inner process

Why Anyone Would Share Their Failures Online

A few weeks ago, I was interviewed by the thoughtful and accomplished percussionist Doug Perkins for his podcast, Five Days With Doug. We talked for almost two hours. I confessed to Doug that while I’m in a pretty good place right now, I’d spent a decent percentage of my late twenties struggling with depression, career confusion, self-doubt, burnout, and financial instability. (Doug referred to this as my “turning thirty freak-out,” which is definitely part of it.)

This week online,  I discussed my attempt to quit eating sugar.

At some point, Doug said: “So, you’re pretty open about the fact that you’re searching, you’re seeking, you don’t have it all figured out. But you’re also saying to other people, I can help you with your career stuff.”

“It’s true,” I replied. “It might seem counter-intuitive. But I think there are some things that you can only help people through if you’ve been there.”

Everyone’s had that instrumental teacher who doesn’t quite know how to break things down, because they learned the technique so long ago that they’ve forgotten. Or perhaps the skill came relatively easily to them, and they can’t get inside the head of someone whose process is different. When it comes to working through life's thorniest problems, sometimes it's helpful to talk to someone who's very recently come through them. So I often choose to "out" myself, so that I can be "found" by friends, colleagues, and even near-strangers who may share my struggle and can benefit from what I've learned.

It's a tricky balance, this dance between private life and public statement. It's possible to share too much, to open a wound before you're truly ready, to expose yourself to criticism or public debate when what you really need is privacy, silence, and time. 

Still, the fact remains that this process of sharing is second nature to me. Recently, my friend Deidre was asking me about why I choose to write about my life and ideas online. Deidre, a more private person than me by nature, didn’t really understand sharing in the way that I do. “What do you get out of it?” she asked.

As I was talking to her, I realized is that I have a Circle of Life, which looks like this:

II:  Have an experience → Reflect on it → Gain insight → Share what I’ve learned  :II

Repeat ad nauseam. I'm calling it a Circle of Life because I swear, it just happens regardless of whether or not I plan it, or think it’s cool or strategic or useful. I can declare to myself,

No more blogging! I’m only going to be literary or

I’m going to go on meditation retreat for three months or

I’m going to take a damn orchestra audition. No really, I am.

Sooner or later, I will be back, pecking my most recent life experience out onto a keyboard, trying to make sense of it. Part of how I make sense of life is by sharing it.

The perils and triumphs of of online navel-gazing.

The perils and triumphs of of online navel-gazing.

And of course, the magical thing that happens once you’ve shared your own story is that you discover you’re not alone. People come out of the woodwork. They email you and share their experiences. They take you aside at parties and mention something they never otherwise would’ve mentioned. And suddenly you have a sense of tribe, a sense of shared experience, and the world is a less lonely place.

So a lot of what I choose to do -- writing, coaching, consulting -- falls under the “share what I’ve learned” piece. Not because it has some particular benefit, but simply because it's in my DNA, for better or for worse.

I’m super curious. Do you, my dear readers, also have a “circle of life” that you constantly find yourself engaged in?  A pattern, a process, a way of being in the world that’s deeply ingrained and unique to you? (Mine is pretty typical for an ENFJ, by the way, and I find it fascinating how different personalities approach and process the world.) Let me know in the comments.

Why I Quit Playing and Got a Desk Job (And Why You Should, Too)

This past July, after one of the busiest concert seasons of my life, I got really burned out on being an entrepreneurial violinist/writer. Desperate for some kind of change, I started applying for full-time day jobs.

I was really tired of:

  • not knowing where my next check was coming from

  • struggling to birth projects in the jungle of other people’s schedules and priorities

  • fighting for press, attention, attendance, and funding

  • cramming anxiously for my next gig

  • getting onstage with too little rehearsal    

  • … did I mention not knowing where my next check was coming from?

Maybe you’re familiar with some of the above struggles. Taken together, they paint a picture of how tough it can be to stay in good spirits, good health, and good financial shape as a creative musician in a big city. These are the complaints we hear from our fellow musicians so often, usually followed by a heavy sigh. These are the difficulties that sometimes send us looking for greener pastures.

Well, I found those pastures. After applying for a few positions, I was lucky enough to land a full-time, salaried job with a Chicago arts organization. I had great co-workers, a nice office, and work that played to my strengths  I felt like an orphan who had suddenly been offered a place at someone’s table.

Six months later, I sing a very different tune. I’ve transitioned to a part-time role at my office, and my perspective has dramatically shifted. I’m completely reinvested in being a musician, and I have a clear-eyed appreciation for the challenges and privileges of building a musical career. It’s not that my complaints weren’t valid -- they were -- but now I understand that they are the price of admission for the privilege of living a life in music.  

I was thirty years old by the time I took my first full-time “job job,” and its lessons have been invaluable. If you’ve ever longed for the comfort of a steady arts admin paycheck, you should absolutely go for it. Let me give you five reasons why:

1. You will find out very quickly how important your art-making is to you. What happens when forty hours of your life each week are eaten by nonmusical activities? Do yourself a favor and find out. Personally, my “ah-ha” moment was the week that I set my alarm for five-thirty every day so I could hustle to a downtown practice room and squeeze in 40 minutes of playing time before I got to my office. I thought I didn’t want to be a player anymore. The evidence suggested otherwise.

2. You will develop a deep appreciation for the people who work behind the scenes to make your gigs possible. At my organization, seven smart, wonderful people work full-time ensuring that rehearsal space gets booked, tickets get bought, seasons get planned, taxes get paid, and paychecks get mailed on time. They work tirelessly behind the scenes, and do not receive the standing ovations that the musicians do. If you watch a great admin team at work for any length of time, you’ll never see your gigs the same way again. Many musicians -- myself included -- could use a dose of gratitude and humility towards the people who enable their work to take place.

3. You may realize that “easy” isn’t what you want. Trying to assemble a rewarding, financially solvent living as a musician takes tremendous ingenuity, skill, and persistence. It’s totally natural to be exhausted, or need a break, or want to throw in the towel and do something easier. So go ahead, take a job that feels “easy” to you and see how long you can go before you brain starts asking for the old challenges again.  

4. The freedom-versus-security question will become crystal clear to you. There is a reason that full-time jobs pay you a reasonable salary. It’s because they take all of your time. The ability to choose gigs and projects, take unpaid time off for passion projects, and decide how your day is going to go, is a privilege that has both costs and benefits.

5. You’ll either get your ass in gear, or you won’t. I thought I might be someone who made a permanent, meaningful career move away from performance and into something different. Turns out, the hunger is still there for me. But the other outcome -- realizing that I’m happier in an office -- would’ve been okay, too. There’s only one way to find out.