Compromises can make great work possible. I know that sounds counterintuitive.

But it seems to have worked for Johann Sebastian Bach, who could not rely solely on composing to keep himself afloat. At one point, he had to choose between a court appointment and a post as a church organist and music master. Each had its drawbacks, according to a book review of Bach: Music in the Castle of Heaven in the Economist. Bach shuttled between the two jobs and even was jailed a while when he tried to leave his job at the Weimar court for a better one. Finally, in 1723, he accepted a job as cantor, or choirmaster, in charge of music at a Lutheran church known as Thomaskirche in Leipzig, Germany. He stayed there until his death.

Bach was not the church’s first choice. He got the cantor job, which involved directing the St. Thomas Boys Choir, only after two earlier candidates turned it down, according to a New York Times article.

Perhaps the earlier picks knew something Bach did not. Work conditions were far from ideal. Leipzig would not spend enough to give him the best singers and instrumentalists his music demanded. He had to teach a lot. He later complained that 17 of 55 choristers were unproficient. And a council tried to rein him in whenever he tried to introduce something too adventurous. Plus there was musical politics to contend with.

But one thing was ideal. Bach’s main goal was to compose “a well-regulated or orderly church music to the Glory of God,” he once told an earlier employer. At Thomaskirche he got his wish and was able to write a lot of great church music. For most of one three-year span, he wrote a new cantata, about 20 minutes of music, for each Sunday church service, plus a variety of other music along the way.

My takeaway: Some compromises open the door to doing what you really want to be doing. It’s not all black and white when it comes to compromises, although it may sound like “settling” to hardcore idealists. It  helps to remember that Bach had 20 children. While not all survived to adulthood, his ever growing brood must have motivated him to seek financial stability as he pursued his musical dreams.