Dream, Focus, Follow and Never Give Up

By John Gardner

DreamAnyone with a Facebook or Twitter account can find entries like, “Ugh, have to work today” or “only 2 more hours ’til I get off”. And many of these posts are from teens that have just entered the work force. If they say this after their first few months, can you imagine what life will be like after they’ve been at it for decades? They get it from their parents, though, who often make the same complaints. Stop doing what you hate.


Students often have to work jobs to help pay their way through college…. and sometimes those jobs provide encouragement to finish the degree. My college grunt work jobs included dishwasher, fast food handler and 3rd shift custodian. Summer work was in a stock room in a large Cincinnati department store. Those minimum wage jobs were not fun, but were temporary and served a purpose. Those jobs pushed me to succeed in college.

As seniors (and even juniors) begin to decide on college majors and career directions, I often hear variations of, “I’d love to do music, but I want to make more money, so I’m going into…..”

“God Bless, Good Luck, 
and may you and your money 
live happily ever after.” -G

But what do you WANT to do?

I was a 7th grader at a Band Clinic at Morehead State University when I purchased my first conductor’s baton. I wanted to direct a band.

Step one: DECLARE your dream.

The declaration is the easy part, but important. Once you put it out there you give yourself a clear target to go after.

Step two: Plan your Work and then Work your Plan. 

It was good that I had five years to get ready for college because my sad realization was that, as one of five children raised by a single, physically handicapped polio survivor, mom couldn’t help much financially. No one on either side of my family had ever been to college, so I had no family mentor or example, but I knew I had to go. But how?

Given my financial reality and mediocre grades, the only way I was going to college was to qualify for scholarships base on my music performance.

I started taking clarinet lessons in 8th grade after my band director told my mother I needed and deserved them, and that she should find a way to make them happen. So…. I got a paper route. Don’t lament what you think you CAN’T afford.

In high school, my band director insisted that I study with a particular teacher. We couldn’t afford him, but he agreed to let me “audition” for his consideration. He made me a deal that went something like this:

You do need … and deserve clarinet lessons … and I can teach you. The problem is, you can’t afford me. I have a bad heart, a big house with  a big yard and I need help cutting grass, shoveling snow and doing other things around my house. If you will help me take care of my house and grounds, I will give you clarinet lessons UNTIL the day you show up here unprepared.

I took the deal.

You can read about my band director and clarinet teacher in an article I wrote called “Four Influential Men“.

When they told me I needed a better clarinet, my dad offered to pay for half. So, I continued my paper route and added some grass cutting … and a lemonade stand on the golf course down the street — to raise the other half. Thanks for making me work, dad.

After a high school career of solo/ensemble contests, district and all-state bands, clinics and summer music camps…. I was able to go to college on a full ride scholarship. I bought my first car as a senior in college with excess scholarship monies.

I continued to focus on that dream during college and accepted my first teaching position four days BEFORE college graduation.

What is YOUR dream? It is okay if it is way out thee, especially if you have some time to get ready for it. And since none of us know that we don’t have time, it is never to late to follow your dream.

Step three: FOCUS like a laser and NEVER, NEVER, NEVER GIVE UP!

“Never give in–never, never, never, never, in nothing great or small, large or petty, never give in except to convictions of honor and good sense. Never yield to force; never yield to the apparently overwhelming might of the enemy.”
― Winston Churchill


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17 yrs experience as a high school band director. 14 yrs as college adjunct faculty. 30+ yrs in the fundraising industry and 24 yrs as a small business owner. (Don't add all those up.). Experience in both the fundraising sales and education worlds give me a unique combination of perspectives in both. I love working with the youthful enthusiasm of today's teenage achievers and with those who work with them. Also 4yrs as proprietor of VirtualMusicOffice.com, which offers a wide variety of virtual services including web/blog design/hosting/managing, social media management (scheduling posts/tweets for maximum impact and brand enhancement) and small business consulting - specializing in school product fundraising.

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