One Valley I Hope To Never Revisit

At one point early in my career, I was a finalist for seven collegiate teaching positions in one fall hiring cycle.

I do not wear this fact as a badge of honor….

The first five places didn’t want me.

Five in-person interviews around the country.

Five notifications that I would not be moving on in their process.

My mentors told me that if I was making it that far in any hiring process, it was only a matter of time before I secured a job.

After five in-person interviews without an offer, I told myself I was a failure.

There was one small sliver of hope amongst all the rejection that fall. I was hired to be a part-time sabbatical replacement at Bowling Green State University in Ohio.

Around the time I was rejected from the fourth position, I learned that the person on sabbatical would not return the following year.

I quickly turned in my materials for the full-time position at Bowling Green.

Then, another win. I was contacted for my sixth interview at a large, tier-1, research institution in the mid-west.

The problem was that when I landed just outside the campus and stepped out onto the tarmac, I immediately knew that I wasn’t in the right place.

The interview hadn’t even started.

For 48 hours I tried—and they tried—to keep up appearances during an excruciatingly long interview process.

But we all knew.

I wasn’t going to get the job.

At the end of the first day, I checked my messages and listened to what I thought would be a voicemail from one of my best friends (another bassoonist) wishing me good luck in the interview process. Instead, he excitedly told me that he was a finalist for the Bowling Green position.

I checked my messages again….

No voicemail from Bowling Green extending an offer for an interview.

In my life, there have been very few valleys deeper than the one I was in at that moment.

I went over to my bed and tried to process what was happening. Five rejections, a sixth all but assured, and the seventh likely coming before I even had an opportunity to interview.

Although I had the degrees and the profile to get me in the room for these positions, maybe I just wasn’t good enough. Maybe the last decade of my life spent honing my craft as a performer and teacher was a waste of my time. Perhaps I should have left the profession years ago, before going into massive amounts of debt to follow my dreams as an artist.

That night, I was in a valley I never hope to revisit.

I thought about canceling the second day of interviews because what I really wanted to do was stay curled up in bed all day, watch Law & Order reruns on the TV, and try to forget the position I was in.

Instead, I got up that morning and struggled through the remainder of the interview in a complete fog.

Two days later, back at Bowling Green, the head of the search committee for the bassoon position knocked on my door. He wanted to tell me in person that I was a finalist for the job.

My seventh, and final, interview was secured.

Most artists leave out moments of struggle in their origin stories.

That is a problem. Moments of struggle make us complete, make us feel, make us human.

I’d like to say that all you need to do is persist and everything will work out, but that is far too optimistic.

Instead I’ll say this: there are millions of stories like the one I told above. That is the life of an artist.

Careers happen, but they are never built in a straight line and rarely end up where a person thought they would be in the end.

The life of an artist is one built on grit, flexibility, and a definition of success that is yours alone.

If you are reading this right now and you are in a valley, keep climbing.

We need you to tell your story and we need you to continue to bring beautiful things into the world.

Photo Credit: Clémence Bergougnoux

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Nate Zeisler is the Dean for Community Initiatives at the Colburn School in Los Angeles. He envisions a world where students majoring in the arts have a clear path to a sustainable career, where creative minds are empowered and inspired to rule the workforce, and where access to the arts is not just for the privileged few, but for all.

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