Raise your hand if you have ever felt depleted, over-scheduled, or exhausted with lots of responsibilities that still need your attention?
Everyone? Ok. (If this has never been you, I’d love to hear how you do it. Please write me!)
Hopefully you’re not experiencing this type of exhaustion or burnout all the time, but it is incredibly common among professional musicians and music students (a topic for another blog, or many!).
So what do we do when we’re feeling tapped out but we have a lot of work to do? Especially if we need to practice our instruments and don’t want to indulge bad habits or sloppy work that will do more harm than good?
Short of a caffeine drip - which I have considered on numerous occasions - there are some real, actionable things we can do to infuse our practice with energy even when we are feeling more like taking a nap than opening our case. Some of these are quite obvious but perhaps still places you could refine your approach, and many are things I overlooked for too long as a younger player and student.
* Plan/Block your time:
This is not a scenario of “I will always practice for an hour at 8AM.” Rather, if you are feeling over-extended or burned out, think of this as survivalist time blocking. Look at your busy schedule for the next week or two (more than two when we are truly up to our ears in busy becomes too overwhelming). Consider each day’s activities and when you will have the most time/energy for practice. Prefer morning practice but can’t fit it in? Plan for the next best window you can find on each day. Don’t aim for perfection - when we’re truly short on time, twenty good minutes are infinitely better than no minutes at all or an hour of terrible practice at the end of an already long day.
* Use the time you have set aside wisely:
Maybe you played for five hours the day before (not uncommon if you have a double rehearsal or a student schedule) and your muscles are fatigued. Could you dedicate half your allocated practice block to listening, score/part study, and visualization exercises? Especially for students, these element of learning music are underrated and typically underutilized - we can save a lot of struggle if we understand the piece, how we fit in, and what sections genuinely need our attention. Using these practice strategies also helps keep us from unintentionally creating bad habits by over-playing.
Related to using your time wisely, there are many things we can do that don’t require putting the instrument together at all, some of which I listed above: score study, listening, researching the context of the piece, imagery/visualization practice (athletes truly understand the value of this last one and we musicians are missing out), eating a good meal, and getting an extra hour of sleep.
Yes it’s annoying, yes it seems like we could probably skip it, yes it is absolutely necessary. When we are playing more than normal we might feel as if our muscles are ready to go all the time, which is precisely what will lead to overuse injuries and bad habits. Even five minutes of smart stretching split at the beginning and end of practice is productive, although I would encourage you to find room for more or to develop a small, manageable, and regularly repeatable routine of stretching and myofascial release.
* Eat well:
When we are busiest is precisely when we struggle with decision fatigue. Our mind has enough to manage, so eating junk food is not only an easy way out, but what our tired mind would prefer because it requires less choice and tastes great. Make this easier on yourself by stocking up on healthy snacks/leftovers before a busy week begins. It’s annoying, I know, but you will thank yourself later.
* Focus on your sleep:
One of my biggest personal struggles when I drive a lot for gigs is staying on track with rest. Often when I get home late after a long drive I need time to unwind and I’m usually hungry (see above re: healthy snacks). I have to really set boundaries after these long, late drives by planning ahead not to doom scroll on my phone or watch TV while eating cheese and crackers when I do finally get home. I feel whiny and irritated about this every time, but make a plan in advance for rest just like you would for food and stick to it. Trust me, it’s worth it.
* Practice in smaller, well-planned time blocks:
We all have our own struggles, and this is one of the most effective strategies for me personally. When I am over-scheduled my focus is often not up to my usual standard. I can be more productive in my practice by working in shorter blocks of time. Instead of a thirty minute warmup I will consolidate it down to ten. Later in the morning I might spend fifteen minutes running through some challenging passages to get a baseline of where they’re at. Even later in the day I will spend fifteen to twenty minutes on a few of those challenging technical sections, being very detailed in how I work through the challenges (with a metronome, grouping, etc.). Later yet I might do a five minute power session on something I’m struggling with, like high register, by doing focused exercises and working on tricky high register tuning passages.
* De-brief your practices and rehearsals:
With limited time to prepare for the next lesson, rehearsal, or performance during your busiest weeks, we can only plan as well as we reflect. During college I got into the habit of keeping a practice journal and recording what I needed to get done and what I had already practiced. Taking this a step further can level up our practice, limited though it might be, in a big way (this bullet point works whether we are in a busy season or not). As suggested by Terry Orlick in his book In Pursuit of Excellence, I started to “debrief” after each performance or practice session. What went well? Why? What didn’t go well? Why? These reflections inform how I use my limited time the next day. I keep a running note on my iPhone Notes app where I jot down points and observations to be revisited later.
* Have fun:
This doesn’t have to be anything monumental, and is probably best if it's not related to your instrument or work. For me, during the weeks where I have to drive a lot to rehearsals this means listening to podcast episodes I’ve saved and my favorite non-classical music that I can sing out loud to in the car. It’s cathartic and helps clear out my brain before and after demanding rehearsals. I also try to spend a little extra time with my cats and making coffee at home - two things that bring me a lot of joy that have absolutely nothing to do with work! Consider the little parts of your day and what small things make you happy, and then deliberately focus on those joyful moments to break up the monotony of your busy day.
The way being busy makes us feel and what we need to do to cope with high-demand periods of work will change as we get older and more experienced, but I don’t know a single musician (student or professional) who can get through a busy season successfully and relatively unscathed without at least some intentional planning.
What works best for you when you are feeling stretched to the limit? Where is an area you could make small adjustments that would have a big impact on your overall wellbeing and energy level?
This month I tackled some books that I have been saving for when I could really take my time and dig in to them. Many of them were about the creative process, some were about yoga/meditation/breathwork/mindstate, and a few were novels I wanted to savor.
I've made it most of the way through this month's to-be-read pile, and it just so happened that I read three books about developing the creative process back to back. I found them all interesting - worthwhile in their own way - but not created equal, and thought it would be fun to break them down here since I am in the midst of what feels like a mini-evolution of my own work process (pictured below during my stay at the Endless Mountain Music Festival).
The first book I read was one I have been saving and looking forward to - it has a beautiful cover, the layout is inviting, and I was expecting a lot of nuggets of inspiration from this one, based on what I had heard about it so far.
The Creative Act: A Way of Being by Rick Rubin
If I'm being really honest, I was totally disappointed in this book. If you have never read anything about the creative process, I actually think it would make a great, easy to digest introduction. But if you are a seasoned creative, this book falls flat for inspiration. It's full of platitudes and empty statements about creativity, and doesn't contain any truly actionable ideas about the creative act as the title suggests. It might be a nice to book to leave out and flip open if you're in need of a shot of motivation, but it definitely didn't live up to my expectations for an author with such an interesting and varied career.
I originally shared these reviews in my monthly newsletter (have you subscribed yet?), and realized after it went out that I completely forgot one of the books I read about the creative process. I suppose it didn't make much of an impression...
The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles by Steven Pressfield
I liked this book more than Rubin's Creative Act, and while it did have some useful nuggets of reflection on the things that keep us from moving forward creatively, it didn't break down any major thought barriers for me around my own creative process. Like Rubin's book, however, I think this could provide a good stepping off point for creatives who haven't explored outside inspiration for how they could approach their work.
One thing I think Pressfield did well was share openly the distractions we face and the need for discipline and intention around our work. I appreciated the portion of the book about the resistance we all feel the most.
The Creative Habit: Learn It And Use It For Life by Twyla Tharp
This book surprised me in its practicality. I didn't know more than the basics about Tharp before reading this, and was impressed at the discipline of her creativity. It's always interesting to catch a glimpse behind the curtain into a successful creative's life, and this was no exception. Tharp discusses her own habits and disciplines, how specific projects came to life, and provides exercises for the reader to consider what matters most to them and to help lay the ground work for better creative habits. Both practical and interesting, I think this one is a must read if you are interested in strengthening the creative acts in your own life.
Free Play: Improvisation in Life and Art by Stephen Nachmanovitch
I had procrastinated reading this book even though it was recommended by one of my absolute favorite newsletters because I wasn't sure how much it would be about the actual act of improvisation (something I avoid like most classically trained musicians!). Although improvisation is discussed, the book is truly about how we create and quickly became a new favorite for me. It is relatable and inspiring, and somehow takes a huge, ambitious topic and boils it down into useful, encouraging, and relatable ways to address blocks and the way we think about creativity. As I read, I found myself writing in the margins and dog-earing pages the entire time. While not as clinically practical as Tharp's Creative Habit, Free Play is what finally helped me start to shift out of my own creative rut.
The most important takeaway for me is that we're all at different stages of our creative journeys and processes. Even though I didn't love Rubin's Creative Act, it felt useful to read these four books in succession, although unintentionally. They are an excellent representation of how differently we all approach creativity, and a reminder that we won't relate to everyone's art or approach to making it. But for the same reason that we study our instruments with many teachers and rarely love every single thing they ask us to do. There are useful takeaways everywhere if you are being vigilant, even if they are simply things you are making a note that don't want to replicate (right now). Just like we each have a unique voice in our music or art, our methods in the end will, and should, be unique to us.
Instituted by the United Nations in 2015, June 21 marks the International Day of Yoga. Last year I happened to be teaching yoga on this date, and built my class around gratitude and pillars of yogic practice. At the time, it still felt surprising to me how much I enjoyed leading others in their practice.
As I reflect this year, I am admittedly surprised to see clearly all the new, often subtle, ways that my personal practice is showing up in my life with impact each and every day. Science is only just beginning to confirm what practitioners of yoga and mindfulness have know for thousands of years, and what I am just barely beginning to scratch the surface of.
This year, as I reflect with personal gratitude on the International Day of Yoga, I felt compelled to write a little love letter to my practice to see if I could articulate just a little of the heartfelt gratitude I have that yoga found me and continues to teach me.
It has been roughly three years since I started to practice regularly again. Getting back on the mat felt difficult - I was inflexible, uncomfortable, and distracted. Even though I was practicing at home, my mind wandered…”Do these pants fit differently than they used to? I bet this top looks weird. I wish that I could comfortably do such-and-such pose. I will probably never be able to do x,y, or z.”
My personal practice rattled around like that for six months or so before I started my teacher training. I wondered how far out of my depth I would be. Although I was more athletic than before, would I be able to keep up? It had been some time since I had a regular yoga practice - maybe I wouldn’t be able to glean enough basic knowledge.
Part of what prompted me to pull the trigger on doing a 200 hour teacher training was the multitude of free hours left by the pandemic. Some of the reasoning was a desire to learn about anatomy in a way that might help my flute playing and instruction. But deeper than that was a tiny glimmer of an idea that yoga had felt like home once before, and maybe there was more it could teach me about me and the way I show up in the world.
That seems like a lot to expect though - could I really learn so much from these poses?
As I moved through training, I can’t say that I found any more comfort in myself…”I definitely look weird in this outfit. Everyone can see how weak and inflexible I am. I don’t like sharing this much about myself.”
But objects in motion are able to stay in motion, so I continued.
I learned that the postures, or asana, are only a tiny portion of yoga. I learned about the eight limbs of the practice and the way they encouraged kindness to ourselves and others. I learned that yoga is not about our own movements on the mat, but community. I learned that yoga can be translated as “unite.”
I learned that yoga in the fullest sense is meant to teach us humanity - to help us observe the ways in which we are alike and connected, and how we can treat both ourselves and others better.
And then, I started to see these other pieces of the practice outside of asana come to life. I made friends with my other trainees. We shared our fears, our aspirations, and what we were proud of. We celebrated each other. We bungled our practice teaching and landed awkwardly together in postures that were out of place. We forgave our mistakes. We practiced, meditated, and breathed. I felt my heart loosen in the safe space on my mat.
As we left our teacher training, I could already see how differently I recognized the stories I was telling myself. I was starting to push through the superfluous judgements of “good” and “bad” and finding greater equanimity - certainly not with any perfection, but simply a budding knowledge that nothing is black and white. I had learned that I could change, that my thoughts were not my true nature, that my flexibility did not impact the depth of my practice.
When I started to lead others in yoga, all the insecurities came back. There was so much to learn, so much I didn’t know, how could I possible help to guide anyone? I studied and studied, over prepared and read book after book. In the ways I always have, I leaned on my ability to learn to cover up my insecurities.
Inevitably, I gave an incorrect instruction during class, told my students to use the wrong hand, or said something that was so awkward and bumbling I was sure people wouldn’t come back to my class. But I had new tools to lean on - humility, equanimity, and self-acceptance - and nothing terrible happened. People kept coming to my classes.
Recently, I noticed that my inner commentary on my appearance has changed. It’s not totally gone, but when I sit on my mat I no longer worry so intently about how my leggings fit. I step into my practice with the intention to meet myself below the surface. One of my favorite teachings in yoga continues to be that we can and should meet ourselves exactly where we are. What we could do yesterday or what we will do tomorrow simply doesn’t matter, but what we can do in this exact moment does.
That particular lesson is one that I have tried to carry off the mat. Not only will I be different in each passing moment, but so will the people around me, and that is neither good or bad. As I begin to see myself with more depth, I am able to do the same for others. We are all unique and complicated and yet we are all the same. Community.
There is so much left to learn, but I feel more like I am not behind than ever before. That this place is just right even with its imperfections.
Perhaps that’s the biggest lesson I have learned - that imperfections are not problems or things that need added to a to-do list. I don’t mean that I love my imperfections either, because I certainly do not. I still have plenty of thoughts about how I will fix this part of my appearance or that part of my professional life. The difference now is that I have tools.
Yoga has given me tools not to be used to fix or change myself into something different, but to see myself fully and honestly. To help weed out the superficial noise and thoughts and discover my true priorities. To seek out what carries the deepest meaning and purpose and to be kind to myself and others while seeking.
When I step on my mat now I know that I am helping my body and my mind. That this work of bringing the two together opens up a whole new view of life and the ways that we are all connected. I never expected yoga change me so deeply, which is maybe why it could.
I always use the same closing when I end my classes, because I think the community of yoga is the heart of the practice:
“…with a deep bow of gratitude for your self, your practice, and everyone who practices with you.”
The inkling I had three years ago that yoga could feel like home was only partially true. It does provide a home base, but where I actually am beginning to feel at home, for the first time ever, is in myself. And this is where I am, with a deep sense of gratitude.
What do you think of when you think of self care? Even as someone who is certified in wellness practices (yoga, mindfulness, myofascial self-release), I instantly think of a million cringy Instagram posts, journals, and bubble baths.
I find that I try to steer clear of the words “self care” when I write about the practices I teach and implement partially because of the connotation, and because what we need to do to care for our well-being is different for everyone. What feels like self care to me, like a yoga practice or sitting for 30 minutes of silent meditation, might be tedious and stressful for someone else.
The other reason I don’t like the term “self care” is that I think it grossly undermines what we really need to be doing in order to lead healthy lives. Taking care of ourselves is not participating in a relaxing activity once a week. It’s doing boring, monotonous things day in and day out so that we can operate at a healthy base level.
Where the internet would tell you that self care is shiny and satisfying, I believe that if we are really caring for ourselves and our basic needs, it feels a lot more like tedious maintenance. Think grocery shopping, laundry, and cleaning your house.
Eating well is a excellent example of this. Cooking is work, buying fresh food means planning to use it so it doesn’t go to waste, and all of that takes a lot more effort than just pulling into a drive-through or heating up something you bought frozen. For most of us though, once we realize that eating well makes us feel better it genuinely gets easier to put in the effort.
Of course our relationship with our phones, streaming, and social media puts a huge demand on our self maintenance efforts. It’s so easy to lose ourselves mindlessly scrolling for an hour or watching Netflix well into the night. It’s not just that those are hours you could do other productive things - they may just be hours that should be spent resting or sleeping. Layered on top of that is that we end up viewing lots of people engaging in “self-care” as we scroll, perpetuating the myth that it’s something fancy and special.
What prompted me to think so much about self maintenance recently was that I downloaded a sleep tracker for my apple watch. I had a nagging feeling of always being tired, but was convinced my sleep hygiene was good and I wanted to get to the bottom of the issue.
There is absolutely nothing like data to absolutely knock you off your high horse. While I was, in fact, in bed for seven to eight hours a night, I was sleeping for only five to six of those and rarely in a deep sleep. Since I usually read before bed, put my phone on sleep mode, etc. this was shocking to me. How was I still sleeping so little? Beyond that, there was no fancy reason I was so tired. I simply wasn’t sleeping and my habits needed a reboot.
I’ve made a few changes, all of which require self maintenance, and I do already see a difference. Is it annoying and effortful? Sometimes. There is nothing even remotely shiny and internet worthy about cleaning up my sleep habits, but it did make me feel better and more energetic each day. As time goes on, I am starting to look forward to the changes I’ve implemented, like going to bed earlier each night, adding more exercise into my days, and taking more care in the routine of my evening hours.
So as I’ve been reflecting on all of this, it’s really made me consider how we talk about self care in our culture, and how much discipline it actually takes to instill healthy personal habits.
There is a concept in Ayurvedic medicine (the sister science of yoga) called dinacharya (dina meaning ‘day’ and acharya meaning ‘activity’). Translated from Sanskrit, this word means the daily routine that promotes nourishment and self care. In Ayurveda it’s considered one of the most powerful tools for cultivating health and well-being.
Dinacharya encourages us to become more in tune with ourselves and our unique biological clock, doing the same things at roughly the same times each day, with a focus on creating the sense of routine over the perfection of the activities. It’s not about creating a grand schedule or adding more to your schedule, rather it’s about finding and engaging in a routine that helps you feel nourished and more self aware.
In its truest form, dinacharya refers more to our morning routine, but it applies to the whole day, and I love the idea that the little tasks we undertake repeatedly become the foundation of nourishing ourselves and staying in sync with the rhythm of life.
And while the practice stresses the steady repetition of things that are good for us, it comes with a disclaimer that an appropriate routine will look different for each person. Dinacharya can be as simple as making your bed each morning or sitting to savor the first sips of your coffee without any other noises or distractions. Even washing dirty dishes can be part of our daily outine of nourishment if we take the time to appreciate the food that was eaten on them, our running water, and the freshly cleaned kitchen in which we are standing.
Engaging in a daily routine in the attitude of dinacharya can encourage connection, release stress, and build peace and happiness into our lives in simple ways that are attainable each and every day.
If you want to implement dinacharya into your day, start with your mornings. You might wake up at the same time each day, begin your day with a hot beverage (Ayurveda suggests hot water with lemon), brush your teeth and wash your face, make your bed, and spend a few minutes in meditation or exercise. Nothing Earth-shattering - rather, simple and nourishing.
What we are willing to lovingly layer into our every day life with consistency is what will create the greatest impact in our well being long term. Just like my experience with improving my sleep, the generic and mundane can become special and meaningful when we understand that it helps us to feel more energetic, more present, and more connected with our lives.
There is a lot of conversation on the internet about all the things music school doesn’t teach us. The ways that it perpetuates unhealthy cycles that have been solidified over generations.
We don’t see a lot of discussion about what in our is right or good about the time we spend in music school. I don’t want to undermine what needs to change, but as I look back and reflect I’m realizing that one of the most valuable things about the time I spent in school was something I took completely for granted at the time.
It was so obvious to me as a freshman moving into an arts dorm - the joy of being surrounded by so many people who value the arts so deeply was new and exciting, and it spawned so many friendships.
Over the four, six, or even more years we spend in school we easily grow accustomed to having access to all the perks. Music libraries, musicians playing every instrument and style of music, amazing teachers and mentors, and friends who are also fully entrenched in figuring out how to be a musician.
When we leave school, it’s a sneaky shock to be removed from this artistic bubble. In my case, I was busy figuring out how to be a regular adult, not a student. I still had some connections to my previous school, was still traveling to take lessons, and was working as a musician.
Music hadn’t evaporated from my life by any means, but as time went on there was a growing sense of loneliness and disconnect. As a recent graduate working on my own most of the time, for the first time in years I was living in a world of mostly non-musicians.
As time has gone on I’ve been lucky to maintain friendships and find new belonging, but life often becomes fuller as we get older and if we’re going to find community in our lives it requires becoming much more intentional.
Research also tells us the benefit of being in a community, including that feeling supported by those around us helps calm and regulate our nervous system and create a deep, lasting feeling of safety.
While it would be ideal for all of us to find a community of people with our exact situation (for example, musicians who are also self-employed or freelancing) that’s not always possible. It can be just as good for our well-being to find communities around our other interests (exercise, mindfulness, cooking, coding … the list is endless).
In the way that friendships sometimes can as adults, making time for this type of community in your life can feel like work. It will require you to reach out to old friends, talk to new people, and leave the house at times when you would just like to curl up with a blanket and Netflix.
But, how much better would our art (and lives) be if we prioritized community? If we created a space for ourselves and those like us to rest in work or leisure? To commiserate over the difficulties of our work or forget them entirely and go for a hike, or to brainstorm crazy ideas with people are willing to genuinely encourage our creativity?
If I look back on the times that I really felt unmoored, I can see now the lack of community. When I took my yoga teacher training I was shocked at how having a group of friends I saw regularly and related to easily changed my day to day sense of wellbeing. Since then I do my best to remember the importance and value, even when it would be easier not to prioritize it.
Having a community reminds us of the big picture, what’s truly important, and affirms to us who we are at our core.
If you’re feeling frustrated in your work or pessimistic about your creative ventures, shift your focus and engage your community. If you’re not sure whether you have have one, start small and reach out to an old friend or mentor and ask how they’ve been. Make small talk with someone at your weekly yoga class or find a run club. Find a few people, or even just one, who can see you through your shared interests and then take note of the changes in your sense of safety and comfort.
A regularly updated list of books that are excellent for musicians, yogis, mindfulness practitioners, and humans.
The Music Lesson by Victor Wooten
The Flute Book by Nancy Toff
The Listening Book by W. A. Mathieu
Uncommon Measure by Natalie Hodges
Self Development for Creatives:
The Practice by Seth Godin
Deep Work by Cal Newport
Essentialism by Greg McKeown
Originals by Adam Grant
When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing by Daniel Pink
Drive by Daniel Pink
Digital Minimalism by Cal Newport
In Pursuit of Excellence by Terry Orlick
Range by David Epstein
Mindfulness & Meditation:
10% Happier by Dan Harris
The Mindful Athlete by George Mumford
The Posture of Meditation by Will Johnson
Lighter by Yung Pueblo
Unwinding Anxiety by Judson Brewer
Peak Mind by Amishi Jha
Eastern Body Western Mind by Anodea Judith
Wheels of Life by Anodea Judith
Four Thousand Weeks by Oliver Burkeman
What I Talk About When I Talk About Running by Haruki Murakami
Breath by James Nestor
I’ve been doing a “best books of” post for several years now (here are 2021 and 2020), and it was fun to take a look back at what my favorites have been in previous years. I always read a mix of fiction and non-fiction, but my previous lists of favorites lean heavily toward non-fiction. I felt like I really indulged in fiction in 2022, so let’s see what this past year’s list of favorite turns out like!
The Anthropocene Reviewed by John Green
Most of us are familiar with John Green because of the YA novels he’s written (The Fault in Our Stars, Turtles All the Way Down, etc.). He has a podcast with his brother, Hank Green (also an author), that’s quite popular that I haven’t explored yet. This book is a series of short essays where Green rates the regular everyday occurrences of the Anthropocene period (our current geological age) a la Google. He shares personal anecdotes that remind us all we’re having the same human experience in an enjoyable and relatable way. I give The Anthropocene Reviewed four and a half stars.
Uncommon Measure by Natalie Hodges
I found Hodges book to be extremely thoughtful, and at times quite challenging to read because of the way it points out the inadequacies of how many of us are taught to become musicians. Natalie Hodges spent her young life working hard to be a virtuoso violinist. She chronicles her experiences through our perception of time and consciousness, and how her experiences in music might have shaped her or been shaped by her. Hodges touches eloquently on so many of the challenges of becoming and being a musician, while including neuroscience and quantum physics, by taking us along on her own journey of imagining her life outside of being a classical violinist.
Presence by Amy Cuddy
Amy Cuddy gained noteriety for her TED talk that has been viewed by millions. The overarching message of this book is that we don’t have to make grand changes to approach scary situations, nor should we continue to approach them with one eye closed in fear. I loved the stories Cuddy shares in Presence about people who took simple moment to moment approaches to intimidating situations, and her practical advice on how we can show for ourselves up over and over again.
The Liar’s Dictionary by Eley Williams
This was a really enjoyable read. The characters felt rich, and Williams writing created such a vivid picture for me of this story as it unfolded. As someone who loves words, this story of lexicographers creating and editing the dictionary opened up a history I had never considered of who defined our language and how.
Range by David Epstein
Range takes a fascinating look at how we learn and grow our skills in a culture that says we must focus fast and early. Especially for those of us in fields like music where it can always feel like we started too late, I found this book refreshing. Epstein unpacks how being hyper focused can box us in, and how the paths that highly successful people take are often much more winding than we think. The information in this book is important for anyone who teaches or interacts with children and young adults to consider.
We All Want Impossible Things by Catherine Newman
This novel is a beautifully painted picture of what it’s like to grieve with someone with terminal cancer, and was my favorite novel of 2022. It was not an easy read, especially if you’ve lost someone, but I was so moved by the way this book expresses how deeply we feel in the close relationships we build and how both the most joyful and saddest moments can be painful in their extremes.
Quiet by Susan Cain
Quiet, for me, was one of those rare books that clearly lays out things you have never been able to find the words to express. Cain redefines what it means to be an introvert, and to be a highly sensitive person. She takes the cultural labels out of the equation and makes it relatable for the reader to consider what it would be like to be introverted, or what it would be like to find balance as an introvert in an extroverted culture. There is concrete, functional advice in the book for how to work with introverted adults or children, and I think this book could help all of us consider and become more receptive to how each person’s experience is unique.
Four Thousand Weeks by Oliver Burkeman
Four Thousand Weeks sits at the top of my list for 2022 for the way it genuinely challenged my concept of time and the way we are taught to treat it as a manageable, moldable commodity. It is both factual and philosophical, and explored our growing collective sense of anxiety and urgency. I appreciated that Burkeman didn’t take a negative perspective on the way our relationship with time has developed and took a more positive and reflective approach to how we might proceed differently.
So now I want to know - what books did you love in 2022?
It’s no secret I love to read.
My monthly newsletter always includes a book recommendation, I share my “what I read list” on Instagram every month, and many of the “small joys” photos I share include a book (with a cat or coffee always close by). I could spend hours in bookstores just browsing and thinking about what to read next.
The title of this blog might seem transparent - there’s clearly lots to be learned from reading. In fact, I had to learn so much via textbook in school that for the years I was enrolled in higher education I hardly ever read for fun.
As I reflect on another year of reading though, I’m aware that my hobby of reading has become about so much more than collecting “book smarts.”
These are the things I learn from reading:
Make Room for Rest
In this day and age, rest often means mindlessly scrolling or bingeing Netflix. Don’t get me wrong, both of those activities really can help us decompress…but there’s a limit. Sitting down to read means I am setting aside the possibility of noticing a new email or notification on my phone. I am consciously tucking in with my lunch, or on the couch to end the evening. Allowing myself the option to doze off in the most gentle of ways, somewhere in the passages of a good book, is its own kind of permission to rest (and beats falling asleep to blue light any day).
Be Gentle with Yourself
None of us are strangers to the feeling that we must be accomplishing something, and at all times, to be good or useful. Reading in this way is like a mini rebellion. Maybe I’m learning, or maybe I’m not, but for the time I’m holding the book it doesn’t matter.
Enjoyment Belongs In Every Day of our Everyday Life
Do you ever catch yourself escaping into your phone or Netflix? That nagging feeling of not completing something important is there, and yet you slink off into blissful scrolling oblivion anyway? It might not be a bad thing to allow yourself those moments of respite - although not if you catch yourself picking your phone up or checking your notifications right in the middle of an important task, and I do think they’re better spent with a book…
Ideas Take Time to Come Together
I love to read for pleasure, but I also enjoy reading about subjects that fascinate me. I go through phases of both each year, but am always struck by how much space I need for information to start to knit together into new ideas. It could be days or weeks after I finish something interesting and I will find myself struck with how it relates to teaching or performing. Suddenly, and almost out of nowhere, a very clear idea will pop up tying all sorts of seemingly random but relevant information together.
Pausing is Not a Reward, Not Everything Needs a Purpose
If I’m being honest, I initially “allowed” myself my reading habit because although I loved it, it was also productive. It had purpose, and heaven forbid that I do anything simply because I love it. Even my outlets had to be well, outlets. They were a relief from something, meant to get me back on track with my responsible and acceptable goals. (I’m rolling my eyes at myself as I type). I still struggle with that mindset, but no matter what our hustle culture tells you, pausing for fun and leisure is not something we have to earn somehow.
I could learn these lessons from any hobby or pastime, it just happens that one of my favorites is reading. I have others that bring me joy, and I would guess that you do, too. Maybe like me you resurrected them during the pandemic. Did you set them aside when you went back to work, though? Maybe those pandemic projects deserve a cherished spot in your regular life, too.
I chose to use “learn” instead of “learned” in the title of this blog because reading, for me, isn’t about what new info I walk away from each book with, although that’s an obvious benefit. At its core, reading has come to represent how we intertwine work, pleasure, and the demands of every day life in a way that is fulfilling and enriching. It points out that we never know what’s ahead, and I want to end each day with a balance of effort and joy that feels good.
How often have you looked back at things you wish you would have done?
Laying awake at night thinking about what we wish we hadn’t said or done has become a bit of a standard joke, but in an achievement driven culture or field it can feel awfully relatable.
Even if it’s not keeping you up at night, I think it’s safe to say that most of us have choices we wish we would have made differently or situations we wish we would have handled differently in our past.
Regardless of how often you find yourself thinking about these past experiences, most of us probably spend much more time with the negative ones than the positive ones. To some extent, that’s likely for a positive reason. We all have a desire to grow, and using previous failures is a valid way to consider how we would like to move forward.
However, it might also be healthy to do the opposite.
When was the last time you drew some inspiration from yourself?
When was the last time you really thought about something you did that took courage, or something you prepared well for that had a positive outcome?
Even if your look back at yourself is neutral, rather than negative, there is a lot to be gained. It might be as simple as realizing that you weren’t as far behind as you thought.
As with most things, balance is key. Always seeing yourself with a super negative view would be unhelpful, but the same is true for viewing yourself in an inflated positive way all the time.
The next time you feel motivated to critique your past behaviors, consider also what you did right. Could you list both things and see them as just that…a list? Objective data on the situation that might come in handy later is a lot easier to work with in the future than a late night binge of self judgement.
The internet is so many things - a great source of information and inspiration, and also a chance to see how many people are already doing amazing versions of what you’d like to do.
That might sound cynical, but while I think we can find so much inspiration on the web, we can also feel defeated when we see our passions and ideas showing up in other people’s work.
Of course, it has been this way throughout history, and there are lots of famous examples of big discoveries happening simultaneously although only one person would end up being well known. It’s just that in 1800, the internet didn’t exist to let people know they weren’t alone in their genius.
In my case, I’m seeing the boom of mindfulness and wellness amongst musicians online at the same time that I am becoming more educated on these topics. It would be easy to feel like the ship has already sailed.
If we’re looking at it from this pessimistic point of view, then there are lots of things we could easily give up on. Playing the flute would be an obvious one - there are so many amazing flute players past and present, who needs one more?
In fact, I think that because there is so much available to us on the internet, we need people to continue to become experts and artists in places where there are also many other examples of success. It absolutely matters less what the most famous people are doing and more what you are doing to those who are close to you.
It is crucial for your students or peers to see you working hard and succeeding - it encourages them to think about what is possible.
It is impactful for you to build an interest in niche topics - it shows others the value in pursuing something meaningful even if our culture doesn’t prioritize it.
It is important for you to learn how to interpret and communicate through music - your playing will be a unique combination of your experiences and knowledge that leads to valuable performances and interpretations.
It is healthy for you to fail and succeed at something important - it both challenges you to grow and encourages you to keep going.
Beyond this, even though it can be hard to remember in the age of TikTok and Instagram, you are unique! There really isn’t anyone like you, although there will be others who are similar to you.
Your version of what you do, share, teach, and enjoy will be different than anyone else’s. And even if it somehow isn’t, it still matters.
Hi, I'm Morgann! A flutist, teacher, meditator, aspiring yogini, and life long learner figuring out how to create my way through life one crazy idea at a time.