It’s been 3 months now since I made my decision to “retire” from being a professional performing cellist. There were a lot of expected feelings and thoughts that came up for me. I have missed the things I thought I would miss (the camaraderie during rehearsal breaks) and enjoyed the aspects I thought I would enjoy (a practicing-free morning!).
But this summer, I came to a realization about a certain aspect of being a cellist that I had never noticed before. And it left me a bit shook.
I was in the car with my husband, driving from Boston to Ohio at the beginning of our summer road trip, and I felt….uneasy. I was so happy about being back in the US, seeing friends, my family, getting to explore a bit of Canada I hadn’t seen, etc. It was all great.
But somehow, it wasn’t “enough”. It seemed too easy. Fly over. Get in a car, and drive around seeing people. Do some fun stuff. Go home.
I started talking about how I wanted to do an epic trip–hike the Pacific Crest Trail or El Camino de Santiago (still high on the list, btw) or travel through SE Asia for a few months. Paul, level-headed scientist that he is, suggested that we could do the PCT in small little chunks. 1 short hike at a time.
I wanted the challenge. In fact, I NEEDED the challenge. I needed to be faced with an activity that seemed insurmountable. Impossible. And I needed to prove to myself that I could do it.
The kind of challenges I was constantly faced with in the entirety of my life as a cellist.
Growing up, the “next piece” always had some new bit of technique. As teachers, we call them “teaching points” but as a 7-year-old cellist, that trill, or bow stroke, or higher position might as well have been Mount Everest. But somehow, we always manage to conquer it, don’t we? (ahem, because our teachers were awesome.)
So throughout my cello-life, well out of the Suzuki books, and into my professional career, there was always some challenge that I put in front of me:
I was addicted to the constant challenges that were available to me as an artist. Staring down an impossible challenge, piece, career change, what have you, and just doing it. The sense of elation that was promised to me on the other side was irresistible.
That’s what I have missed most about it. It’s not the actual music (because I can listen to it any time–hell, I can still play it any time I want to as well). It’s the challenges I was putting myself in front of every day.
I think that’s why I loved practicing as well. It was my way of breaking down the challenge, or figuring out the puzzle–if I practice it in THIS way, I’ll accomplish X. It required the determined focus of any elite athlete, the pushing through the dips in progress and motivation. Proving to myself that I had what it would take to succeed.
So the idea of getting together with friends to read a few Haydn quartets seemed kind of tame to me. But commit to reading through ALL of the Haydn String Quartets over the course of a year? I would be so in.
It’s the Quest. The challenge. My interest is in how far I can push myself. My stamina, my endurance, my focus, my determination.
I don’t think I’m alone in this. I would bet that most creatives are a little bit like this. Are you? If so, tell me more. What’s your favorite brand of challenge?
For now, I am just grateful for this realization. It explains so much about my life as a professional musician (and a student one, for that matter) but it also gives me a roadmap for a happy future.
I’ll always need a quest. Be it Shakespeare, Haydn Quartets, or the Pacific Crest Trail. I need to push myself. I need to put my limits to the test. Expand my sense of what is possible.
I guess the main moral of this story is that as I gain some distance from this identity that I’ve had since I was 5 of being “a cellist”, I am finding that the qualities that I thought came from being “a cellist” are really just qualities that I had as “me”. And I used them in my life as a cellist, and I will use them apart from that life.
It’s a realization that the instrument was just that. An instrument through which my true self came through. I can give up the instrument, without giving up…well…me.
And that’s always the fear, isn’t it? The whole, “Who am I without my art?”
And I’m here to tell you this: You’re Still You. Beautiful, Completely Yourself, You.
P.S. Are you looking for some guidance regarding the next steps in your career? Whether that means getting strategies in place to scale things up, or figuring out how to streamline and delegate in order to create more time in your life for the things that are most important to you, let’s talk.
I offer free 30-minute consult calls where we talk about your goals, and what might be most helpful to you right now. I work with both musicians and non-musicians alike, and you can book that call right here.
This. All of this. A resounding yes.
So on point. The identity of being a cellist…kudos on making the step!
Thank you, Marie-Élaine! And I’m glad this resonated with you, too.