It’s ok to be tired.
There’s so much messaging right now to scale back, take a break, or clear our plates. Which, like all advice, is good circumstantially.
Sometimes we can do that - cut out things that aren’t important or worthwhile and open up beautiful pockets of productivity or rest.
Realistically though, it’s just not like that most of the time. Some seasons are consuming. If it happens that you are in one of these seasons, I’m with you.
If you are fully booked with things that feel draining or negative, first of all, I’m sorry. Life brings all types of seasons and this is just one of them. Keep doing your best to see the small joys and care for yourself.
If you are fully booked with wonderful things, then enjoy them. Yes you may feel exhausted, but we can be both joyful and worn out.
Either way, try not to give in to complaining about your tiredness. Our culture would tell us us to wear our busy-ness as a badge, but resist the urge. Wear your joys - step into them fully and be present - but try not to elevate busy as the goal.
See if you can embrace even a small aspect of this station stop on your journey. Be present to the things that make you pause or smile and soak them up. Know that nothing lasts forever, so do your best to keep your eyes open and take in what’s around you as you walk through this very real but also impermanent season.
Finally, you may already feel that you have taken on too much, but that’s often when we give up and take on even more. Learn to draw a line even if you feel you’ve already walked too far. Keep practicing saying no when you really need to.
Hang in there. Stay the path. Bring yourself to the present moment.
A new season will be here soon.
When I started blogging regularly near the end of 2020, I was just looking for an outlet - I had just started my yoga teacher training, was teaching completely online, had no gigs to prepare for because of the pandemic, and more free time than I’d had in years.
It was great to have somewhere to flesh out ideas about teaching, yoga, being a musician - whatever was on my mind (the benefits of writing something I wasn’t sure anyone would read was feeling that I could freely take my choice of topics)!
I wasn’t sure if I would continue writing when things went “back to normal” (what is normal now, anyway?) - I was writing a lot during the time that everything was shut down.
As we all got busier again I realized that I didn’t want to stop writing, but I needed to give myself a few perimeters so I could stick to it (keeping up with the topic of last week’s blog here, I needed some constraints to keep writing creatively).
I settled on a weekly blog, published mostly on the same day each week, and for the most part that’s worked well with my schedule and lifestyle now that my calendar has filled up again.
One of the things that I wasn’t expecting to come from sitting down to write each week is the way my willingness to be open with others would change. By allowing myself to write out my teaching methods and philosophies, feelings about career choices, ideas about yoga and meditation, etc., I have been able to solidify concepts, ideas, and goals for myself.
Blogging has given me a space to practice talking about things that are important to me, which in turn lets me feel confident in conversations with my colleagues and students.
As someone who truly enjoys their privacy and solitude (only child here!), I’m still surprised at how much I’ve enjoyed making new friends online and putting myself out there a little bit more. It helped that I did it in a way that felt genuine to me - I love writing, and am sure I never would have considered or stuck to a video blog, YouTube channel, etc..
Beyond feeling like I’ve given myself more time to think about important topics in my work, the most enriching thing about engaging with other musicians has been learning the similarities of our stories. For all the ways we’re different, there are so many commonalities that come up in our training, performance, personal struggles, and interests.
I think as musicians we can often feel alone - most non-musicians have a hard time understanding our work hours, the types of jobs we have, and the pressure we feel around our performances and skills.
But I also think that as musicians we often tell ourselves we are alone - that everyone would judge us or disregard us for feeling nervous or debating a different career, that no one else feels those things or was a late bloomer musically.
The reality though is that it’s all in our heads. If we really start to listen carefully to others and open up to them in genuine conversation, it becomes clear that what makes us all the same is our humanness - we feel pressure, have fears, live for a great performance, question our choices, commit to doing something unique and demanding - and the way we reconcile that with our work and artistry.
I suppose I’m sharing all of this as encouragement - that if you feel like you want to share somehow or get to know those around you more, it’s worth it. Listen to your gut and find genuine ways to start putting yourself out there that aren’t just performances. There is so much to gain from enriching our lives professionally not just in performance, but in communication and building rich support networks.
Some of the things I’ve started doing over the last two years are still surprising to me, and might even feel a little silly, but it's hard to imagine not doing them now:
I hope that this leaves you a little inspired to try something new and find outlets for yourself. What are the ways you could explore your unique interests and skills to connect with others? I would, genuinely, love to hear about them.
Do you ever notice that when you are busy you somehow accomplish a wild number of things in one day, yet when you have all the time in the world it can be hard to get any one project done?
With deadlines looming or people counting on us, it becomes quite clear how we need to use our free time.
I always thought that I was someone who thrived under a little pressure. As a student I would procrastinate just enough on papers and studying so that I would feel the pressure of my deadlines, and then I would sit down and crank out the work that needed done.
In hindsight, what I was creating for myself were constructive time constraints. Knowing I only had two weeks until the exit exams for my Master’s degree meant that instead of sitting and chatting with friends over coffee I needed to study over my many daily caffeinated beverages.
As a freelancer, this means that when I have a half hour break from teaching and there is a gig coming up I practice instead of faffing on the internet.
It turns out that I don't have remarkable self control, I just have constraints.
With summer just starting here and school finally ending for almost all of my students, I see them relax at the evaporation of the rigid constraints of school. They have space to sleep in, see their friends, go swimming, and get outside - all things that are necessary for kids who have spent so much of the year stressing over grades and standardized tests.
But as necessary as this space to play, daydream, and relax is, the lack of schedule often wrecks some havoc on practicing.
I’ve made some adjustments over time to how I teach in the summer to help my students keep improving without feeling like I am sucking the spontaneity out of their time off:
We take a break! Each summer begins with a week off from lessons and ends that way, too. If you’ve been a student at any point, you know how special and bittersweet the transition in and out of summer can be. Add in the time I am away for summer festivals and conventions and we average a decent amount of lessons without the requirement to be present each week.
I encourage creative practicing. During the school year most of my students squeeze their practice in during study halls or at night, but in the summer they can practice at whatever time of day feels right to them. Do they enjoy playing outside? Perfect for the nice weather and neighborhood enjoyment. Do they have a friend from school they could visit and practice with? Who says practice can’t be social sometimes! Do they hate sitting down for a full hour of practice? Divide it in half or thirds!
We have an end goal in mind. Although we are more relaxed in the summer, we’re still focused in lessons on moving forward in our skills. Having a recital at the end of the summer gives my students both an objective and something to look forward to. I make the recital on the same Sunday each year so that families know to plan for it well in advance.
We play something fun. I have a fairly structured curriculum I like to use in lessons, and although I adapt it to each student, they don’t always get to pick their repertoire. In the summer, I encourage them to find pop music, movie music or write down a song they like by ear that they could play at our recital. Getting to exercise choice after school and standardized testing season can feel like a real treat.
There are many applications of healthy constraints in our lives (personal boundaries being a great example) and in our practice rooms (using a timer and setting specific objectives for each session) but I was inspired to think a little differently about how constraints can help us by my old house and renovation projects.
When you live in a historic home built in 1900 or before, there are quirks - odd sized rooms, rules about keeping certain historical features, and old wiring are a few examples. Sometimes it just isn’t possible to change the space the way you might think is ideal, but there is always a creative solution to make the best of the space you have.
Having an old house is a lot like our playing and musicianship. The old foundation of how we’ve learned is there, but there is always a way to update the space and use our perspective and knowledge to make it better.
Our culture pushes make-your-own schedules, self-employment, and autonomy as the ultimate freedoms, but we’re missing the mark thinking that everything should be unbound. Healthy structures help us achieve our goals and enjoy the time we spend in work and activities.
Remember that even if you can't change your schedule, you can always exercise control over how you spend your time. Even if it’s just deciding how to divide those thirty minutes of practice.
Have you ever heard your teachers say their goal is for you to “teach yourself”?
It’s a common goal in music for teachers to discuss this concept, because at some point every student steps out on their own without a teacher they see each week to keep them on track. Although we can always choose to work with a teacher, no one knows us better than ourself. We all become independent learners at some point.
When we’re a student, growing the ability to teach ourself can look like taking our teacher’s advice about practice techniques, time management, listening, etc., and learning how to apply it appropriately in the practice room. During this time in our development, we still get to check in each week to make sure we’ve applied the tools correctly and are moving in the appropriate direction.
What about after school? We don't all go into teaching, but I've learned a lot about teaching myself from teaching others. I view my students very objectively - my goal is always to really see and hear what they are doing, notice what is holding them back, and find creative solutions that work for them specifically. (i.e. My mean inner critic never comes out when I’m listening to a student the way it does when I’m “teaching” myself.)
Beyond the reality that we are much meaner to ourselves than we are to others, there’s also the fact that we usually learn to guide ourselves at the same time we lose both our access to private lessons and the structure of music school. When it’s up to us to create our learning structure, that can prove a large hurdle in itself.
So when we really get down to practicing and improving on our own, how can we balance (or just plain shush) the inner critic who always has a lot of mean and distracting things to say but not nearly enough productive feedback to give?
I think there’s something missing from the whole process of the way that we are taught to approach teaching ourselves, and how we are taught to manage our fear and self criticism from the beginning.
This is a recent realization for me, brought on by a truly inspirational session of George Mumford’s mindful athlete course. During that particular session, it came up for a few people that they still feel so much doubt or anxiety doing the things they are skilled at. That as we build skill and expertise, we can often feel even more susceptible to outer judgement, and especially to self criticism.
In these scenarios where we know that we are able to do something, but afraid to realize our inner masterpiece (as George calls it), we can feel paralyzed. How do we keep moving toward our goals without getting distracted from right effort by our doubt and self criticism?
When we’re really being vulnerable and pushing ourselves it can often feel like our faith or trust in ourselves, and what we’re doing, has vanished. We can be distracted by the difficulty and demand of what we are trying to do. What we need is to cultivate trust in ourselves, our performance, our message, and our ability to show up in the way we need to.
Personally, I can feel overwhelmed by perfectionist thoughts, and this understanding that the mental barrier is arising from vulnerability and trying something challenging makes it easier to address.
How do we address it exactly, though? How do we cultivate trust?
See the moment in depth:
* Either reflect back on when you challenged yourself and felt vulnerable or try to experience that moment deeply in real time.
* Were you scared the entire time? As you look deeper, you will realize that there is a lot more nuance to it than that.
* Are you self critical the entire time? Or can you look with more intention to see beyond the self criticism and notice all the ways you know to help yourself practice well and grow your playing.
* As you start to see the truth in depth, see your fear and your inner critic, and also see how they intertwine with the entirety of your experience.
As you start to become aware of the truth - the depth of your experience - you will become more relaxed and observant which allows you to move forward moment by moment, doing what you know to do. You can focus on right effort.
Teaching ourselves is an exercise in mindfulness - how are we speaking to ourselves? What are we paying attention to, and do we need to shift our attention? How are deeply are we experiencing the moment?
The objective is not to remove our doubt, but to make doubt the tool for learning. Know that doubt shows you where you can grow.
At some point during the same session of the Mindful Athlete George said, “when you want to learn something, teach it.”
What better way could there be to grow as a musician than to learn to mindfully teach ourself?
I have been reading, and thinking, a lot about time lately. Then again, doesn’t it always seem like we are thinking about time?
How much can I get done today, how much is left to do, there’s not enough time to cook or do laundry, how many more students could I teach, etc…
I’ve just started reading Four Thousand Weeks by Oliver Burkeman, and already it has made me reconsider the way we perceive time and how we’ve come to interact with time the way we do.
Just before starting this book, I had a conversation with my husband that I never imagined I would have - I actually said out loud that I would like to be less busy.
As musicians, we’re primed from an early age to know how to be busy successfully, and that to be busy is to be successful. But lately, as my plates continue to fill with activities that feel an awful lot like busywork, I’m wondering how much of that actually equals success?
If I am constantly teaching but never have time for the deep, intensive practice that is required to perform the way I want I am busy, and maybe successful? What if I consider the type of students am I teaching, how well I am teaching, and how much my performance abilities suffer - do I still feel successful?
If I never have time to sit down and flesh out new ideas for classes and workshops or to codify what I am learning from teaching and performing, I am definitely busy but what about successful?
If I can’t enjoy time with my family or doing activities I love because I am working so much, it’s possible I am both busy and successful, but not content.
All of these questions are very personal - we all want different things, and we've all reached varying levels of achievement to this point.
As I was reading Four Thousand Weeks last night, I came across two passages in the book that really made me pause:
“…you have too much to do, so you try to fit more in, but the ironic result is that you end up with more to do. The worst aspect of the [efficiency] trap is, though, is that it’s also a matter of quality. The harder you struggle to fit everything in, the more of your time you’ll find yourself spending on the least meaningful things.”
“The more firmly you believe it ought to be possible to find time for everything, the less pressure you’ll feel to ask whether any given activity is the best use of a portion of your time.”
I can relate to these statements at my core. I’ve had that feeling so often that time is slipping away and that I never quite get enough done to really treat myself to spending time on the important stuff.
It’s exactly how I was feeling when I said I’d like to be less busy (it’s still seems weird to say that out loud!). Isn’t that why we work so hard in the first place? Not to add more to our plates, but to be able to choose what’s on it in the first place.
Even in just the first few chapters of Four Thousand Weeks, Burkeman makes the point that as we get more skilled and gain more resources our culture does not reward us with time - it rewards us with more to do and higher demands.
I feel a strong urge to release things right now - even some good things - to have space. Space to be still, to sit and think, to practice and not be rushed.
What would it be like if we weren’t constantly chained to exterior time keepers like the demands of others and the sense that we need to be everywhere and everything to be worthwhile? I think it would feel luxurious, and probably also incredibly challenging because it would require directly opposing the cultural norm: busy = value.
Isn’t it interesting, too, that just talking about doing less sounds lazy, selfish, and entitled? Or at least that’s how I’m feeling talking about it. Not to mention the financial factor here - there’s only so much we can choose not to do before the bills pile up, so some of this is daydreaming for sure.
And still, I’d like to cancel a few things this week. Free up some time to practice, to plan, to write…maybe even to do nothing.
Is there a way to shift how we relate to time in our current culture? I’m not sure, but it’s fun to think about.
At the end of a semester, a school year, or a long project we might notice ourselves lacking in energy. How inconvenient that we often hit this energy lull right when we need to push toward the finish line.
Lately, I’ve noticed this in my students as their energy levels drop and their attention to detail goes along for the ride.
This is the end of the first “regular” school year post-pandemic; we’re busier than we have been in two years, bouncing right back to the same expectations as the before times.
Is it any wonder that we feel a little tapped out?
It’s not just my students that are running low on energy - I am also finding myself feeling drained at the end of each day, and wishing for an extra hour of sleep when my alarm goes off.
Fortunately I am more aware than I used to be of the ways I can help bolster myself for a busy life. I know that practicing yoga, meditation, eating well, and making sure I have time to practice the flute all help me feel prepared, calm, and generally well. But knowing these things help doesn’t make it any easier to fit them in when my schedule feels stuffed to the brim.
I would guess I’m not the only person who can feel even more stressed about fitting in the “good stuff” when time is lacking. It can easily become just another thing that we have to check off the list each day.
The necessity of our responsibilities isn’t going away any time soon, so how can we find the extra boost we need to recommit to finishing a task well?
By making time to have fun.
Are you rolling your eyes yet? Thinking, “I’m busy and tired and she is really suggesting that I have fun?!”
Well, I am.
Hear me out - it’s not as trite as it sounds.
I am not saying to drop everything and take an island vacation. In fact, I’m almost suggesting the opposite. Find somewhere in your day that you can genuinely enjoy an activity. Preferably, an activity that has nothing to do with your to-do list.
Maybe it’s the ten minutes you read a book by your favorite author at the end of the day. Or, the time it takes to do the daily Wordle over your morning cup of coffee. It could be driving with the windows down and the radio turned up or taking a walk to get some fresh air.
As you might have guessed, those are some of my current favorites. Your list might be completely different. Identifying the things that genuinely bring you joy is an important step in helping ourselves create more brain space for the tasks we have to do.
You are doing something good for yourself at a foundational level by identifying these every day things that bring you joy - you’re setting yourself up to have somewhere you can go easily when you feel your mind or body becoming weary. Not somewhere you can escape to in avoidance for a day or a week or in place of completion, but a place you can hold space for yourself on a regular basis.
Prioritizing these small pockets of joy works because it is when we allow our brain to take a break that it really gets to work. As we rest and relax the brain codifies information, correlates the things we have learned, and rejuvenates itself. Have you ever put down a difficult puzzle only to come back later and instantly see what you had been missing?
None of us like to acknowledge it, but when we really feel there is no time or energy is exactly when we need to carve out space for these small joys. Soak them up fully for a short time each day and carry the joy back to your work.
Did you ever notice that when you think too hard about how much there is to be done it seems completely impossible to do it all in the time you have available?
And yet, every time we have this feeling, if we start putting one foot in front of the other, things get done. Miraculously (with a little perseverance) time after time the work gets done.
None of this is new information - we’ve all heard this before: just getting started, do one thing, the two minute rule (if you can do it in two minutes or less, get it done).
Even though we know it though, don’t we all forget? How many times have you had the rising feeling of panic about getting it all done, or procrastinated because it felt impossible to finish everything you needed to do anyway?
I have that tendency to languish in all the tasks that lay ahead. Not for very long, but I always do. There are studies about how whining makes us feel better, so I’ll chock that tendency up to science. Once I get it out of my system and get started, though, the work is the enjoyable part. It feels good to get things done, make progress on a new piece, or see consistency develop in my playing.
I’m in a busy season, and I’ve definitely had my short-lived whining moments (which feel pretty good, if I’m being honest). But now that I’m getting things done I’m reminded that they enjoyment really comes from knowing that you can.
If you’re feeling stuck right now, this blog is a little nudge to take a step forward, even if it’s a small one. Momentum creates momentum.
Time to go practice.
How many times have you caught yourself searching the internet for an answer? Or, just for "a little more" information?
Most of us use the internet this way all the time without even thinking twice.
You might want to know what spice to substitute when you are missing an ingredient. Perhaps you are looking for information about a piece or composer, or you aren’t feeling well and have taken a deep dive on WebMD looking for the reason.
We’re curious creatures, and there is a lot we want to know. Learning is for a lifetime. It's good for us, and helps us become better at our jobs and being human.
But I don’t really believe our desire to learn is the ultimate driver of endless internet searching.
What I really believe moves us to look endlessly for all these types of answers is our desire for an easy solution.
Surely with all the information that’s out there someone can tell me exactly why my high G sharps are not centered or consistent. There has to be somewhere on the internet that could solve that, right?
I am as guilty of this type of searching as the next person - self improvement newsletters, books, and websites are a dime a dozen. It is so enticing to think that the answer is already out there somewhere.
Why do you think everyone can make so much money online selling courses and programs?
On the flip side of finding the easy solutions is hours of time spent searching and very little time spent experiencing.
(Please don’t get me wrong, we can find a lot of helpful information on the internet - obviously I hope that my blog is helpful! - but at some point we need to try for ourselves.)
If I'm being honest, most of my internet searches leave me with a feeling of having all the information and no solid answer. That's because so much of what we understand and are able to do is dependent on our own personal experience.
Lately, I have consciously put a lot of energy and focus on stepping away from the unlimited resources that are available online and exploring my own personal resources: experience, the tangible feelings of practice, and investigating possible solutions by accessing the information I already have and my experiences in the moment.
Doing this hasn't gotten me anywhere quickly, but it has moved me infinitely further ahead than spending hours looking for someone to tell me how to fix those G sharps.
We don’t move forward by simply reading or watching how someone else has done it. We have to feel our way through. Only by building on our own experiences do we continue to step forward.
Usually when I reach the point in the week where I write the first draft of the blog I share every Thursday (or Friday if I'm behind!) I have had something on my mind…about teaching, mindfulness, performance, yoga, practice…that I want to explore.
Something that I feel needs discussed, that would be helpful to me, or helpful to other musicians.
Everyone once in a while I have to fish around notes I have made to myself of things I was saving to explore on a rainy day.
And then (thankfully not very often) there are weeks like this week where I feel like I have absolutely nothing to write about, unless the internet would like to read my to-do list(s).
My brain is overflowing this week. Full. Completely stuffed.
And not with good ideas. Well, maybe a few good ideas. But it’s also full of emails that need written, academic hierarchies I don’t yet understand, organizational concerns and tasks, overwhelm at parts of large projects that are out of my control, music that needs learned, and practice time that is lost to immediate tasks at hand like remaining mentally present in lessons with my students.
This week I solved very few outstanding issues, did not make much headway on my own projects, and still owe a lot of people emails.
I bet this is where you’re expecting me to say that it's totally ok, right?
But it’s not (I like to keep things spontaneous around here).
I’d like to think that I’m doing my best to keep up with what I expect from myself (and what I need to get done) but I’m actually just hanging onto my life raft with one pinky toe and splashing wildly this week.
It’s been several years since I’ve had this type of demand on my time, and the reality is that I didn’t adjust accordingly. Some course correction is now required.
At some point this week I realized the thing that wasn’t working right was me. (Note that I didn't realize I can't do it, just that I haven't been.)
I have been asking my brain to switch tasks too often, putting off easy emails that could have been done days ago, overthinking things just long enough to not make any headway before I had to move on to something else.
Ouch. It’s painful to realize we are working against ourselves.
There’s no grand moral to this story, other than the fact that I’m grateful I’ve been cultivating awareness in my life because if it could have taken so much longer to level with myself and who knows how far downstream I would have been then, life raft nowhere to be seen.
Once I figured out that it was me in the way, and how I was slowing myself down, it got easier to make better choices.
I bought a cube timer so that I wasn’t relying on my phone or Apple Watch, which meant I could put those items down or change the mode.
Along those lines, I finally set the work focus on my iPhone (I have been using the sleep focus since it came out and love it - why did it take me so long to set it for work?!)
I started waking up just a little earlier each day. Definitely not to workout at 5am or practice before the sun comes up, but just enough to shower and have coffee earlier so that practicing and other important tasks could also happen earlier, etc.
None of these things are going to get me on track right away, but combined with an awareness of what I'm doing they will help. I’m also not suggesting that any of these solutions are right for your predicament. If you're lucky, you don't even have a predicament!
Hopefully, you are having an awesome week and totally killing it at absolutely everything you're doing. That just wasn’t me this week. It’s not really ok, but it’s also not the worst and it’s definitely not permanent.
Except for this being an adult thing - that is going to stick around.
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!).
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.