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What is a good word for describing how a pursuit or occupation requires a lot of effort without there being much reward or recognition?

eg. So much of his time and effort went into practicing the piano. He was a mildly depressed person, knowing at the back of his mind that a career in classical music is always difficult and often _______.

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Fruitless is fine. Futile, hopeless are words which I use with my son, who is studying orchestral percussion, and which equally characterize my characterizations. :) –  StoneyB Nov 19 '12 at 1:05
    
@stoneyB Awww! :-) –  Kristina Lopez Nov 19 '12 at 1:28
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6 Answers

Being an amateur musician, I understand this well:

Farfetched

Pipe dream

EDIT

Main Entry: pipe dream Function: noun Etymology: from the fantasies brought about by the smoking of opium Date: 1896: an illusory or fantastic plan, hope, or story (from the Merriam-Webster Dictionary)

Web definitions Brought from far away; Not likely; difficult to believe; outlandish; wild; impractical. (en.wiktionary.org/wiki/far-fetched)

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I don't think either of these actually fits in the OP's sentence. –  JSBձոգչ Nov 19 '12 at 2:26
    
@JSBangs, while my suggestions may be a bit more idiomatic, they most certainly do fit the OP's criteria as either word could ultimately be what a slightly depressed musician could feel about their chances to make it in music. In deference to your scepticism, I've edited my answer to provide definitions. –  Kristina Lopez Nov 19 '12 at 4:37
    
The problem isn't that I don't know what they mean, or that they're too "idiomatic" (?), but that neither of them can be plugged into the example sentence that the original post provided and make much sense. –  JSBձոգչ Nov 19 '12 at 5:13
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@jsbangs, in your opinion. In my opinion both words fit the OP's sentence and add a nuance to the intended meaning: "... that a career in classical music is difficult and often farfetched." or "... That a career in classical music is difficult and often a pipe dream." As to idiomatic, I don't know why you questioned that choice of word: "Adjective - Using, containing, or denoting expressions that are natural to a native speaker: "distinctive idiomatic dialogue". –  Kristina Lopez Nov 19 '12 at 5:39
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Besides Stoney's suggestion of futile and your own implicit ones of unrewarding and unrecognised, I'd also consider unrequited which can be employed in the sense of not getting back what you've put in ...

So much of his time and effort went into practising the piano. He was a mildly depressed person, knowing at the back of his mind that a career in classical music is always difficult and often unrequited.

Unrequited:

Unanswered; not returned; not reciprocated; not repaid.

1872, Mark Twain, Roughing It, ch. 61,
One of my comrades there—another of those victims of eighteen years of unrequited toil and blighted hopes—was one of the gentlest spirits that ever bore its patient cross in a weary exile.

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Lackluster. Often lackluster. The musicians' unions see that pay scales and experience match. Some people believe that classical concert careers are more conservative than, say, rock or hip-hop--and with good cause.

So much of his time and effort went into practicing the piano. He was a mildly depressed person, knowing at the back of his mind that a career in classical music is always difficult and often lackluster.

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Most often the classical music scenario is academic in content and venue. –  Anear Foru Nov 19 '12 at 4:39
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... a career in classical music is always difficult and often

frustrating: making you feel annoyed because you cannot achieve or do what you want
vain: producing no result; useless
an exercise in futility
or simply
pointless: having little or no sense, use, or purpose.

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... always difficult and often (all) for naught.

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Thankless.

I just searched the web and found it common to say some job is thankless.

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