Thinning the Carrots of Your Career


My husband has spearheaded a community garden at his school. He’s always lived amongst gardeners (except, I imagine, during his years out at sea…hard to find good soil in all that ocean….) and he’s been a huge help in our home gardens in building fences, beds, and getting the composting and water lines set up, but this is his first time choosing plants, sowing seeds, and feeling responsible for their success. 


He was asking me the other day about carrot seeds. They’re so tiny….how do you plant them? 


And as I explained the process to him, along with the tried and true hacks all seasoned gardeners know about planting carrots, it occurred to me how closely this mirrored the building of careers as a musician. 


First, you need to plant lots of seeds–they are small, and you don’t really know which ones are going to germinate. 


But once they are up, you need to thin them out. You just want one every inch and a half or so, and snip the rest off at the stems. If you have too many crammed together, there’s no space for the root part to grow, and so none of them will. 

One great hack for doing this naturally is to plant radish and carrot seeds together. The radishes grow really quickly and their bulbs push the carrot seeds out of the way, and by the time you’ve harvested the radishes, you’re left with the perfect number of carrots, perfectly spaced apart, with plenty of space in between them to grow. 


What does this have to do with your career? 


Think of the carrot seeds as all of those gigs you do straight out of school. Every little teaching job, every wedding, every orchestra. Every recording session, etc. 

When I arrived back in Boston as a fresh, green, 25-year-old freelancer, I was given some great advice from an older, highly successful friend: 

He told me to say yes to everything for the first 2-5 years. Every gig, every teaching job, every opportunity. Not only would that grow my list of contacts, help me get to know new people, make friends, etc. but I’d get to know which things I LIKED to do–which orchestras were a pain in the ass, and which ones I really looked forward to. I’d learn what repertoire I liked to play. New Music? Early Music? Middle of the Road music? Which teaching jobs had the best students, the best facilities, and the best faculty perks, the easiest commute, and which ones were just a drain on my time and energy?

Then, when I had sampled a bit of everything, I should start to pick and choose. Keep the good ones and let go of the bad ones. In other words: Thin the Carrots.


Except that we, as freelancers tend to be very good at that first part, but very, very bad at the 2nd part. 


We love getting the call, the email, we love having MORE–ABUNDANCE! And with an industry-wide feeling of scarcity (not enough people in the seats, not enough students, not enough funding, etc., etc.) we feel we’re in a constant race to horde as much work as we can, like it’s March of 2020 and we’re in the toilet paper aisle. 


I remember talking to my family one holiday and I told them that I had been hired by Boston University to Direct the Chamber Music Program at their summer program, BU Tanglewood Institute. I had been working at the Boston Youth Symphony Orchestras for several years already, running their chamber music program, and that’s how BU knew about me. 


“Wow! Congratulations,” my brother said. “So, when is your last day at the youth orchestra?” 


Isn’t that cute? He thought I would have to leave one job to take another….like in the “real world”


But we never think that way, do we? We just keep adding more and more and more onto our plate. Whichever seed happens to germinate, we just tend to it–even if it means that carrot root might be a bit thinner than we’d like. 


In the case of the BYSO/BU jobs, well, it wasn’t technically necessary to pick one. They didn’t overlap at all. In fact, The normal BYSO season would end in June, I’d pack up my car and drive out to Tanglewood, be there for 8 weeks for BUTI, pack up the music, and drive it out to Maine, where BYSO had a 2-week summer camp. After that, I’d drive home, and get things ready for the next season. It all fit like a glove. 


Except that for the 3 years that I did that, I was EXHAUSTED by the 2nd camp ended. So exhausted that I dreaded the beginning of the new season. In hindsight, I wonder if I was truly giving my best to everyone, or if I was squeezed too thin to be at 100%. 



It would benefit us to plant a few radishes with our carrots. Those radishes? Well, they’re different for everyone of course, but consider them the space savers made of things we love. Plan 1 Sunday afternoon a month for a chamber music reading/lasagna eating party. Get a season’s subscription to the symphony, theater, dance company, and make sure you are filling the well, and not just depleting it week in and week out. If I had insisted on taking time off at some point during those summers? (Instead of filling any off moments with a pops gig, or a “quick & easy” wedding) I’d have been a much saner person, and my bills would still have been paid. 


It’s a lesson we as freelancers (and perhaps all artists) need to learn. When do we get past the point in our career where we should be saying yes to everything? At what point should we start taking away the old as we add new? 

And what is the deciding factor? Money? Family? Time? There is ALWAYS more money to be made. Another gig, another student, another round of sectionals to agree to. But we can learn to let go of the fear of being crossed off a contractor’s list for the benefit of our quality of life.

And when we can find that balance of carrots and radishes, we’ll know that everything is growing and working at its full capacity, that we are giving our absolute best. That we can give time to others because we have saved some time for ourselves. 






P.S. Exciting News! Back by popular demand, we’re doing a Thrive-Fest: Holiday Edition over in the Tales From The Lane FB group. Haven’t joined yet? You can do that HERE. Every day, M-F + 1 over the weekend, between November 15th and January 1st, there will be a prompt posted in the group of 1 super-easy task that you can accomplish that day (I try to keep everything between 5 and 20 minutes!) Over those 6 weeks, we’ll get you organized, grounded, and ready to have the best, most enjoyable holiday season in years–without the usual stress of having to cram everything in at the last minute. There’s a great community, fun prizes, and some new perks this year as well. 


P.P.S. Know someone who might enjoy this blog post? Could you do me (and them!) a favor and share it with them? I’d be so grateful!

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