Lately, it seems, there have been many articles/blog posts about failing, or being a failure, and more to the point, what does it actually mean to be a failure or success.
For the most part it is people talking about how they have come to redefine success in the wake of failing to achieve what, for whatever reason, they thought it was they wanted to achieve. I think most people feel this in some way as they venture into careers that maybe aren't quite what they imagined for themselves or even want for themselves.
I am no stranger to these feelings, for as long as I can remember in my adult life I wanted to go all the way through the doctorate degree and teach at a college or university somewhere. Well, that didn't happen, and probably won't. I was not able to obtain the doctorate and I am not able to obtain a college/university job as I don't have a doctorate. (those out there with masters that have those jobs, count yourself very lucky!!) For a long time I felt that I had failed at my one and only goal in my life. I wanted to do this and compose and have a perfect little academic life.
Needless to day, life intervened in my plans and threw several curve balls my way that affected the outcome in various ways. Some curve balls are good of course, and some are kind of indifferent, they just are, and because of them, it makes other things impossible (location, location, location!)
So, after my son was born I had to fundamentally rethink they way I wrote to conform to my new life schedule. Which was the best thing ever, both for me personally (having a child) and for me as an artist. This new methodology has brought out the best music I have produced so far, in my opinion. So having this experience has forced me to rethink what it means to succeed. I am not a successful academic in the sense that I do not have a job in academia. I am not a very successful composer, as in I only get a handful of performances a year (if I'm lucky) and I have only had three commissions in my whole career (two of them while in school, only one since graduating). And this has been the cause of some mild down times in my head, but I always count myself relatively successful because, in spite of all of that, it never stops me from writing the next piece, whatever it is. The interesting thing is, since 95% of my music is not dictated by anything other than me saying "hmmm.. what do I want to write for" it is quite interesting and exciting at times. Having to self-impose limitations is always an interesting endeavor (since having no limitations is insane and often leads to staring at blank pages of manuscript for hours, days and weeks).
This is not to say I still don't have moments of "depression" about what I haven't been able to cross off my list of goals, but at least I can still call myself a successful composer/artist. I am still creating, I feel like each piece is better in some way then the last and those, to me, are the two most important things about being an artist of any kind.