In order to tell what I believe, I must briefly sketch something of my personal history.
The turning point of my life was my decision to give up a promising business career and study music. My parents, although sympathetic and sharing my love of music, disapproved of it as a profession. This was understandable in view of the family background. My grandfather had taught music for nearly 40 years at Springhill College in Mobile and, although much beloved and respected in the community, earned barely enough to provide for his large family. My father often said it was only the hard-headed thriftiness of my grandmother that kept the wolf at bay.
As a consequence of this example in the family, the very mention of music as a profession carried with it a picture of a precarious existence with uncertain financial rewards. My parents insisted upon college instead of a conservatory of music, and to college I went — quite happily, as I remember, for although I loved my violin and spent most of my spare time practicing, I had many other interests.
Before my graduation from Columbia, the family met with severe financial reverses and I felt it my duty to leave college and take a job. Thus I was launched upon a business career — which I always think of as the wasted years.
Now I do not for a moment mean to disparage business. My whole point is that it was not for me. I went into it for money and aside from the satisfaction of being able to help the family, money is all I got out of it. It was not enough. I felt that life was passing me by. From being merely discontented I became acutely miserable. My one abmition was to save enough to quit and go to Europe to study music.
I used to get up at dawn to practice before I left for “downtown,” distracting my poor mother by bolting a hasty breakfast at the last minute. Instead of lunching with my business associates, I would seek out some cheap cafe, order a meager meal and scribble my harmony exercises. I continued to make money, and finally, bit by bit, accumlated enough to enable me to go abroad. The family being once more solvent, and my help no longer necessary, I resigned from my position and, feeling like a man released from jail, sailed for Europe. I stayed four years, worked harder than I had ever dreamed of working before and enjoyed every minute of it.
“Enjoyed” is too mild a word. I walked on air. I really lived. I was a free man and I was doing what I loved to do and what I was meant to do.
If I had stayed in business I might be a comparatively wealthy man today, but I do not believe I would have made a success of living. I would have given up all those intangibles, those inner satisfactions that money can never buy, and that are too often sacrificed when a man’s primary goal is financial success.
When I broke away from business it was against the advice of practically all my friends and family. So conditioned are most of us to the association of success with money that the thought of giving up a good salary for an idea seemed little short of insane. If so, all I can say is “Gee, it’s great to be crazy.”