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Play by Your Own Rules

In Media, Social, Travel by Nicholas Bunda2 Comments

I spent years sitting on bar stools with friends, talking about all of the reasons I couldn’t pursue music as a career. I talked about needing to be there for my family, and how I needed to provide for them and make responsible decisions. A good friend of mine listened to me ramble on like this during one drunken evening, and he said something so obvious and simple, but it changed my life forever. “Not playing music gives you more time with your family, but who would want to spend time with someone as miserable as you?” His statement was so deep and dramatic that it was almost comical. It wasn’t until the next day that I realized he wasn’t joking, and at that moment something exploded in my brain.

“I am a bad father. I am a bad husband.” I was available to my family in a literal sense. I had all the time in the world to play board games with my son, go to the park, watch movies, or talk with my wife about her day, but I was rarely using my time for those things. I was drowning myself in whiskey and hoping I would magically wake up to a brand new life. My personal unhappiness rendered me completely disconnected mentally and emotionally. I hated doing the “right” thing. In fact, I resented it. I’ll never be able to thank my wife and son enough for sticking it out with me during those years. They deserved so much more than I was able to give them.

One day not so long ago, my wife said, “I can’t keep doing this. I need you. Doing what you love will take you away from us, and that’s hard, but I need the best possible version of you even if that means I only get it every now and then.” She needed quality over quantity, and I needed that too. Long story short, we packed our life up and moved to Nashville this past July.

Now I do something for a living that most people can’t fathom doing, and I wonder if I’m only able to do it because something is broken inside of me. People often ask, “How can you be away from your family for so long?” Usually this ends up being less of a genuine question and more of an indictment on my role as a father and husband. I’ve had normal jobs, I’ve had short commutes, and I’ve had seasons of life where I slept in my own bed every night, but something always felt wrong. My days felt hollow and insignificant, I was apathetic, and my only goal each day was to find someone to commiserate with over 2 or 3 or 10 beers. I spent years working different jobs and I hated all of them. At one point I thought financial security would fix whatever is broken inside of me, so I took a job that paid really well and I’m sure you know where this is going – I still hated it.

Lately I spend a lot of my time in vans, tours busses, planes, cars, horse-drawn carriages, or any other mode of transportation you can imagine. I play the drums and tour manage bands for a living (among other things), but most days I feel more like a professional traveler. For the sake of comparison, my wife spends 20 minutes driving to work, works for 8 hours, and then spends 20 minutes driving home. She lays down each night in our bed and repeats that routine five days a week. For me, I spend 8 hours or more travelling to work, and then I “work” for 1 hour. When the work is done, I end my day alone in a hotel room, in a bunk on a bus, on a bench in a van, or on the floor of a stranger’s living room. Every day provides a brand new adventure and every tour is different from the last, but one thing always stays the same. The one constant in my life, my family, are lying alone in their beds thousands of miles away from me. So I’ll lie down in whatever city I’m in, and I’ll start to miss them and think life would be better if I wasn’t on the road. And then I’ll think about what that looks like, and I’ll remember the years I wasted at jobs I didn’t care about, or time spent at the bar getting drunk alone, and I’ll quickly remember my wife’s words. “I need the best possible version of you.” I may not always be there, but when I am, they get all of me.

I’ve played and worked for bands that nobody knows, bands that have sold millions of records, bands that have sold 100 records, artists with number one radio hits, and artists that would rather die than be on the radio. My time in this town has been short, and made even shorter by my busy tour schedule, but the pieces have fallen into place since day one. I don’t imagine it will stay like this forever. Hard times are inevitable in any walk of life. But for now, I’m actually happy. My son has his daddy back, my wife has her husband back, I’m doing things I never thought I would have the chance to do, and despite all obstacles, chasing down this crazy dream is really happening.

So how do I wrap this up? I guess I can’t. My story is very fluid; it’s being written every day that I walk out my front door. But I can leave you with one important lesson I’ve learned so far: “Stop playing by a set of rules that do not exist.” Over the past 6 months, I have met some of the most inspiring, talented, and driven individuals who are fearless in their pursuit of both professional and personal happiness. You probably know some of these people from television, books, or by taking a quick glance at your iTunes library. Over time I’ve realized that they’re no different from you and me. They simply looked at the status quo and said, “I think I’ll find another way.” It worked for them, it’s working for me, and it can work for you too. So if you’re anything like me, you’re going to need to go ahead and pay your bar tab, get a good night of sleep, and in the morning start playing by your own rules.


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  1. Kamryn

    Nick! Awesome to read, man! That time we had dinner and talked for a few hours at that Greek place near Kitamu over the summer, I could tell you had a great story. It’s inspiring! Don’t go with the flow man, be your own flow. Really hoping that your career as a musician makes you happy! See you in Columbus;)

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