My personal struggles with ethics and purpose are described a couple posts ago:
There I described my questions about Kant's categorical imperative and the stress of responsibility I may have had due to the implication that one should be a role model for the world. I decided to let that go.
However, I have not become comfortable with the idea of simply pursuing purely selfish desires. I recently was referred to an excellent video featuring Dan Pink. This particular one happens to be an entertaining and accessible, illustrated version of a talk he has given a few times that is also available in live video such as from TED. The illustrated version is here:
He describes the well-studied, essentially proven fact that external rewards actually reduce achievement for tasks that are anything more than mindlessly mechanical. When people are faced with complex challenges with no obvious solution, they are motivated primarily by three things: A. autonomy, B. desire for mastery, B. purpose (no particular order).
This isn't dramatically new to me, but it always helps to be reminded of things, especially with such clarity. Here's how these relate to my situation:
A. I am autonomous. I'm self-employed. Despite mixed issues with that, I'm very hesitant to give it up to go join some business or academic bureaucracy. I appreciate my autonomy and am definitely motivated by my ability to make of my business whatever I can. I do have desire for collaboration though, and I'm still working to figure out the best decisions in that direction.
B. Desire for mastery: the challenge that music presented is a large part of why I ended up in music. Mathematics and science were interesting but very easy for me as a young student. Being more understanding of mathematics than most of my peers or teachers, I felt unchallenged and had low motivation. Music was an area where I felt just talented enough that I believed it wasn't impossible for me to achieve something but still felt very challenged and humbled. On a side-note, I read that renowned biologist Richard Dawkins claims the reverse: that he had a knack for music and could pick up tunes on any instrument. He liked the music but found it un-motivating and never really pursued it with any seriousness. Science he found more challenging.
Anyway, today I have an issue with this mastery/challenge. I have progressed to the point where I am no longer completed awed by musical skills. I know that if I invest certain levels of time and energy I can achieve things I once found baffling and impossible. I am definitely still challenged. If I decide to pursue a musical skill, I do not find it boring and easy. But I have lost some of the passion I once had now that I know enough about what to do and what it is like to master something.
This brings me to the most important element:
C. Purpose? What purpose does music have? For what purpose am I working at what I do?
In previous posts here I have described music's functions and benefits. Great, that's something, but what purpose do I have in that? I am unconvinced that anyone needs me to make new music in order for those functions and benefits of music to be available to the public. I do realize that my particular students appreciate and gain from my teaching and that's motivating to a certain extent. If I have a student who is happy, well-adjusted, and not especially desperate for the benefits of music but is motivated and interested enough to still work hard... well, it's fun to teach them but it doesn't seem of extreme importance in the grand scheme of things. I don't think of music as clearly superior to most other fields as some musicians seem to believe.
Perhaps music therapy would be worth pursuing. There are other angles I've thought of as well. Perhaps I just need to develop my teaching in a direction that is even more purposeful and focused and promote it as such. Sometimes I think I really should have gone into science or engineering after all, and maybe I still should...
At this point, I don't know all the answers, but it is nice to have an answer as to a framework for thinking about it all. The need for purpose is what drove me to think about Kant's categorical imperative, and maybe if I interpret the imperative as just meaning that everyone should be purposeful and consider the greater public interest in their actions, then maybe I can still hold on to that value without feeling like I'm responsible for anyone besides myself. For now, autonomy and mastery are successfully keeping me going and I'm fulfilling my desire for purpose by putting in time and energy exploring the question.