You can't even fart on the job. You go deaf from playing for decades among instruments as loud as a jackhammer. You are naked. You fight to control little pieces of wood which last only a few days at their peak. Then you begin again. If you have a bad day, everyone knows. You sit next to the same people all the time, sometimes for 20-30 years. You are all incredibly full of yourselves, otherwise you wouldn't be where you are, yet most of you are also insecure from years of self-deprecating thinking, "It's just not good enough!" "I failed to play perfectly, again!" "And again".
You wake up in the morning after practicing 6 hours the day before, and it feels like you have to start all over from the bottom, pushing up the boulder inch by inch, striving for the top of the mountain whose height disappears beyond the clouds. It seems hopeless sometimes, spending all that time for what? to play 25 or 50 notes perfectly in tune and in rhythm, when thousands of others can already do the same. What the heck are you accomplishing for the needy world by doing that????? Oh yes, you can be proud of your accomplishments, especially to people who ask you "Do you get paid to do that?" Yes, I have really been asked that, more than once.
Yet you know that somewhere up the mountain, beyond the clouds, is some effervescent reward, a glass of champagne without the liquid, a feeling of speaking a language of gods, or at least understanding it deeply and attempting to speak it. If you have any sense, you are in awe of those who make great music, or if you are truly a great musician, you are humbled by your gift. But the striving to reach that reward seems disproportionate to it. It's so ephemeral.
There's the glow of basking in audience appreciation, but that happy bubble is usually popped moments later by the memory of the imperfections of your performance. It's never perfect. Yet we strive and agonize for decades toward it. Perhaps it's ego, proving our greatness, our superiority. But no, I don't think so, at least not for long. Failing so much in the attempt to perfect is quite humbling. It must be the music, when we remember to listen as we play, when we notice Schubert's or Brahms' or Jeanjean's exquisite melodies for the first time after playing them for 20 years. Perhaps that makes it worth it. Perhaps not.
Coming close to the sublime musical language of gods is what we all strive for. Even a small taste is enough to keep one coming back. When we remember this, the discomfort of daily life as a performer is worth it. Until then, it's because, because, because we always have. Obsession has its sporadic rewards.