“I don’t know what’s wrong with me, Kate. I just can’t do it.”
I didn’t panic. I’d heard this many times before. In fact, I’m pretty sure I’ve said it myself in the past. I knew what to do.
In my coaching work with creative high-performers, I have noticed this phenomenon happen time and again. And, in observing it in my clients, I have also recognized the pattern in myself, and in most people around me.
It’s a pattern of thoughts and behavior that gets in our way of pursuing a project. Of leaving it there on the table, gathering dust.
You know the drill. You have this great idea–it’s the perfect thing, and you cannot wait to get started. You plan everything about it, maybe even tell a few close friends about it, and then…you stop.
There are reasons, of course. EXTREMELY VALID ONES (you tell yourself)
This is where I call B.S. Because let’s be honest. We’re all adults here. It is never the right time. Life constantly throws things in our way. Sick kids, sick parents, sick ourselves. It’s a busy time with work, or it’s not a busy time with work, so you want to take a vacation. Any number of things can (and will, I promise) come up.
And no–it’s not quite the right thing…yet. That’s why we need to do it the first time, to the best of our ability. The 2nd time you’ll keep what worked, and tweak the rest. And the third time gets even better. You can’t improve on something that doesn’t exist.
And about that other “better” idea? Great! Isn’t it awesome to have multiple great ideas coming at you? But I’ve seen people get caught in this trap. Always chasing the shiny new object, but never getting anything off the ground. A year goes by and all they have are a bunch of dusty ideas sitting on the table in front of them. No cool project that they can add to their resume, no added income, and no opportunities given to the people they mean to be serving.
The hardest part is not getting started, and it’s not executing and implementing the work once it’s out there. The hardest part by far, is the act of pressing that proverbial “Go” button and letting the idea out from the comfort and safety of your own little private world, into the inbox of the first person to need to contact about it.
If I look at just the last 10 clients I’ve worked on projects with. The ideation? Easy. crafting the offer? I mean, rife with mental pitfalls, but it gets done, making it all nice and shiny, figuring out details, and loading it up into a perfectly written email? Sure, there are conversations about compelling copy, word choice, there’s some discussion about best length, etc. But overall, not a problem.
And when things have been put into motion, and they have their team, collaborators, students, or they’re in launch mode, having calls, enrolling people into their programs, or setting up concerts; Whatever the doing of their project requires, that part is all fine. But between that first well-crafted email and the project itself lies one seemingly impossible task.
Starting a new workout plan:
Buying new exercise gear—easy! fun!
Working out–feels great. We’re full of pride, endorphins are pumping
But getting yourself out the door and to the gym?—-utter anguish.
Making a big decision:
Laying options out on the table–exciting! inspiring!
Moving forward with your chosen idea–feeling focused, productive, and content
But deciding which one to go with? Absolute torture.
The beginning phase–the ideation phase is full of internal validation. We know it’s a good idea and that feels good. Imagining it all coming to light is exciting.
The end phase–the doing phase is full of external validation. When people sign up for the program, enroll in your festival, purchase tickets for your event, etc. We get that dopamine hit every time someone else says “Yes! I love it”
That all-important middle phase–the act of pressing “Go”, however, is full of question marks.
Like at the starting line of a race. There is no going back. Like playing the very first note of a performance. Once you make that first sound, you just keep going until the last.
We put so much pressure on what people will think. Worried that the internal validation we have given our idea won’t be matched by the big, bad, outside world.
Your idea is the most important thing in the world. If you don’t do it, humanity will never be as great as it could have been. The world needs you to do this.
And, at the same time…
Your idea is the least important thing in the world. If no one likes it, or wants it, no big deal, you’ll just move on to the next thing. No one will even remember your email an hour from now.
Important enough that you MUST send it. Unimportant enough that if they’re not interested, there will be zero repercussions to you, your reputation, or your life.
The 2nd solution is the one I use with my clients until they have mastered the first one. I literally (okay, virtually) sit there until they hit send.
And that’s what I did with my client the other day.
“I’m right here, at my desk, literally waiting for you to hit send. Voxer me when you’ve done it.”
A few seconds passed.
“DAMN YOU!” appeared in a text from my client.
And then, after a few minutes…
“OMG, DONE!!!!!!!!!” and so many emojis of happy faces, trophies, check marks, and tiaras.
And I smiled. Because their project is SO GOOD, and I knew the recipients of those emails were going to read it, and think the same thing. And I knew that in a matter of weeks, she would be deep into the “doing” of the project. Basking in the satisfaction of having pulled it together, and the awe that something this life-changing can come from just one tiny, seemingly harmless little idea.
Friends, what are you waiting on? What great things are sitting there gathering dust, waiting for you to muster the strength and fortitude to hit “Go!”?
Because I’m sitting here, waiting for you to hit “send”. Let me know when you’ve done it, or if you need a little boost.
P.S. If you need help pressing “Go” on your best ideas, or if you want some support and guidance on how to get those ideas out into the world, let’s chat. I offer a free, no-pressure 30-minute call to any of my readers. I love hearing about what you guys are up to, and I’m happy to give you any thoughts and guidance I can–whether or not that includes a future coaching partnership. Book a call by clicking here.
Richard Koch, who wrote The 80/20 Principal (great book, btw!) about how 80% of one’s results in both business and life come from 20% of their efforts, is about to come out with a new one called 80/20 Beliefs. Similar concept: That 80% of your actions in life come from 20% of your beliefs. So you’d better make sure you truly believe those beliefs.
In it, he asks the question: Have you ever held a strong belief about something that you have since decided was not serving you? The answer for me was yes. Absolutely. Many. and then I realized that most of those beliefs were about my life in relation to the cello:
I love classical music, so I should become a professional musician.
If I don’t practice my craft every single day, I am a worthless piece of shit who doesn’t deserve to perform.
We have the career that other people give us.
Making art at the highest level possible is more important than anything—certainly money, and relationships too–because if a person doesn’t care about the music as much as you do, they aren’t worth your time.
If you’re not depressed, difficult, or tortured in some way, you will never be a great artist.
Only important people at important institutions can create industry-changing projects and initiatives. Not your standard freelancing musician.
And the kicker:
These beliefs were held by everyone around me. We grew up with them. They were passed down from one generation of musicians to the next. These beliefs were handed down to us from J.S. Bach himself, people!
But at some point, somehow (and I credit my classic Gen X upbringing. A Latch Key Kid with babysitting income–basically had to raise myself. Hell, I even had to *gasp* do my own homework!–I’m looking at you Gen Z 😉
Anyway, I guess some of that independence found its way into my belief systems, and they started to crack. The first to go was that I began to refuse to be “tortured” I wanted to be happy, and I was pretty sure that being happy wouldn’t REALLY get in the way of my being a good cellist.
Then I decided that having a healthy relationship, paying my mortgage, and being a happy and satisfied human being WERE important parts of life.
Then I started to understand that maybe taking some time away from the instrument not only didn’t get in my way but actually made me a BETTER musician. Whoa. mindblown. I took a month off and went to Morocco to work in an orphanage. No one knew I was a musician. It was glorious.
We don’t necessarily have to do this forever. You might want to–and that’s great! I have had many mentors throughout my career who were as passionate and dedicated to their craft on the day they died as they were when they were just starting out. That’s wonderful…for them. But what I have never heard spoken of is the idea that a career as a professional musician could be merely 1 chapter in a long book.
Koch refers to them as toxic beliefs. It’s not that the belief itself is toxic, it’s that holding onto that belief NO MATTER WHAT can hold you back.
I’ll be honest. When I decided to stop performing in order to write and coach more, I figured I just wasn’t as dedicated as my colleagues. I didn’t love it as much as they did (and I loved it a lot!) but the number of people who have emailed, DM’d called, and texted me to say something along the lines of “Holy cow! I didn’t know we were allowed to just STOP!” told me that I wasn’t alone in that toxic belief.
There’s an unspoken message about how much we have sacrificed to get here, and that it was a life-long calling. Something more valid and important than just some “job.” And of course, because it’s such a competitive field, if you’ve made it, why would you just give it up?
Thankfully, I was able to override that belief, and instead took on a new belief “It’s my life, and I only have one, so I should spend it doing the things I want to.”
Obviously, you’re not all musicians here, and obviously, there are all sorts of Toxic Beliefs that could be holding you back. Why, I bet you could think of 6 Toxic Beliefs before breakfast!
Why do I make my bed every day? Why do I belong to this club? Why do I have a glass of wine at the end of a long day? Just ask, and explore your own answers.
We can see the toxic beliefs that are holding other people back far more easily than we can see our own. (While you’re at it, ask them what they think you’re really good at, too. You might be surprised.)
Why? What belief do you have that they are going against? It might be a perfectly good value-based belief that serves you well. But it might not be. I know someone who always criticized others for going on fancy vacations. She felt they were throwing their money away instead of spending it on more important things. It wasn’t until later in her life that she discovered the joy (and importance) of creating new memories and experiences through travel.
You can start in small ways–no need to set fire to your life! Always hit the gym in the morning? What happens if you go in the evening? Take a different route to work. Do your hair differently. Pick something different on the menu next time. In other words, practice flexing the muscle that questions what you do and why you do it.
To stick with my main example, above, if my original belief was “Classical music is a lifetime career. We don’t retire. We will do this until the day we die.” Then the opposite belief would be “Classical Music can be a temporary or part-time career. You can stop whenever you like and choose to do something different.”
Is that true? As bizarre as it sounds to anyone raised in the classical music world, yes– technically, the latter belief IS true, isn’t it? And if your brain came up with the follow-up thought: “Yeah, but nobody DOES…” You, my friend, are not alone.
When you start to question why you do the things you do, you will likely find very good and true answers to many, if not most of them. You go to the gym in the morning because that’s when it fits in best in your current schedule, or because you really love that 6 am yoga teacher’s class.
But you might find some surprising things popping up as well. Values and Beliefs can be wonderful compass points for us, and can lead us down a path of a joyful life well-lived. Sometimes, though, a rigidly held belief can hold us back from that joyful, well-lived life, and I don’t want that for any of us.
Happy detoxing, my friend!
P.S. If this post struck a chord, and you’ve been trying to figure out how to step things up in your life or career (or both!), I’ve created a short but super helpful worksheet that has helped dozens of my clients find that much-needed clarity so that they can move forward toward their goals and begin to realize their true potential. You can grab it here for free today.
Think of something you have been doing since you were a kid. Maybe that’s performing, writing, telling stories. Maybe it’s a sport.
Do you remember the very first time you did it?
Me neither. I played and performed on stage as a cellist so many times in my life that any memories of my First Time got washed away years ago. Knowing myself, I’m sure I was both excited and terrified. Even as a 5-year-old, I was concerned with “getting it wrong.”
Later, when I started touring and concertizing more, I made tons of rookie mistakes: Leaving things like water, rosin, and other things with my cello case downstairs in the green room. Have rosin caked on your strings between pieces? Too bad. Not enough time to head down then and grab that rag to wipe it off. So I learned to have a small bag that I could hold those essentials in and keep just off stage with me.
I learned how much sleep I needed, what kind of day I should have, how much I should (or shouldn’t!) practice, and how much food to eat to not feel full and tired, but not be hungry and lightheaded either.
My most recent cello performance day felt completely in my wheelhouse. I knew where to go, and where to park. I knew my level of preparation and that my pianist and I had rehearsed thoroughly over the week. There weren’t a lot of unknowns, and there weren’t many moving parts. Show up, play, bow, go home.
No, this one was a big First Time and involved a giant tent and a crew of people to put it up and take it down. There’s the stage build with risers and platforms that we *hoped* we’d measured correctly but wouldn’t find out until the morning of the show. The food trucks, the ferries, THE WEATHER!
If your name is Cindy, you were not my friend that week. Just saying. Cindy (as in, the tropical storm that was threatening to pay a visit) needed to stay far, far away.
I wasn’t nervous about the performance part. I was conducting rather than playing the cello, and I was confident that I’d either do a competent enough job or that the players would know to ignore me and just do their thing. I was nervous about the other moving parts. The tent, the vendors, the will-call tables, the sound and lights, the after party. I was worried about T.S. Cindy making an unwelcome appearance.
But I thought back to the first time I planned a recital tour or the first time I took an orchestra on tour, and I remember planning my wedding (which, I had never done before.) I remember the first day of the 1st year of my Virtual Summer Cello Festival, and just thinking about those other “firsts” kept me calm and reminded me of the most important thing.
Things Will Go Wrong. Big things, little things. One thing, or many things. Nothing ever goes EXACTLY to plan.
I’m not sure there is a way to avoid that First Time feeling of ”OMG, I’ve never done this before. NO ONE has done this before! What if it all goes to shit?” But it helps to remember that it always works out. Somehow. And even when it doesn’t, there is always a way to make it work. To turn any First Time into a Success.
In preparing for this Pops Concert (which, to most of you will sound like no big deal, but they don’t do those here–not in anyone’s recent memory anyway. So this was not only a first for me, but it was a first for everyone involved.) I needed to remember that this might be my first time doing a concert in a tent, but that tent company sets up tents every day. For them, it’s a simple solo recital. Show up, play, done. The vendors? This is what they do.
The trick, you see, is to not allow the nerves of doing something for the first time to stop you from doing it at all. The “but I’ve never done anything like this before” mentality is about 2 thoughts away from “Who am I to try something like this.” which is the stop right before “I’m going to look like an idiot and people will laugh at me.”
If you listen to and act upon those types of thoughts, elegantly called “Imposter Syndrome”, you will continue to live your life in safe, familiar, and predictable territory. But they will also keep you from trying new things, having adventures, making a difference, or having an impact on the world around you. You run the risk of regret, lost dreams, and a whole lot of “If I had only just…”
And, as I constantly remind my clients as they push past their own imposter syndrome and do big amazing things, operating outside of our comfort zone is a muscle, and that muscle gets stronger the more you flex it.
You can practice flexing that muscle in small ways. Order something new-to-you at a restaurant. Invite that new mom at the park who seems like she’d be a cool friend over for a coffee. Do something you’ve done before on a bigger scale.
As for the Pops Concert? Well, the tropical storm dissipated and it was a glorious, picture-perfect day. Did things go wrong? Oh yes. The tent we had lined up fell through, and we had to scramble to get a new one (from a great company that we’re excited to work with again), the overseas musicians got caught in the United Airlines/Newark Airport Hell Week (but they eventually made it–with various amounts of their luggage) And a bunch of little things here and there went awry. The things you can’t plan for, but you figure them out in real-time.
But the event was an enormous success. We had about 100 more people than we expected, and the atmosphere was ebullient. The orchestra sounded great, and everyone is asking when the next one will be.
I’m looking forward to the next one as well. All of those big unknowns are now known. The stage dimensions (they were correct!) the tent company, the transportation. All of those First Time things are proven concepts, and we just repeat what worked, and tweak what could have worked better.
And most importantly, I have flexed both the muscle of Doing the Big.Scary.Thing, and the muscle of fixing what goes wrong. I have even more proof that we have the power and the strength to figure things out as they unfold. I do, and you do.
So get out there and use those muscles, my friend!
P.S. If this post struck a chord, and you’ve been trying to figure out how to step things up in your life or career (or both!), I’ve created a short but super helpful worksheet that has helped dozens of my clients find that much-needed clarity so that they can move forward toward their goals. You can grab it here for free today.
I taught my first cello lesson when I was around 13 years old. It was a younger student of my cello teacher, whose parents were both busy professionals, and not at home to help him practice. They lived close to me, so Mrs. B gave them my phone number and told them to have me come over to work with their son 2 days a week. I ended up just becoming his babysitter, and I’d practice with him every day after school.
Those mini-lessons lit something up inside me. Using what I had learned and struggled with, and finding ways to explain it to him so that he could do it (hopefully without the struggling part!) felt amazing to me. It gave me clarity over what I was doing in my own playing, and I could see the results in his improvement.
I continued to teach throughout high school, and college, taught in community programs while I was at New World Symphony, and once I settled myself in Boston, I built a private studio, taught at a community music school, and also worked with students in the youth orchestra program.
I always considered myself a performer first, but teaching was always a part of who I was and what I did. When people asked me what I did, I would answer “I’m a cellist.” and then if they followed up with Do you teach? The answer would be “Yes–of course!”
When I retired the identity of “Cellist” a year ago, the “Teacher” part didn’t end. I love my students and get so much enjoyment from working with them and following their successes. My favorite thing (and I think it always will be) is when they reach out as young professionals and ask to play for me as they prepare for big moments. And the letters and emails I have received from former students who went on to non-music professions, telling me how the work we did together through music has helped them in their lives warm my heart and fill me with tears of gratitude.
But I have decided that this will be my last year of teaching. My Bridge Online Cello Studio students have graduated, and are in very good hands, and my last day of teaching at the Bermuda School of Music is 10 days from now. This has all been in the works for months now, but I couldn’t talk about it publicly until the announcement was made here.
Why am I leaving something I love so much? Something that has been a huge part of me for 30+ years?
I’m just not going to be teaching cello–or music, for that matter.
I learned a lot from my decision to leave my performance career behind last year. Shortly after I played my “last official professional concert” I was asked to perform in a concert here in June 2023. It was over a year later, and it was repertoire I loved. I decided to keep it on the calendar in case I found myself regretting my decision to stop playing. I figured if I did change my mind, I’d be happy to have something fairly big already on the calendar, and if I hadn’t changed my mind, well…it at least would be fun.
Said concert is this week, and it IS fun. The pianist I’m performing with is fantastic, and rehearsals have been a joy. It’s a piece I know well, and it’s been great. And I’m looking forward to not having to do it anymore.
So now, this time around, having given myself that contingency plan for “Big life change #1”, I don’t feel the need to do it for “Big life change #2.” I’m ready to put the “Kate as cellist” behind me, and honestly, teaching 4-5 days a week has meant that I’ve continued to play the cello almost every day as well.
The Teacher in me is still going strong. I don’t think she’ll ever die. I do a lot of teaching in my coaching work: the career coaching part of it anyway. I teach my clients how to write copy, how to increase their visibility, how to network in non-slimy ways, etc. in other words, just as I was able to help that very first little student of mine way back when by teaching him the things that I had figured out in my own work, I help them develop the skills that have helped me along the way.
Even these blog posts are about me as a teacher. I’m not writing this because I think you’re all dying to know all about my life and my thought process. I’m writing this because some of you out there are thinking about changing some part of your life as well, and I’m here to share my experience so that you can struggle less with your own decision-making.
1. People might initially be shocked, but they will quickly come around to being supportive
2. A LOT of people will contact you and express their secret desires to do the same thing.
3. You are innately allowed to change course. If you still need external permission to do so, I’m giving it to you now.
4. You are also allowed to change your mind about changing your mind. You can come back if you want to.
5. You will likely find (as I did) that what you are leaving behind is only the external expression of who you truly are. The cello was my tool for expressing myself and connecting with others. I still do those things, but now my tool is writing. Teaching allowed me to share knowledge and help others become the best version of themselves. Now I do that through coaching and, again, through writing.
6. Never make decisions based on what you think others expect of you. 100% of the time, they are too busy worrying about their own lives to have any real concern over what you choose to do with yours.
As I spend the next 10 days giving my last cello lessons, watching my students play their spring recitals, and clearing out my studio, I will no doubt feel lots of feels. Already, when I gave one of my Bridge students her last lesson last Sunday, I looked down at my well-worn copy of the Saint Saens Cello Concerto and realized that it was suddenly possible that I will never look at it again, and that felt BIG.
But, just like a good closet refresh, when you clear out things that have been with you for 30+ years, you’re making room for other wonderful things, and you get to keep all of the memories that went along with the old. It’s bittersweet for sure, but growth always is.
Here’s to making big decisions, endings, beginnings, changing course, and staying true to ourselves. If I can do it, you can too, my friend.
P.S. If this post struck a chord, and you’ve been trying to figure out a new direction for your life or career (or both!), I’ve created a short but super helpful worksheet that has helped dozens of my clients find that much-needed clarity so that they can move forward toward their goals. You can grab it here for free today.
The parent of one of my chamber music students texted me the other day to say that her daughter would need to leave our next coaching early in order to get to her school music concert. She was so apologetic–she knows that the group has their own recital coming up, and that rehearsal time is precious.
“I’m so sorry! There’s so much going on this month!”
I could list all of the things that I need to do over the next 4 weeks, but I don’t need to. I bet you have the same exact list. Between your own performances, deadlines, rehearsals, and your kids’ or your students’ various events, it’s hard to keep up! Everyone is in a rush to finish things up by the end of the school year.
Added to the mix, of course, is the exam stress the students are under, the pressure we teachers are under to make sure the exams and the performances all go well, and the scheduling conflicts that inevitably come up making it impossible to get everyone in the same room at the same time.
We somehow always manage to get through it in one piece, but it can feel pretty rough if you don’t enter into this kind of period with a few intentions set out.
It will be exhausting at times. That much I can guarantee. And I’m sure a few of us will be remembering back in the fall of 2020, when we were stuck at home with a bare-bones schedule. No group activities for us or the kids, no social obligations other than a Sunday morning Zoom with the family–for which sweatpants and bedhead were expected attire.
Back then, as much as we missed our community, we breathed a sigh of relief to not be so busy all the time and promised. Promised that we would never go back to the way it had been pre-COVID.
The trick, I think, is to make sure that there are only 1 or 2 times a year when things are this jam-packed. Most likely, it’ll be December and May/June–When every arts organization, class, and program is constitutionally (or at least, institutionally) required to have a final shebang.
This kind of schedule is certainly not sustainable 12 months a year, but if we can limit it to 2, and put a few behaviors and boundaries in place, I think we’re going to be fine. Just fine.
And then it’ll be July, and it’s all just summer reading and popsicles, right?
Do you need to drive 7 different carpools on Monday? Fine. Drive the carpools. Don’t waste energy complaining about it. It’s not hard, it’s just annoying. Annoying won’t kill us. Keep breathing through it, and put one step in front of the other.
Listen to a great playlist, an audiobook you’ve been meaning to read. Make or pick up your favorite coffee or kombucha for the ride. Rather than allowing these moments to drain you, do things that will generate more energy. Do a minute of stretching, or catch up with a good friend.
This one can be tricky because it’s important to honor commitments you’ve made–especially if other people are counting on you in big ways. Is it essential that I make time for my clients? Yes. Is it essential that I post on Instagram every day? No. Is it essential that I play the concerts and rehearsals I said I would play? Yes. Is it essential that I go to the pub quiz every Sunday night with my team? No. They’ll manage without me–I’m still hopeless at 90’s British pop music, anyway.
Even in the busiest period, there might be a 30-minute window, when you don’t actually need to be doing something. But we tend to stay in that adrenaline-fueled mode regardless. Cortisol pumping away, afraid to let our guard down. If you’ve ever found yourself pacing back and forth, wondering what it is you’re supposed to be doing, you know what I’m talking about. Even on your fullest days, there will be small breaks. Slow it down. Breathe. Drop your shoulders. It’s okay.
Instead of saying to everyone around you “I’m just sooooo busy!” See if you can switch it to “Yep, life is certainly full right now!” bonus points for a big knowing smile. Be grateful that you were invited to take part in these events. Grateful that you get to see your kids exhibit their talents, or learn to punch stage fright in the nose and get out there. Grateful that you are able to give your students these important opportunities to show off their hard work, and grateful that another year is successfully drawing to a close.
Everyone at the gig is feeling a little bit frazzled. All of the parents are desperately trying to keep up with everything. The kids are stressed out and want to do it all well and make us proud of them. If we show up grumbling and cracking around the edges, everyone suffers. But if you show up smiling, with store-bought cookies, (because who the hell has time to bake in June?), or encourage a Madonna sing-a-long in the carpool, you can single-handedly make it a fun experience for everyone around you—and most importantly, for yourself.
July 2nd I will be sleeping in. I will be playing in my garden for as long as I want, and I will be getting a 90-minute hot stone massage. The idea of Sunday, July 2nd is giving me the strength I need to get through the next 4 weeks. What is your ideal reward? A weekend getaway? a movie in a theater with popcorn and milk duds? A nice meal at your favorite restaurant? Plan it, and book it.
Good luck, my friends! And for those of you who are already through your very full end-of-year periods (I’m looking at you, Florida and Illinois people!) tell us how it is on the other side.
P.S. If you’d like some help in gaining clarity around your life and career goals, I have a great (and free!) workbook that can guide you toward those answers. You can grab it here for free today.
Today, for my “in real-time” readers, is Memorial Day in the U.S.
Memorial Day is first and foremost a day of remembrance. It is a day that we honor those who lost their lives trying to make this world a better place.
On a less serious note, it also marks (rather unofficially) the beginning of the summer season. A day of ice cream, opening up the family vacation house on the cape, and the emergence of those white jeans that have been hidden away since early September.
I’ve always felt that the two “sides” of Memorial Day Weekend were entirely at odds with one another, but lately, I’ve been seeing the intersection of the two.
The people we are honoring had their lives tragically cut short. Many of them were barely out of childhood. They didn’t have the chance to decide exactly what kind of life they wanted to live. They didn’t have the chance to try different career paths, hobbies, learn new languages, climb every mountain, or travel to every ballpark in North America.
Summer is a time when, especially as creatives, we have more time and more freedom to explore different ideas and projects. It’s a perfect time to take your work in a new direction or try on a new identity for size. Away from the pressures of a “new year, new me January” where our resolutions are meant to be forever. Or the madness of “Back to school” September, where the minimum commitment time is a full 9-month academic year.
It’s a 2-3 month period. It has a clear beginning and a clear end. Short enough to keep your enthusiasm going, but long enough to see some results. It isn’t as daunting to say “I’m going to work on my vibrato this summer” or “I’m going to learn 3 new French words a day this summer.”
Maybe you, like me, still have a few weeks to go in the teaching year, and the next 4 weeks are going to be chock-full of recitals, the “end of year” this, and the “final” that, it seems there is something on every square of my June tall-on-the-wall calendar page that is going to get a giant checkmark.
Even so, this time of year feels exciting and anticipatory. We poured our heart and soul into this past season—the performances we did, the series and festivals we planned, the students we taught, the courses we ran, programs we launched. The juries we either prepared for, or adjudicated, the auditions we won, lost, or listened to, the shows we put on. The list goes on and on.
And now, we see that glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel. Summer might also be full of students we’ll teach and rehearsals we’ll show up to. We might still be doing our craft all day every day, but somehow it all feels different in July and August.
Festivals bring a change of scenery and some new students, summer courses bring a different timeline, and the longer days, rehearsals that end with a jump in the lake, and the copious amounts of ice cream that will (and should!) be consumed make it seem like anything is possible. There’s more space to it all.
Do you promise that you will spend lazy afternoons lying in the grass identifying cloud shapes? Or take a daily nap?
Or maybe you’re more of a project-oriented person. Do you want to read the complete works of Shakespeare? Watch all of the James Bond films? Attempt to grow 100% of your vegetables? Make some art every morning?
I always loved a summer project. Whether it was my library’s summer reading challenge when I was small, or a freshly marked-up part of a new concerto my teacher would entrust me to learn at whichever festival I was heading off to, I adored that feeling of having a set amount of time to accomplish something clear and tangible.
And now, as an adult, I find myself thinking about what my project will be this summer. Last summer was about reconnecting with friends and family throughout the States and England post-pandemic.
This summer feels a bit more personal. As I continue to shift away from some long-held identities and lean into exciting new ones, I find myself wanting to purge my things. Which I have always seen as a sign that you’re ready for a big breakthrough of some kind.
The point is that every person is going to gravitate towards a different kind of project, and each year will pull you towards something new. Generally, they can be broken into the following categories:
What about you? What is calling out for you to explore, try, and add to your life? Because living a well-lived life means always evolving, and the fact that we have the ability to do it for at least one more day is a gift that we should never take for granted.
P.S. If you’d like some help in gaining clarity around your life and career goals, I have a workbook that can guide you toward those answers. You can grab it here for free today.
A few weeks ago, I was doing my morning pages, and there was a thought that kept popping up for me.
“Everything in my life is at about 85%” Why is that? I thought about all of the various areas of my life–my health, relationships, my work, my home. Everything. Why am I not doing what needs to be done to bring those numbers up?
It stayed on my mind all day.
Then later that afternoon, I hopped onto a call with my mastermind group, and the topic of the day was “Good to Great” inspired by the book by Jim Collins. Our cohort leaders, the fabulous Susan Blackwell and Laura Camien asked us to consider what would be required of us to take our individual projects (in my case, my book) from Good, to Great.
In general, I feel like things are pretty good all around. No major complaints and I’m extremely grateful for all of it. Yet, in every area, I can see a hundred things I could be doing to make it better. Why was I not doing them?
And yes, I’m happily married, with wonderful friends, and a beautiful home on a beautiful island, where I can grow plenty of food. I freaking LOVE my work–which happens to be a lucrative business that I built myself, where I get to help people every single day, and I’m not in any danger of starving to death in my old age (because of both my savings and my waistline!)
Only we know (deep within ourselves) what we are truly capable of, so, really, we’re the only ones who can issue that report card. Others around us might tell us we can do better when we know that we had already done our very best. And other times people tell us that our work was fantastic when we know we had sort of just phoned it in.
In my writing and research into the topic of human potential, the one question that I keep butting up against, is the question of “how much is too much?”
I’ve talked to many strivers, dead-set on reaching their fullest potential, who are miserable. Burnt out, full of perfectionism and anxiety. Constantly under self-inflicted pressure to be the absolute best version of themselves all the time. Utterly flawless in their appearance, their home, their social calendar, and their work.
But they’ve been hungry for 3 decades straight and feel a strong sense of self-loathing any time they see the scale go up, or a wrinkle on their face, they had to drive to 3 supermarkets to get enough limes to fill that bowl on the dining room table, they hate the people they “have to” spend time with, and they haven’t had any fun or downtime in years because there is always more work to do to make a project (insert performance, screenplay, book etc) absolutely perfect.
So, back to the idea of giving ourselves report cards. Is it even worth it to strive for the A+? Will doing so ensure misery and burnout?
Not if you do it right.
My hunch (which has so far proven right in my exhaustive and global 3-week experiment on myself) is that the answer is two-fold.
We can’t be perfect at everything all at the same time. There is no way you can be the perfect boss, the perfect parent, the perfect partner, and also the perfect host, gardener, friend, stock analyst, athlete, artist, cook, and housekeeper all at the same time. We all know this, so we should stop feeling guilty about it. Our lives shape-shift a bit. With different areas needing more or less attention at any given time.
Instead of “How can this be perfect?” Ask yourself, “What’s something I can do to take this closer to Greatness?” This concept is not new. Whether it’s the idea of the mini-leap, or improving by 1% each day, it’s about taking 1 step at a time and allowing the results to compound.
I have every intention of getting that report card up to all A’s, though I have a sneaky suspicion that life and experience have a way of moving that bar up constantly, but maybe that’s where the fun is.
P.S. Interested in a few top tips on how to take your career as an artist from Good to Great? Grab a copy of my free workbook “10 Habits of Successful Artists” or sign up for my weekly Friday newsletter: The Weekend List.
See you soon!
A couple of weekends ago, my husband Paul and I did a big charity walk. It’s the biggest walking event of the year, and on the 1st Saturday in May 2400 people walk from one end of Bermuda through the railway trails to the other end, 24 miles later. It raises millions of dollars for various organizations around the island.
We’d done it before and it was a bit of a disaster. Something about one of us (okay, me) thinking the walk was in kilometers not miles, and totally misjudging how long it would take us, and possibly one of us (okay, also me) saying yes to playing a gig at 5:30 that afternoon–making the last couple of hours a painful mad-dash to the finish line–Hobbling right past the beer tents and live music, in order to get on the ferry to make it home in time.
So we swore we would do it again someday, and just enjoy ourselves. No rush, no time constraints, just a whole lot of basking in the community atmosphere and having fun.
This year, as the weekend approached, I saw on the calendar that we didn’t have any plans for Saturday, and it was going to be a stunner of a day. So on Friday afternoon I walked into the registration area in town and signed us up. I paid our entry fees, was given our bibs, and then handed over to the nice swag folks to get our bright green race T-shirts only to be told that there was only 1 shirt left. The very last shirt available for the entire event was a Men’s Large.
No problem! I said. My husband can have the shirt. I don’t need one. Bright green isn’t really my color anyway.
But the next morning, as we walked over to the starting point, seeing a sea of bright green shirts, I felt really out of place. I suddenly felt like my white top was sticking out like a sore thumb. I felt like Bridget Jones in her bunny suit.
Who cares? I kept telling myself. I’m wearing a number, I paid my race fee–that’s the important part! We’re all just in this together, doing it for a good cause.
But I couldn’t shake it.
I considered the Pros:
It’s a phenomenon we experienced all the time as kids–when it was essential to have the right clothes–the “whatever it is” that everyone was wearing that year. In my case, I wondered if my current Green-T-Shirt-induced discomfort was stemming from the requisite Guess jeans that my parents refused to buy me in 5th grade–causing me an entire year of ostracization from my peers.
But it shows up in adulthood as well, doesn’t it? The businesswoman with the right designer bag, a gaggle of musicians in concert black, the yoga moms in their lululemon.
Trends are about fashion, and they are about fitting in. They create a uniform of sorts. One that is changing and fluid, and isn’t always about clothing.
It could be a social media platform (I had a good friend who refused to join Facebook back in 2008, and as much as we all loved her, we all kind of lost track of her after that) or a device (iPhone, anyone?) hell, even water bottles now have names.
And while it all sounds absolutely ridiculous when I write these words down “out loud”, there is something a bit primal about it. An almost biological agreement within a tribe of people that we will adapt together, that we will wear the same war paint, eat the same foods, and behave in similar ways.
Does it keep us safer? Maybe. But perhaps this desire to “fit in” by looking like everyone else is causing more harm in the long run. Because if we are looking for the people who look like us to know who to keep safe, then what happens to those who don’t look like us?
By the end of our walk, I was exchanging knowing glances and smiles with the few others on the walk who, like me, were without a bright green T-shirt. We knew. We shared an understanding. We were our own special subset of the event. And now that it’s over, I’m just someone who did it and I’ve got the medal to prove it!
And Paul’s Bright Green T-Shirt will live forever at the bottom of his drawer, never to be worn again.
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This month’s Spotlight Series features the brilliant and über-talented Megan Chartier. Megan is a professional classical cellist creating ballpoint and ink drawings in between performances under the name Inkermezzo. Integrating both passions, Inkermezzo is a blend of the words “ink” and “intermezzo,” a short instrumental movement inserted between acts of a larger work.
Searching for her identity when the performances halted in the early pandemic, the artist/cellist embraced musical artwork to cope; she was still a cellist, even without a stage. Her musical illustrations focus on classical music education, awareness, and activism through anatomical and portraiture work. Megan currently holds positions as core cellist of the Astralis Chamber Ensemble and Principal Cellist of the Opera San Luis Obispo in California.
TFTL: At what age did you start playing the cello? Were you naturally drawn to it, or was it something that someone suggested you try?
MC: I started playing cello through the school strings program in fourth grade. I knew I desperately wanted to play an instrument but I picked the cello for probably all the wrong reasons. One, I wanted to play the biggest instrument. Two, all the boys wanted to play the cello. I didn’t feel particularly girly enough to play the violin and I was also admittedly boy-crazy. Three, I wanted to be Julie Andrews in the Sound of Music and the cello was the closest thing to the guitar to swing around – which I did running off the school bus on many occasions, with somehow only one catastrophic cello accident. While none of these reasons are very profound, I found my voice on the cello shortly after and knew it was mine.
TFTL: What about art? Is it something you trained in formally? Or are you self-taught?
MC: I am almost entirely self-taught with my art. Unlike music, artists run in my family: my grandfather was an incredible oil painter and my mom and aunt were very advanced at drawing. I considered choosing art school instead of music school, but I couldn’t stand being told what to do with my art.
TFTL: I get a lot of requests from high school and conservatory students to give them a taste of what different career paths really look like. What does a typical month of work look like for you?
MC: Every month can look quite different, and I’ve learned how to really enjoy that aspect of my career. Some months I go on tour with my chamber ensemble for a week or two, return and jump into an orchestra cycle, then drive down the coast to perform with the opera company for a week or two. Some months, I’m in full audition mode and won’t take many freelance gigs to focus. I also have a full online cello studio, allowing me to travel and perform freely and make cello lessons accessible to those in remote locations or with tight schedules.
As the first musician in my family, the variety of my workload originally felt like I was failing at the big one-job goal, but over time, I’ve grown to view success more in terms with my ability to maintain all of my passions at a high level.
TFTL: How similar or different are your approaches to the craft of cello playing, and the craft of drawing? Do you have routines for both?
MC: That’s an interesting question – I would say that my approach to the cello is far more organized and calm compared to my art at times, but they both affect each other equally. My organization in cello helps my art, and my problem-solving in art helps my cello playing. I often compare daily struggles in each and am able to work myself out of creative holes.
I absolutely have routines for both although, most strongly is the cello. Routines are super crucial with two competing art forms because you can get carried away with one or the other. At the start of Inkermezzo, I would have cello days or art days, nothing in between. Now, I only allow myself to draw at night as a reward for meeting my practice goal in the day – and the evening art routine is a good way to reflect on musical goals for the next day.
TFTL: Did you always have a clear picture of what you wanted your career to look like?
MC: In sixth grade, we were required to choose careers; creating business cards and interviewing professionals in the field as part of a career project. I picked “orchestral cellist,” interviewing a cellist in the Detroit Symphony at the time. My teacher protested my choice, saying that it was like choosing the career path of “soccer player.” It only strengthened my perseverance.
That clear picture didn’t include art though. I knew I loved art and was just as crazy about it as cello – but I thought I had to pick between the two. I actually kept my art a secret from colleagues until the start of Inkermezzo, because I feared that my art would make people think I wasn’t as serious of a cellist. I’m just starting to really explore the possibilities of my career as both an artist and a cellist!
TFTL: What was it like to start Inkermezzo? How has its growth affected the music side of your life?
MC: Inkermezzo really only started because I wanted to sell a few stickers on Etsy and needed a name. It wasn’t a formal launch, just something on a whim. It started with the support of friends and before I knew it, it snowballed into something magical. I go to rehearsals and meet people that have my stickers that I’ve never met before. That’s pretty wild.
Inkermezzo is all about musical art, so it’s really helped define the type of advocacy I’d like to be doing as a musician. For instance, a cello colleague, Horacio Contreras, invited me to join his organization Strings of Latin America (SOLA) as the graphic artist for their sheet music covers and more. We’ve released a beautiful edition of the Ricardo Castro Cello Concerto with more music on the way.
TFTL: What is one change you would like to see in the classical music world?
MC: Apart from the obvious celebration of underrepresented musicians and better ways to recruit younger audiences, the mental health of classical musicians really needs some serious attention. Take toxic teachers and the intense competition out of the mix — our job is to sit alone in a room and criticize every detail of every note for hours upon hours, then get up the next day and start all over. I don’t know many musicians that haven’t suffered mentally from the demands of competitive perfection. Social media has certainly started the change — from Hilary Hahn’s 100 days of practice to @hungrymusician’s self-care cooking classes for musicians, the ball has started to roll and I look forward to seeing what it can do for classical music as a whole.
TFTL: Practicing: Love it or Hate it? What do you find is the most challenging aspect of it?
MC: Who doesn’t have a love/hate relationship with practicing? I’m 90/10. I love the problem solving, but to be honest, the most challenging aspect is having to sit all the time. I get tired of sitting.
TFTL: Who were some of your role models as a young musician?
MC: Very obviously Jacqueline du Pré – but I didn’t know about her until much later. I don’t come from a musical family — or a family that knows much about classical music — so my role models were very much the teachers I had in front of me. In particular, I had one middle school teacher and later my high school youth orchestra conductor, Bill Milicivic, that was particularly impactful for me. He was the first classical musician that I had ever met that was so passionately invested in every aspect of performing and educating. I still wish to be like him when I grow up!
TFTL: Do you have a morning ritual or routine to get you going each day? Can you share some of it with us?
MC: Every single day: I have breakfast, do my Spanish Duolingo while having a cup of coffee, fill Inkermezzo orders, get ready, and practice at least one hour before my first lesson. I’m very much a morning person and without those things, I feel like my day was somehow wasted.
TFTL: What is your favorite thing about attending (not performing in) a classical music concert these days?
MC: Perhaps a controversial favorite thing, but I love observing audiences clap between movements. To me, that means there are new audience members there – new audience members that feel moved enough to disregard the more experienced members not clapping or getting agitated. There is magic in that moment and I wish there was more appreciation for them.
TFTL: What 6 people (dead or alive) would you invite to your ideal dinner party?
MC: Ira Glass, Nadia Boulanger, Anton Kraft, Mark Rothko, Clara Schumann, and Dmitri Shostakovich.
TFTL: Where can people find you? And what is the best way for people to show their support for what you are doing?
My musician pages:
My artist pages:
TFTL: Do you have any upcoming performances or projects that we should check out?
MC: Yes! Astralis Chamber Ensemble tour throughout Florida late April 2023
Opera San Luis Obispo (CA) Die Fledermaus in May 2023.
2023 Classical Card Collection, one card per week.
New SOLA (Strings of Latin America) sheet music for cello
TFTL: Thank you SO much, Megan! It’s been such a pleasure to gain a bit of insight into your life, career, and process. Thank you for sharing it with us!
(Drawing in Top Photo: “A Cellist’s Self-Portrait”)
Do you think of each year in Quarters?
It’s a very corporate framework, for sure, and doesn’t always jive perfectly with the artist or performer’s calendar (I mean, unless you have to pay quarterly taxes-blech). We usually start things up just after Labor Day (with 1 month inconveniently left in Q3) but Jan-March (Q1) does tend to have a vibe, as does April-June (Q2). For most of us, the “regular” season ends around then, and teaching certainly does. July and August (Q4) we’re off doing summer things: Festivals, performing in different venues, traveling, etc.
After a lifetime of working from the point of view that it was either “The Regular Concert Season” i.e. September-June or it was “The Summer Season” July and August, I started breaking things down a bit more into quarters over the last few years. I’m a fan, and I don’t think I’ll ever go back.
I find it enormously helpful to look closely at 3 months at a time, rather than an entire year, or worse, just the week (or the day!) ahead. Last summer, I started doing a Stay-at-home retreat at the beginning of each quarter, and I thought I would share the questions I am asking myself at the beginning of this quarter.
This can be anything from a performance, a big trip, an important deadline, or a big social event. Anything that is outside of my normal routine. I also include anything that is happening in the 1st week or 2 of Q3, since the prep work will need to happen in Q2. Here’s my list.
Next, I make sure these dates are all in my calendar, and that I have reverse-engineered the deadlines along the way ( and rehearsals, meetings, travel accommodations, etc)
It’s so easy for me to just keep my head down and dive into work. From one project to the next, focusing on my clients and students. Before I know it, it’s been 6 months, and I haven’t accomplished any of those seemingly optional things like, oh, seeing friends, reading non-work related books, or taking care of myself. That was old Kate, anyway. These days, I try to be much more intentional about it, and these quarterly check-ins really help with that.
Some of the things on my list for Q2?
Things like these can easily be tracked, and I’ll add them to my weekly stats that I check every Friday. How many times did I get to the gym? What did I harvest from the garden? How many friends did I speak with?
I used to be one of those people that just waited for the proverbial phone to ring. At some point, I started asking myself what I wanted to be doing, and then at some later point, I started figuring out how to make those things happen.
It’s one thing, however, to write down in early September, “I want to do X by the end of the season” and it’s quite another to say “Over the next 3 months, this is how I want to move closer to doing X” Smaller goals, with shorter timeframes have a higher success rate than having 1 BIG goal, with a due date far in the future.
This is what I came up with for the next 3 months:
These are all things that are definitely doable over the next 10-12 weeks, but will also require me to focus on them and take weekly action to meet those goals. There’s no “I’ll get to it later.”
Now, I don’t have a crystal ball, and obviously, as we’ve all learned, things can change in an instant. And if and when they do, we can adjust things. But looking over the events I have coming up, and the personal and career goals I have set out for myself, I came up with:
Growing the philharmonic community, my email list, my gardens, my personal network, and my reach.
Streamlining processes, systems, my schedule, and work duties (more on that later…)
“Finishing Strong” for my CLA members as they launch their incredible projects into this summer, my cello students as they head into their end-of-year recitals and as I finish up what will have been my first full concert season of the Philharmonic as board president/artistic director.
As I said, this is the Key Question for me. The answer changes with every quarter and can range from Bold to Courageous, to Quiet, to Rested. It depends on what I have going on, what I’m coming out of, and what I want to focus on at the time.
For this quarter, I have a lot of different types of things going on–many of which are going to require a lot of time, effort, and stamina. With full to-do lists each day, and quite a few late rehearsal and performance evenings, I still need to make sure I get to the gym or the yoga mat in the mornings. So my word?
So getting sleep, drinking more water (I am THE WORST), and eating nutritious food that will keep me going through long days. That is my word. If I can make sure that I am feeling energized, I know that the 4 lists above will all happen the way I want them to.
I hope that you find this helpful. Both the 5 questions and my examples. It feels a little (okay, very) weird to be putting my innermost thoughts and personal goals out there for the world to see, but I always find it helpful when others do it for me.
Give it a try, and let me know how it goes for you. What other questions you would add?
P.S. Are you on The List yet? If you enjoyed this blog post and want more insider info on how to thrive as a creative, be sure you get on the list to receive my Friday “Weekend List.” Each one is loaded up with additional tips, tricks, and things to think about, including a new curated list of articles, books, podcasts, and things that I think you’d enjoy. Click Here to Get the Weekend List!