For at least the past two years I’ve chosen a “word of the year” instead of making new year’s resolutions.
I’m not against resolutions - I think we should all use the momentum of change that comes with a fresh calendar in whatever way works for us. It’s great to have a push toward the things that we have been thinking about or desiring for our lives.
I love setting a word for the year because it provides a foundation to build on all year long; a thoughtful theme for all of my actions and experiences. Whatever word I choose can apply to my personal and professional goals, and my relationships with others and with myself.
Choosing a word allows me to focus on positive ways I would like to move forward by keeping a feeling or action in mind that I would like to bring into my daily life. It also helps with reflecting on the experiences I have, whether they’re good or bad, with a healthy distance because I can look through the lens of the word.
When I’m selecting a word for the year, I try not to force a choice. A lot of times something will happen, a conversation will spark inspiration, or I will read something that jumps out at me as the catalyst for my word choice. Going into 2022, that didn’t seem like it was going to happen.
I didn’t want to select my word out of thin air - I wanted to know I could weave it into all the things I have coming up in the new year, as well as the personal goals I have for myself.
I spent some time reflecting on what went well in 2021, and where I want to grow in 2022. I gave a lot of thought to a few exciting events and projects happening this year and what I think I need to cultivate to both do well at them and enjoy them.
And then I dove down the rabbit hole that is the thesaurus. I spent some time sorting through words that came to mind looking for one that had the right feel and fit.
Eventually I landed on spirit. It’s a word with many definitions, but this is the version that spoke to me:
1. the result of a positive and confident attitude 2. essence of courage, enthusiasm, and determination 3. energy, playfulness
I love the action of this word, and the way it reminds me that I can choose the attitude I bring to every situation. It reminds me that I can enjoy my experiences for what they are, and that it’s not just my abilities that matter but the essence of what I do, how I do it, and who I am.
So, here’s to living with spirit in 2022. And, a little encouragement to choose a word for yourself if you haven’t (it doesn’t need to be January 1st for this exercise to give you a boost toward how you want to feel and act in your life!).
Education is built upon a series of agreements from everyone involved.
The teacher or educator has accepted the responsibility of showing up prepared, being aware and respectful of the student and doing their best to deliver the material.
The student has accepted the responsibility of also showing up prepared, with an open mind, ready to learn, and to exercise self discipline.
Although this seems obvious, we often enter into these agreements blindly. A teacher may show up to class and simply recite material without engaging, or a student may just show up to a lesson without the conviction to put energy into their participation.
Being a student in 2022 is certainly different than it was twenty years ago, ten years ago, or even pre-pandemic. I find my students faced with towering academic expectations, endless distractions, and anxiety/general despondence. The world around us can make it difficult to focus or even figure out what the right thing to focus on is.
As a teacher, I give a lot of thought to how I can help my students face the challenges of education. Helping them develop an awareness of the unspoken agreements we make is a good start.
Even better, I can help them establish the agreements they need to make with themselves for a positive, healthy learning experience.
Below are the personal agreements I will share with my students as we begin a new semester so that we can have clear expectations for ourselves and each other as we enter our lessons and classes.
Personal Agreements for Healthy Learning:
In order to have a great educational experience, it is to the student’s benefit to have a clear understanding of the teacher’s expectations (as laid out in the studio policy).
Even more important is for the student to have a clear set of expectations for themselves - to have an outline for self discipline and keeping an open mind that creates a capacity for learning.
Accomplishing what you set out to do requires self respect, respect for others, willpower and commitment. Your time as a student is designed for you to develop these traits, and being conscious of how you are growing them will help create a healthy learning experience.
These are the standards I hold myself to in my interactions with you, and I encourage you to do the same in your personal life, our studio, and with your peers.
Although these are “personal agreements” and they ask you to show up for yourself, you are not alone in your commitment to learn. Remember that you have a support network and it is always available to you.
Being a good student, colleague, educator, professional, or human (!) requires humility and willpower. Having the willingness to show up for yourself, your instructors, your peers, or your future students will not always be easy but it will always be meaningful.
I _______________________________________________ commit to these self-agreements and a mindful approach to healthy learning on this (date) ______________________________________.
When the school year started I was craving a simplified way to share online. I wanted to write something useful that didn’t require constant engagement, so I started a monthly newsletter.
Over the past few months, I’ve really enjoyed figuring out what to include in it as I added a section for student events/accomplishments, my favorite book each month and a mindful moment with an exercise for increased physical or mental awareness.
For my last blog of 2021 (how did we get here?!) I thought it would be fun to recap all the Mindful Moments from the newsletter. There are only a few this year, but they are all things I do regularly and appreciate in my own life.
I try to post a blog every Thursday, and there is technically one left for the year after today. Instead of a blog next week, though, I’m planning to add several more “freebies” on my site that will be printable for all newsletter subscribers. If you aren’t subscribed to the newsletter yet, it will be a good one!
If this is your first blog, if you have read a few, or if you read often I’m grateful that you’re here. Thanks for sharing a little corner of the internet with me.
Now, on to the main event!
Mindful Moments of 2021
September - Time For A Stretch Break!
Have you noticed the tendency of those around you to crane their neck forward as they read on their phones? Maybe you notice yourself doing it!
Or, have you ever caught yourself pushing your head forward to meet your flute?
There is an epidemic of this forward neck position in our modern culture thanks to computers and phones (text neck, anyone?).
Any time we habitually use a muscle in a certain way, for better or worse, we create a pattern and pathway of movement. Repetitive motion reinforces the pattern of movement.
As a result of modern devices, most of us have a lack of mobility in the cervical spine.
So, what can we do to counteract text neck and regain mobility?
Simple neck stretches:
Sit or stand comfortably. Stack your ribs, chest and head over top of your hips.
Let your right ear drop toward your right shoulder. Release the weight of your head to the right. Repeat on the left side.
Let your chin drop toward your chest. Release the weight of your head down.
Look up, always making sure you can swallow. If you lose the ability to swallow, you've gone to far. Take a few deep breaths in and out through the nose as you look up.
Baby back bend:
Stand or sit comfortably with your arms at your sides. Inhale and reach your arms up and overhead bringing the palms together.
As you exhale, press down through your feet (or let your weight sink into the chair) and reach back slightly with the finger tips.
Inhale to reach back up to center.
Exhale to release the arms down.
Repeat two or three more times.
Easy keyboard/phone break:
In a sitting or standing position, bring your arms behind your lower back for a light bind, allowing the hands to rest on opposite forearms.
Take three long, slow breaths in and out through the nose.
Switch arms and repeat.
October - Create Space With Alignment
Last month's mindful moment helped us check in with our cervical spine - the part of our upper back and neck most affected by our use of modern devices.
Keeping our attention on the spine, this month we're considering the natural shape of the spine and how we can adjust our standing or sitting habits to allow the natural curves of the spine.
Did you know that the spine is not straight? This is an example of where body mapping can be tremendously helpful in our every day lives.
Although we might think of the spine as rigid, it is actually quite flexible. Its natural curves help us move freely and alleviate pressure on the delicate parts of the body it protects.
Because many of us sit and stand in a variety of unatural positions for most the of the day - think text neck, slouched forward when standing, leaning over a desk - we lose touch with how to create alignment in the spine comfortably.
Being in alignment shouldn't require us to exert extra energy, rather we should be able to let the body do what it is meant to do naturally.
So how can you create comfortable alignment?
Stack up in an Easy Seat:
Sitting down with both feet on the floor (or cross legged), find your ischial tuberosity or sit bones (the two pointy bones you can feel pressing into the chair).
Release your weight into the chair, letting it press down evenly through both sit bones. Relax the muscles around your hips and the muscles in your legs.
Notice where your rib cage is in relation to your hips. If it is in front of or behind the hips and sit bones, bring the ribs in line with the hips and sit bones.
Notice the alignment of the chest, then bring the chest in line with the ribs, the hips and the sit bones.
Notice the alignment of your head and bring it to rest on top of your chest, ribs, hips and sit bones.
Stay and breathe in and out through the nose slowly in this posture for at least five breaths.
The biggest benefit of this exercise is awareness. How does you spine feel now compared to before? How is this different than how you usally sit or stand?
You can recreate this alignment anywhere - even when standing!
November - Accepting Without Judgement
Something musicians struggle with that I believe we can all relate to is self-criticism. Being a musician requires that we critique our abilities in an effort to improve. Too often, though, that objective critical eye turns entirely to self-judgement.
Being overly self critical isn't something that only happens in the practice room, though.
We all experience it daily, by thinking offhanded thoughts like "why did I say that, it was so dumb" or "look at what that other person is doing, I'm so lazy and unsuccessful." There are so many other ways we discount our efforts or impede them when we are being judgemental or expecting too much of ourselves.
One of the things I love most about yoga and mindfulness meditation is the way both disciplines encourage self acceptance. Not in a fluffy, overly positive way, but through recognition of all the things we do and feel and the acceptance that they are neither good or bad, but simply parts of the present moment.
There are endless positive connotations to seeing your present moment with acceptance - think about a few ways this might benefit you!
Try if for yourself:
Sit comfortably. If you're somewhere you can relax, close your eyes.
Bring your attention to your breath. Don't try to change it, just notice where you can feel it entering and leaving the body.
Once you feel you're maintaing a simple awareness of the breath, become aware of the body sitting.
Notice what you feel. Maybe it's tension, sleepiness, restlessness, or that you are being bombarded by thoughts.
Try not to engage with any one thought or sensation beyond observing its existence.
Bring the attention back to the breath, accepting those things that you noticed as part of the present moment.
See if you can sit with this intention for 3 to 5 minutes, always returning to the breath after noting anything that comes up.
Take a few deep breaths before gently bringing your attention back to your surroundings.
The end of the year is such a busy time for musicians, that it can often feel like a game of survivor. I haven’t spent as much time over the last few weeks thinking about teaching concepts as I have just making sure I don’t miss any rescheduled lessons or rehearsals.
The thing that has been on my mind though is how little interest I have in social media when I’m this busy. I still share things and browse a bit, but the amount of time (and the amount of available brain space) I have is so reduced that it’s a great reminder what activities in our work lives (and personal lives) really matter the most.
How much time should I really be spending on social media and content, even when I’m not this busy?
It’s an important question to ask.
When Facebook and Instagram became popular I had very little interest in either. My interest in Instagram increased when I decided to dedicate a page to my studio, teaching, and performing. It’s fun to curate my ideas about music and teaching (which is also a big reason why I blog) and I enjoy creating posts that look nice together.
Even though it’s enjoyable to share on a nice looking Instagram feed, the last few weeks have me wondering if that time wouldn’t be better spent on my website or (gasp!) real life art and music.
Although I try to be really mindful of how and what I share, I often think like a lot of what I see on social media is phony, super watered down, or just not very useful. Given that outlook, it’s easy for me to feel like there’s not much of a point to generating content.
There are truly authentic and interesting musicians I’ve met online, or have been introduced to by friends via Instagram. They’re really interesting people and I feel like I learn a lot from them - but it can be so hard to find these types of people when you have to weed through so much stuff.
When I run out of steam to share and try to connect, it’s often because of that feeling of sifting through a lot of junk to find a few treasures. Who could possibly find the content I do create in this sea of messiness?
All of these seemingly discouraging aspects of social media have actually made me feel much better about the ebb and flow of sharing and about using resources outside of social media like my website and a monthly newsletter. I am reminded that not posting when I’m too busy for it, when I'm disinterested, or just not wanting to learn to make reels is ok.
If I’m going to be authentic in what I share, that means I need to be real in both the actual content and when/how I post. Perhaps this also means not going with the crowd, but using a platform or format that feels like it fits me better. Maybe I will reach less people this way, but it seems like those interactions would be more genuine and meaningful.
Nothing we do works unless it’s in alignment with our personal ideals, morals and motives. The world would have us believe we should all look alike and share in the same ways all the time, but that’s impossible and boring!
What are some ways you could get creative online that would feel authentic to you?
The best way for you to use social media, have a music career, or do anything is to do it like you.
Back when Facebook first started I made a gratitude post almost every Thanksgiving. I love seeing them pop up in the memories feature and being reminded of where I was finding pockets of joy over all those years.
I stopped sharing in such a personal way quite a while ago on social media. It’s hard to draw a line between “personal” and “professional” social media now - to me, it all feels public.
I have become more open with what I share, but with more parameters and boundaries. I will share openly about my experiences in my career and the ways that my personal life and work life come together, but now I prefer to keep detailed of my personal life much more to myself.
Seeing all my old gratitude posts in my memories on social media this week made me feel a little nostalgic. As I’ve gotten older, I think I have a less blindly optimistic perspective. As we age we experience so many joyful events, but we are also subject to more sadness, loss, and difficult situations. But I don’t feel less happy by any means. In fact, I think that the broader experience of life has left me generally more satisfied and fulfilled.
There is an article that I read when I was in college, and although I don’t remember where I read it I think of it often. It said something to the effect that the culture in the United States is one of the only ones that emphasizes that we should be happy all the time and avoid sadness and disappointment at all costs. Other cultures believe that happiness is only one part of the full experience of life, which should also include sadness, disappointment, and other undesirable and desirable emotions.
I’ve tried to carry this idea with me since then, that all the emotions we experience are necessary parts of our lives. As I develop a meditation practice and dive deeper into yoga, that same concept comes up in these ancient practices.
When I think about thankfulness this holiday season, I can see how both the best and worst parts of my year have played into the immense amount of gratitude I am able to feel this holiday season.
I started new jobs this year that are the culmination of hard work and a commitment to right effort toward the concepts and activities that I feel drawn to. I’m being challenged to step into a better version of myself in these positions, and to release the things and positions I have outgrown. It is both gratifying and exciting to feel that I am at a stepping off point for a new stage of my professional life.
On the other end of the spectrum, we lost a family member to cancer this year. It was an intense experience that spanned just under six months from diagnosis. We have spent very few weekends at home and a lot of time traveling. It left much of the time we did spend at home feeling less than productive and fairly disheveled.
But even embedded in this loss and deep rooted sadness, there is gratitude. We spent more time with family than we ever would have otherwise, we have talked about difficult emotions and losses, and we have a new appreciation for our time together and each other. All of these things are positive, although it is grief and loss that brought them about.
Considering all of these events and emotions, I realized that what I am most grateful for this holiday season is perspective. I am grateful to understand that all of the events we experience are important to the full scope of our lives. I am grateful that as we age and continue to grow our life view grows with us.
Of course I wish that my whole family was together this Thanksgiving without illness and loss, but I am still sitting with deep gratitude for what we do have.
I hope that if your year has included something good or something bad, or more likely if it has included both, that you can find some gratitude through your perspective this holiday season. Gratitude in your ability to feel both happiness and sadness, and to make the most of all the experiences of your life.
Wishing you peace, joy and gratitude this Thanksgiving and always.
Musicians spend an incredible amount of time in lessons, masterclasses, studio classes and ensembles from the time we begin to play our instrument. From the first sound until you graduate from your final degree or certificate, we are led and supported by mentors and peers.
And then…it stops.
The community support of being in school evaporates at our final graduation. It can feel as if the competition meter gets turned to max and we suddenly need to prove our worth at every turn. Where before (if we are in a healthy learning environment) there is room for exploration and mistakes, now we must suddenly and magically know how to navigate whatever is thrown at us.
Our training leads us to believe that this is the way it should be. That once you walk out the school doors for the last time you will understand exactly how to proceed with job applications, auditions, evaluations of your teaching, rigorous tenure processes and more.
For a while, this might work. The belief that we can figure it out can carry us a long way. But music is a field that brings tremendous highs and lows - a great performance, a bombed audition; a fantastic rehearsal, a student who is disruptive and unresponsive.
Eventually though, a version of decision fatigue sets in. We are constantly analyzing and questioning ourselves, and it might feel like the whole world is doing the same.
After a particularly high point in my own career development, I had a sudden and jarringly negative performance experience. It rattled my sense that I knew what I was doing. Had I just been making it up all along? Were all of the positive things that happened coincidences? When was everyone else going to realize that I was flying blind?
What followed was a rough patch of anxiety and self doubt. We all go through these ups and downs, but this time felt different. I just couldn’t pull myself out of it, and the fear that others might see a weakness in my performance abilities was overwhelming.
Then a friend suggested that I read George Mumford’s book The Mindful Athlete. Mumford turned his life around through mindfulness and went on to coach the Chicago Bulls and the LA Lakers in mindfulness. Some of the topics he teachers are right effort and flow.
The book was eye opening to me, and the beginning of a shift in my thinking. If athletes like Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant and Lebron James at the absolute highest level of their career were getting coached on mindset and flow, why did I think I needed to figure it out all alone, by myself?
As I continued to grow an interest in mindfulness and performance mindset I also started to more deeply explore yoga and anatomy.
Again and again as I was learning about the mind and body I kept thinking, why isn’t anyone teaching and coaching musicians on these topics?
How much stress, anxiety and injury could we avoid with a better understanding of our anatomy, brain and nervous system?
Even further, how much could we benefit from continued outside perspective on the way we approach our craft?
I don’t think we have to look very far for the answer.
If you’ve ever watched the olympics, you are bound to have seen an event where the expected champion had a poor run and didn’t medal, or won a bronze instead of a gold. Are they disappointed in the outcome? Yes, of course. Do they come back and try again? Almost always.
Athletes at the highest level spend all their energy on building the skills they need, including mindset, with continued feedback, and when you compare them to musicians I think the difference in emotional response becomes clear.
Through their training and receiving immediate and outside feedback athletes are miles ahead of us at believing in their strengths and developed abilities, and knowing that one bad day does not predict the future or define our worth.
Think about it this way - the NBA is full of the world’s most talented basketball players, and yet in every game one team is guaranteed to lose. One team is bound to make mistakes and not play up to the level of their opponents. Do those losses define them? No, they become the material from which they grow.
Compare these examples to how we often feel like a terrible or inadequate musician after an out of tune note or a crummy rehearsal (let alone a bad audition) and I think it becomes clear that athletes are doing something right.
There is a perception in our field that if you ask for help or instruction after a certain point you are a bad musician, not enough, or unworthy.
I think that’s total garbage, and that the biggest key to a healthier career and workplace for musicians is to get over this idea that we must be superhuman.
You might be starting to think, well, that’s all fine, but how do I apply it to my own life if I can’t afford lessons, a personal trainer, mindfulness guide and mindset coach?
I think there are a lot of ways we can open bring feedback and continued learning into our lives, some of which don’t cost a thing.
Ideas for creating support and connection:
My best teachers taught me that we are students for life.
We never stop learning, and you never know what you might learn tomorrow, next year, or in five years that will change your perspective and help you move to the next level.
I want to point out here that I'm not suggesting we don't trust the skills we have grown. We have to stay in touch with our abilities and our intuition. What I am suggesting is that perhaps one of the most important ways we can unlock a more gratifying experience is through insight from trusted sources and community with those who inspire us.
As part of my own commitment to learning and creating a system of feedback and community, I enrolled in George Mumford’s Mindful Athlete course this fall. Every six months there’s a study group where we dive deep into how we can expand our access to what George calls “the masterpiece within” through the concepts of mindfulness.
I just finished my first study group this week, and the process of learning in a community of others who also want to live and work with intention and heart was so rewarding.
I’m not going it alone, and I don’t have to. Neither do you.
Through sharing what we’re learning and how we’re growing we all become better, so let me know: how do you bring feedback and community into your professional life
When you went to school for music, what did you want to do?
What did you hope to be?
A soloist? An orchestral musician? A music teacher or college professor?
If I think back to the beginning of my undergraduate degree, I wanted to be a music teacher in a public school. Shortly after starting school I realized that I loved teaching, but that I wanted to focus on teaching the flute rather than all the instruments. My goal shifted to being a college professor, or maybe a private studio teacher until my other plans came together.
My friends at the time had goals very similar to mine. We admired those who already had orchestral jobs, professorships, or taught in successful music programs.
We set our sights on these lofty and limited positions and got to work.
As we finished our degrees we took, and were rejected from, grad school auditions and job interviews. Of course we were accepted to a few and we all moved on to the next stepping stone, maybe a little stung from the rejection of the programs and positions we deemed not quite ready for, but still determined
As we all went our separate ways there continued to be measurements of our abilities. A jury, a concerto competition, a job interview, a teaching evaluation. We were always being measured against something, and presumably these measurements, criteria, and categories would prepare us to move up the next rung in the classical music ladder.
I was fortunate, through good fortune, hard work and tears, to have moderate success at each rung. I went to good schools and had great teachers. My playing improved. After graduate school, I got an adjunct job and grew a private studio.
Everything was coming together toward my goal.
I started to feel dissatisfied. I wasn’t really playing much, and when I did play I worried so much that it needed to be perfect I didn’t really enjoy making music at all.
I was bored with my very predictable routine, although I loved teaching and working with all of my students.
I decided the answer was to move and challenge myself more. I uprooted and moved half way across the country to try again.
But, eventually, the same dissatisfaction crept in. I felt bored, listless, and unmotivated.
I had achieved many of the goals I set as a freshman in college, so shouldn’t I feel happier? As I was faced these goals I’d had in mind for years head on I felt a strange separation from them.
I had set them so long ago, did I still want the same things? They were the things we were told were prestigious and that we should aspire to, but did I really want them?
Even when I “achieved” them, there was still a higher level to reach. In some ways, that’s the great thing about music - we can always improve, always grow and learn. But does the target ever stop moving?
Many of us sacrifice relationships, where we live, and how we spend so much of our life for these moving targets without any guarantee of ever reaching them.
Of course, we love what we do. There’s no way we would dedicate the time and effort that it requires otherwise. And I’m certainly not suggesting that our traditional goals aren’t worthwhile.
But too much attention to finding success from an external source, worthwhile or not, will leave us disappointed and dissatisfied. We feel watched and judged, not good enough. We often feel alone and forget that other musicians are going through the same things.
Ultimately, the thing that started to bring satisfaction back into my musical life was getting in touch with why I love what I do. Why do I enjoy teaching? Why do I love to make music?
Remembering why we are driven to be in music can also help us remember what we have to offer - what makes us unique and able to contribute.
When we lose sight of our “why”s and get too focused on the moving target of a career (especially in classical music) we can find ourselves striving toward something incredibly demanding without enjoying the challenge.
So why do you want to be a musician? (Subtract the fame and glamour!) Why do you want to teach others about music? (Forget about the “big job” and admiration you might some day win!)
What is it deep down that drives your dedication?
If we always let others set the bar for us we may never be good enough. If we remember our strengths, our reasons, and set our own bar then we are more likely to find success that is personally gratifying.
There is so much joy to be found in music, but the real joy is found when you’re not worried about anyone else’s moving target.
Success becomes available to you when you tap into the joy of learning how to identify it for yourself.
Many musicians feel like playing their instrument is home - we are encouraged to view our instrument as an extension of ourselves, a part of our voice. And truly, it can be a very organic expression of our thoughts and feelings.
But what happens when playing your instrument doesn’t feel comfortable?
When you are growing as a musician, inevitably, you will have periods of time that you are making adjustments and questioning how you play or what you want to do in your career. Those times of experimentation and discovery are crucial for growth, but they can leave us feeling unsettled.
If you’re a student who is about to graduate or someone who has newly entered the “real world” after music school, you may relate to that feeling of being misplaced in a big way. We are offered so many amazing resources in school - ensembles, mentors, peers, chamber music, plentiful practice time - that when we are suddenly removed from that environment it is quite jarring.
In my own life, I’ve gone through several of these moor-less periods, both in and out of school. They are often connected to times when I feel my playing is shifting and changing. Somehow, it seems that feeling a newness or discomfort in my routine of flute playing reflects a much bigger shift in my life.
And I suppose that it’s true - we grow and change over the course of our lives, and that affects the way we approach being a musician.
There are obvious examples and many, many more subtle ones. Leaving school and still needing to grow as a musician without somewhere to perform is a large hurdle. Realizing that you have dedicated a lot of time to something that hasn’t helped you grow as a person or musician the way you’d hoped feels like a monumental observation. Dedicating time and effort to your health will change how you feel in your body and affect your playing.
In the past, and especially when I was a recent graduate, this feeling that a tether, to a place or the way I did things in the past, had been severed seemed to present only one option. To dig in with resolve and forge ahead doing what I was told to do in school or to keep doing the same things I had been and wait for the feeling to pass.
But now, I’m realizing that these phases are a call to create a new home in myself. A new sense of belonging, whether that is in leaving something that has run its course behind or trusting the musical skills I have cultivated as a flutist over my life since I was eight.
One of the most exciting things to me about a life in music was that I had choices. I could build a career out of the things that spoke to me, create a unique schedule and follow uncharted paths.
But as music students and young professionals, there is a distinct message that to be respected and successful you really must follow the things that speak to you on a sometimes unspoken but traditional path … orchestral work, music administration, college teaching, etc..
In choosing to deviate from what's expected, it can become hard to resist the feelings of self-criticism or concern about how you will be viewed professionally, even when you know you don’t want to do something that is admired.
I have challenged myself this year to pursue the things that really speak to me. I have left a few things behind or said no to things that I would have jumped at five years ago. In some ways, it has made me feel much freer to understand the parts of music that I am not meant for right now. In other ways, it has handed a microphone to that tiny critical voice that says things like “you are only doing something else because you are not good enough to truly be 'successful'.”
What I wish I would have realized as a young musician is that the tiny critical voice, that sometimes shouts very loudly, is usually just fear.
When you pinpoint what it is you truly want, is it surprising that fear shows up to say, “but what if you can’t actually do it?”
If you are facing big decisions, allow yourself to sit with your fear. Will you be guaranteed to succeed if you make a change? No, but will you grow and learn? Will you be doing something you can genuinely be invested in?
If you are a student or a new graduate, allow yourself to sit with your fear. Ask yourself what careers and who you admire, then ask yourself why.
If you understand your why, then you will be able to follow it to the path that’s meant for you.
Find a quiet space where you feel safe. Close your eyes and feel your breath, listen to the sounds around you and then go inward. Be open and notice what shows up.
It’s not simple, but you have to remember that in life and in music, no one holds all the answers for you. You have what you need to create the space that feels like home, but you have to be willing to hold that space for yourself. No one else can do it for you.
Do you ever just want to rant?
It’s not often, but occasionally I find myself wanting to sound off about everything that is annoying me.
Or, I’ll find myself constantly thinking about a particular topic, but focusing on what other people are doing around that topic that irritates me.
As I started to write today’s blog I got into a rhythm of ranting (aka complaining) about the particular thing that was on my mind. Thankfully I realized it before I hit post. Complaining may make us feel better temporarily, but beyond that it doesn’t really do us any good.
So what should we do when we find ourselves wanting to rant or stuck in a cycle of complaining?
Take it as a sign.
When we get stuck in a loop, what it really means is that we are not spending our time well. Maybe we’re spending too much time watching other people do things, we’re obsessing over something we can’t change, or maybe we’re just not taking action.
In my case, I’ve been spending a lot of time mulling over some aspects of social media and using the internet to build out a career in music that don’t feel right to me.
Like most aspects of our lives, if something seems off or our gut feeling is that an action or activity is not for us, it usually isn’t. We have to trust our instinct in order to remain authentic, but that can be difficult when our gut tells us not to join the masses.
Instead of spending your energy doing something you don’t want to do, or that isn’t authentic to you or your goals (or instead of spending all your energy complaining about it), refocus it on what would feel authentic.
If you didn’t feel any obligation to conform, how would you communicate and share with others?
How would you shape your day?
How would you shape your career?
When I was in school, there was a popular assignment to write a letter to your past self. I think this is a fairly common exercise in self reflection for any age.
There is a great deal of value in looking back on the experiences of our lives, both happy and challenging, with the perspective we gain over time.
Maybe you have also done the other version of this activity where you write a letter to your future self listing all your most ambitious goals and what you hope to achieve.
There is value in looking ahead and visualizing what you sincerely hope will come true. However, as I move through my career and life reflecting back on the experiences I have had and imagine what might lie ahead, I feel like there is a more impactful way to do this exercise.
Instead of looking ahead at all our loftiest ambitions (I will have a full time orchestra job and live in a large house), we might benefit from shifting the focus to be more subtle, more inward. What do you want your life to feel like? What type of people do you hope to be surrounded by? How would you like to show up in your life for yourself and others?
Rather than spend our future-focus on external achievements, we could imagine what we will achieve in our emotions, wellbeing, and in our relationships with and impact on others.
Writing to ourselves in this way lets us acknowledge all the work we have already done, all the things we already know to be true about ourselves, and all the ways we hope we will honor that knowledge in the future.
September 30, 2021
Dear Future Me,
I hope that you are following your gut. I know that sometimes you can feel a strong sense of responsibility to things that you have outgrown. It is ok to do your best and then move on to what is a better fit for your life and skills.
I hope that you are being creative in your teaching. You have so much more energy to guide your students when you are exploring music you love and concepts that you know will help them in music and life. Maybe you have explored a lot more about how mindfulness and yoga can be incorporated into teaching young musicians and are sharing it with others!
I hope that you are making time for friendships and your closest relationships. Life is so much richer when you have more time to spend it with the people, and pets, you love.
I hope that you are continuing to define success on your own terms. You always feel more “successful” when you are reading and learning, making music and having lots of different experiences.
I hope you are still using mindfulness as a tool to navigate perfectionism, reminding yourself that each moment is new and fluid and the most you can do is to stay present in the right now.
I hope you are creating space.
With love and acceptance,
Hi, I'm Morgann! Flutist, teacher, aspiring yogini, and life long learner figuring out how to create my way through life one crazy idea at a time.