of our character. Our colleagues, friends, and family begin to view us in a different light. While I acknowledge that the level of expectations that groups can set can be unhealthy, I speak from personal experience when I say they usually understand and respect the value system that has led you in this process. Success. Tough? Yes. Worth it? Yes.

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