There’s been an interesting transformation over the last decade or so between what is now known as “Hustle Culture” (complete with those horrid rose gold embossed “Boss Babe” mugs—cringe) and today’s current “Self-Care or Bust” mentality.
Don’t get me wrong–we need to take care of ourselves, and thank god the pendulum swung away from the self-inflicted punishment of the 2010s, but I wonder if the pendulum has veered too far in the other direction.
I wrote about how I think the “Self-Care” movement is costing us in more ways than money a while ago, but today I want to view this struggle for balance through the lens of being an artist–and particularly a classical musician, for which a certain amount of discipline is (sorry!) needed in order to play at a high level.
There has been an influx of musician + wellness accounts over on social media lately–talking about everything from mental health to physical health. Exercise for musicians, Nutrition for musicians, and I am here for all of it! Because you WILL perform better at the audition if you have fueled your body the right way, you’re feeling great physically, and have built the mental stamina to push through the stress of these situations.
But I’m also seeing and hearing from people who are feeling torn between the artistic work they know they need to do, and the self-care they are being told to perform on an alarmingly constant basis. Colleagues are seeing it with their students–canceling lessons last minute because they didn’t get enough sleep the night before and they’re tired, and–wait, this one killed me–my friend had a student ask to reschedule a COLLEGE LESSON 10 minutes before it was supposed to start because they had had a late brunch and needed more time to digest “because gut health = brain health” and they didn’t feel their brain would be able to focus for at least another couple of hours. OMG.
On the one hand, students know they need to get their concerto learned for their jury/audition/competition/performance, and on the other, they’re being told they *shouldn’t* practice more than a couple of hours a day, and that they’ll get more accomplished if they sleep more (and, apparently, properly digest their eggs benedict.)
We need to get familiar with what is an excuse, and what is a problem. The problems need to be addressed as soon as possible, and the rest are just excuses. Take a moment and think about your current working/practicing environment:
In other words, take the time to make your workspace as optimal as possible so that you are comfortable, and set up to work well and undisturbed.
Once that is in place…
Look, we ALL have “days”. It’s part of being human. We are not all functioning at our best 365 days a week. I have a client, in fact, who, due to some extenuating circumstances has more “bad” days than most, and she worried they were holding her back.
Together, we came up with a list of tasks she could do even when she was feeling crappy. Some of them were longer, but super easy (like organizing a music cabinet) and some of them were shorter, but more intense (like working on a tough passage, but only for 10 minutes)
Make a deal with yourself that on any given day (aside from the days you have purposely set aside as non-working days) you will make SOME progress on your work. Promise yourself that every day, something about it will be better.
Keep a simple log (and keep it near you) to track how much you’re actually working. We musicians tend to have a number in mind (I practice 3-4 hours a day!) but if we tracked it, we’d see that one day we stopped early, the next day we started late, the third day we spent the middle hour scrolling TikTok videos, and the 4th day we bailed completely.
Personally, I am so glad to see that things in the arts industry are changing. The increased mental health support we are seeing across the board has been long overdue and will save many careers, and more importantly, many lives. I’m glad that the overly-romanticized version of the starving artist who needs nothing but their art, and does nothing but practice their craft 24/7 has been stuffed in the trash and set on fire.
But being an artist DOES require us to show up, do the work, and be disciplined about it (and yes–that means different things for different people.) The more we as a collective can learn to combine the two. To take care of ourselves in such a way that we CAN show up and do the work, and not simply use the need for care as an excuse not to do it.
I believe that the two are NOT mutually exclusive. That balance point is there, we just need to get honest with ourselves, put some tools, support, and accountability in place, and figure it out.
Imagine what kinds of glorious art could happen then!
P.S. Interested in a 2nd weekly dose of creative motivation and inspiration? Grab a copy of my free workbook “10 Habits of Successful Artists” and sign up for my weekly Friday newsletter: The Weekend List. See you soon!
A couple of weeks ago, I found myself at a cozy farm in Canada for a 3-day Creativity retreat with my mastermind group. This trip had been on the books for months, and it was scheduled to coincide with the end of 3 big launches. My Creatives Leadership Academy, The start of the Bermuda Philharmonic season, and the beginning of the new chamber music program I’m starting here. I was looking forward to having the time and the brain space to dedicate to my book.
First, over the summer, there was a delay with my new work permit, and I couldn’t legally launch the chamber music program until I had that in hand. I finally had it in hand a week before the classes were supposed to start, which put me about a month behind schedule.
Then, there was a hurricane–a small one, but enough to shut things down for a couple of days here–everyone gets let out of work and school to prepare, then everyone is hunkered down, and THEN life goes back to normal unless you lose power…which we did. Right in the middle of my online workshop.
And then Queen Elizabeth II passed away, which meant that there was another day off on the day of her funeral. Bermudians take their holidays VERY seriously–Zero work gets done. They all have a DAY OFF. No one replies to your emails.
And then Hurricane Fiona hit, and she was going to be bad, so more time off to prepare, a day of weathering the storm, and then 5 days without power, internet, or running water.
And that’s where I found myself on September 26th. The day before I left for my trip. I still had about 10 people waiting to talk to me about CLA, the cat-herding of putting chamber groups together was still in progress, and I was still desperately trying to hunt down contact information for some of the potential Philharmonic players.
Far from having all of my boxes checked and tied up with string, it had become, quite possibly, the ABSOLUTE WORST time to be leaving town and locking myself away without access to my email and phone for several days.
But writing my book is important to me, and I had stalled out on it–the format and outline were eluding me, and I was eager to move through that block. This retreat itself was important to me too. It’s not like I could simply put it off until I was ready. It was happening that week. With or without me.
On the drive up, I listened to an audiobook that I found so inspiring, I listened to it again as soon as it finished. I was pumped to spend days at this farm with other brilliant creatives, sinking into my book-writing goals, and having time and space to work.
The reality was that I spent very little time working on my book. Like, maybe 90 minutes total. On Days 1 and 2 there were a lot of amazing Farm-to-Table (or would it be Table-at-a-Farm?) meals, and in between those meals, there were group sessions, writing prompts, a lot of sharing, and a lot of time spent riding on the hotel shuttle bus and bonding with the rest of the cohort.
I went to bed feeling conflicted. It had been a great day, but I also wondered if I had made a very big (and very expensive and time-consuming) mistake.
Day 3’s schedule consisted of various “surprise sessions.” The first thing we did was go for a long walk around the property, which was gorgeous. I was itching to work, but along the way, I had some beautiful conversations with people.
The door opened, and we were face to face with a fiddler doing his thing, beckoning us to follow him to another barn, where the rest of the musicians were set up. Square dancing? Are you KIDDING ME? I had only 3 rules of adulthood: 1) I didn’t date other cellists, 2) I didn’t go bowling, and 3) I didn’t square dance. But I didn’t want to be THAT person, so I went along with it. Was it fun? Yeah, kinda. But that nagging feeling of “are you seriously neglecting your responsibilities to SQUARE DANCE?” was hard to shake.
The rest of the day and evening went along the same lines. There was some crafting, some food stalls, some haunted hay-rides, and, of course, it wouldn’t be a creativity retreat without a few chainsaw-wielding zombies, right?
But something happened in the afternoon of that 3rd day. We had a few hours to just chill. Either continue to work on our crafting project, go back to the hotel to rest, or wander around on our own. I elected to stay, and had brought my laptop and “work” things with me on purpose. I found a picnic table in a sunny spot and logged into my email accounts. Bracing myself for mass carnage and a gazillion fires that needed to be put out, there were approximately 5 emails.
One from someone confirming their enrollment in CLA, one from a mom submitting her child’s availability for chamber music, and a few other non-urgent things.
And then? I shut my laptop and opened up my writing notebook and I started to write.
And a better format for my book suddenly became so clear.
And I started writing a basic outline to match.
And I wrote.
And it was different. It was my voice but changed in a way. More open. More…something. I don’t know, really, but I think it was the…square dancing?
1 Somehow, by doing activities that are so far out from my everyday experience, I got my brain out of its everyday thought patterns. It’s as if the square dancing shook things up, and the arts & crafts put them back in a different order.
2. The act of sharing my thoughts, goals, and plans out loud to the group solidified them in an important way. Several of the things that came out of my mouth shocked me. They sounded like someone else’s voice, but my gut, my intuition, and my soul claimed them as my truth in a very profound way.
3. The point is that we were ALL out of our comfort zones. I can pretty much guarantee these NYC creatives are not seasoned line dancers! The activities, meals, walks, shuttle bus rides, and session shares bonded us all and allowed us to get to know each other in a deeper and more meaningful way. Learning each other’s strengths and needs, desires, and fears, we could exchange resources, names, tips–whatever might be helpful. It was the creative equivalent of “Hey, I’m new in town, and I need the name of a great plumber” only insert “literary agent”, “producer”, or “amazing video editor.”
By getting outside of our usual routines, and by asking out loud for what we need, we can reach previously closed-off areas of our minds. Like the way you are overcome with new ideas while you’re soaking up the sun on a beach vacation, or the solution to a problem comes to you while you’re on a hike, or how you feel inspired and invigorated after meeting an interesting new-to-you person at a dinner party.
Can you step into a new store? Walk the dog in a new park? Rearrange the bedroom furniture? Even taking a different route to work can yield interesting new thoughts and ideas.
On the homefront, all is well. The chamber groups have started up, the Philharmonic had its first rehearsal last week, and CLA is set to start up next week with the most spectacular humans. Who knew that taking myself out of it, and surrounding myself with nature and these incredibly talented and accomplished creative humans, getting chased by mutant zombie pig-people with hatchets and chainsaws would be just the inspiration I needed to make it all happen?
P.S. This is your last week to get in on the amazing Creatives Leadership Academy. This 9-month group coaching/mastermind group won’t launch again until NEXT fall, so don’t miss your chance! You can schedule a quick and painless (I swear! lol) call with me by clicking THIS LINK, and we can discuss whether this is the right kind of program for you. More information about the program itself can be found HERE.
I can remember it so clearly. It was a gorgeous spring day—the kind you look forward to for months when you’re living in New England. The kind that puts everyone in a good mood.
And I was in a great mood for other reasons too. My teacher had been out of town performing for weeks, and I had worked my butt off practicing in his absence. I wanted to impress him at my lesson that day, and I had never been so proud of my playing. I had made breakthroughs in so many ways, incorporating many of the things we had been talking about in previous lessons. Having that large chunk of time to let things settle had been a gift, and I was so ready.
He opened the door with his huge signature grin, happy to see me, and yep—in a great mood. Phew! This was going to go well.
Except that it didn’t. It quickly spiraled downward and the smile drained from his exasperated face. Nope. Not right. Nope– poor phrasing choices. The sound isn’t big enough, or small enough. Or “Enough” enough. Didn’t I practice AT ALL while he was away?
He wasn’t unkind. He wasn’t being a monster. He was trying to help me, and he did. But from that moment, it became hard for me to trust that what I thought was good, truly was. Because one person could say it wasn’t, and that would be that.
From what I’ve heard, I’m not the only one in the arts who has had an experience like this. Whether it was a private lesson teacher, an art teacher, a director, an editor, or a critic, as artists, we come to the table with all of our vulnerabilities laid right out there.
It’s so incredibly brave what we do.
And I get why it becomes really difficult to trust our own ideas. Whether it’s about our work, or about our visions for a better future. Our entire training was based upon getting the approval of someone else. Being anointed as
I’ll admit, one’s confidence is boosted tremendously when a chorus of people tell you that what you’re doing is good. It was a hell of a lot easier for me to launch the Creatives Leadership Academy after seeing the successes my clients have had while working with me, and the fact that they keep coming back for more, but these days I’ve learned to trust the process, rather than shrink away from my ideas out of fear they’ll be laughed at.
I left the freelance world to pursue playing more of the solo repertoire that made my heart sing–blocking out the horrible and nasty things my brain was trying to convince me people would be saying about me.
I started an online music festival at the beginning of the pandemic even though people actually DID try to tell me it was a dumb idea. (Narrator: It was NOT, in fact, a dumb idea after all).
You see, I had the festival all planned out on paper, and I had my list of heavy-hitter cellists I wanted to invite all ready. Literally shaking, I sent the first email to my old teacher—the one from the story above—and told myself that if HE thought it was dumb, I would reconsider.
Two things happened: :
That experience showed me the difference between the two mindsets. Part of me waiting on the approval of “the master” and the other part of me trusting my instincts and leaning into my support network. My coaching group at the time was an important part of that process. Without offering judgment of “good” or “bad,” they simply said “trust yourself and keep going. Don’t give up!” And that was exactly what I needed to hear.
Because our work might not be perfect. In fact, it probably isn’t. There’s always something that could be improved. But if we allow our fear of possible judgment to get in the way, we’ll never launch important projects. We’ll never start initiatives. We’ll stop asking “what if we did it a different way?”
So in case you happen to need to hear it today, I offer you this:
And if you’d like some help along the way, if you’d like to be part of an incredible group of encouraging and supportive creatives like yourself, all showing up and stepping up to make the arts world a better place, there are still spots available in Creatives Leadership Academy, my new group program. I’d love to chat with you about how we can help you achieve your dreams faster and with fewer obstacles, less grit, and a hell of a lot more fun. You can do that HERE.
As I’ve been promoting my upcoming masterclass (Choosing the Legacy Path: How to Up-level Your Career and Make a Greater Impact) this week, I’ve been getting a lot of great questions via emails, DM’s, and social media comments. Two, in particular, popped up a few times, and I thought they were the kind of questions that would be best answered right here. I bet quite a few of you are wondering the same things.
1) Isn’t one’s Legacy something that happens after the fact? How can we have any control over how people remember us–or even if they will or not?
2) Do we actually have any say in what level work we do? I can’t just call up the New York Phil and tell them I’d like to “up-level” to soloist.
Raise your hand if you’ve had similar thoughts. Yeah…thought so.
So here we go:
In its most basic definition, a Legacy is a gift we leave to the next generation. As artists, that legacy can be The Physical Archive of our work–recordings, videos, compositions, films, etc.
It could be A Philosophical Paradigm Shift–like a new style of pedagogy, a new and unique take on how things are done in your industry.
Or it could be A Way of Being. Yannick Nezet-Seguin is leaving many legacies as a conductor, but one important one is that of a Music Director of a Major Symphony treating the players as musical equals–always having their backs, socializing with them, befriending them, and breaking down that concrete barrier between Maestro and Orchestra. I’ve had the pleasure of working with him too. The difference in rehearsal vibe is palpable.
And who is in charge of whether there is a Physical Archive of your work? You are. As a writer, you just need to hit publish on a blog or self-publish a book (or go the traditional publisher route if you want!) Musicians? Make a CD! Dancers, hire a videographer.
Getting that archive in front of the eyes of millions requires a certain strategy (that’s where career coaches come in) but in terms of there being a physical archive, that is all in your capable hands.
The Paradigm Shift is also within your control. How do you do things? Do you think they should be done differently? Have you tried it? If you’ve tried it and had success with it, have you talked about, written about, or otherwise sung about it from the highest rooftops about why others should try it too?
Because one person doing something in a weird/new/unique way is just quirky. But if that person starts to influence others to try it, and they also have success with it, and it starts to spread? That’s a legacy.
When it comes to A Way of Being, it simply goes without saying that it’s 100% on you. What kind of colleague are you? What kind of colleague do you want to be? Do you want to be the Diva that everyone is in awe of? Do you want to be “The Nicest Guy in the Room”? Elegant? Dingy? The graffiti artist who always shows up in a suit? The violin soloist who walks out on stage in ripped denim? Are you an inspiring mentor, like Jesse Norman? Or are you selfish, neurotic and paranoid–the tortured artist causing everyone around you to feel like they’re walking on eggshells?
So to answer the original question? Yes–your legacy is how others will remember you. And while you can’t control the actions, thoughts, or memories of other people, you can definitely lead them in the right direction.
I have written before about how the way we are brought up as young artists doesn’t always serve us well as professionals. In fact, one of the habits in my “10 Habits of Successful Artists Workbook I offer (it’s free–grab it here if you want to check it out) centers around this principle.
Because as young musicians, artists, dancers, and actors, everything hinges on the praise of our teachers and mentors. It’s also more of a zero-sum game in that there might be only one winner for the art show, or only 10 people get picked for the top dance group. Your work could be just as good as theirs, but the judges have to choose.
As adults, that’s not always the case. Now I understand perfectly, that an actor still has to audition and be chosen for a role, an orchestral musician has to win the job, and the composer has to be awarded the fellowship. But there are many cases where artists are either limiting their options or aren’t putting the right things in place to achieve what they want.
Are you a freelance musician who wants to uplevel to a job in a major orchestra? I mean, I could go on and on about figuring out what, exactly, it is you’re after and then see how else you could get it. Maybe what you’d really love is to start your own large ensemble (I promise you, you could do that.) But if the New York Phil is really what you want, have you invested in the right kind of work? I could name 6 brilliant coaches who specialize in helping people win auditions. They all have their own style and specialty and they get serious results for their clients.
Do you want to show your art in a particular museum? Watch as your film debuts at a more prestigious film festival? Have you leveraged your network? Have you researched what the committee is looking for? Have you created a good media buzz around you and your work to make having you there more advantageous for them? I’m not saying this is all easy work, but the difficulty is mostly in the mindset than the actual tasks.
In working with my clients, whether 1:1 or in a group program, these are probably the two biggest areas we focus on, and we answer the following questions:
There are many of you out there who love what you do, love the balance you have between your work and your life, and want for nothing to change.
But there are also a lot of artists out there who finished school and started working as a professional (isn’t it so exciting to get those first checks for doing what you did for free the first 15 years of your life?) and you just kept going.
For a lot of you, the pandemic gave you the chance to take a moment and assess where you were, what you were doing, and what you really WANTED to be doing, and found that those things did not align.
You weren’t going to take the lame gig that didn’t pay. You weren’t going to put up with that a-hole director anymore. You weren’t going to give your art away for peanuts.
This season is the first in 3 years that marks a return to normalcy. The world is open again.
If you’d like to take a deeper dive into these questions and ideas, I invite you to come to this week’s workshop. Either Wednesday, 9/7 at 9:00am ET, Thursday, 9/8 @ 7:30 ET, or Saturday, 9/10 @ 3:00pm ET. (all will be between 75-90 minutes depending on questions)
We’ll be doing a few exercises, talking through different strategies, and I’ll tell you the 3 key areas to focus on this year as you move through this transformative year.
Register for whichever day works best for you. I’ll send you the link to the replay as well as a nifty pdf to help you start that leveling up/legacy leaving work, so even if you can’t make any of the sessions live, register anyway, and you’ll still get the goods. But, if you CAN show up live, your name will be entered into a drawing to win one of my “can’t live without” tools: An Ink & Volt planner. I’ll be giving away 1 for each session!
P.S. I have only two open 1:1 spots left for a mid-September or October start. Working with me 1:1 also includes a weekly “study hall” session that is open to all of my amazing clients. It’s a great place to meet your fellow artist-travelers, get some work done, ask questions, get feedback, and do a little organic networking. If you’re interested in what this kind of coaching support looks like, and how it might help you reach your goals this year, go ahead and book a free and casual discovery call. We’ll chat for about 30 minutes and see if it’s mutually a good fit.
Of all of the fun, awesome, “pinch me moment” kind of things I have done in my career–exotic travel, fancy-pants concert halls, getting to meet and hang out with top performers, composers, and conductors, running chamber music programs, and having recordings I was a part of win Grammys–the thing I am most proud of is the contribution I have made to the online music teaching spaces.
It was terrifying to put myself out there so visibly (and at such a vulnerable time when tensions were HIGH due to Covid). I was putting my professional reputation at stake when I launched the first completely online international festival (The Virtual Summer Cello Festival) and then I created Bridge–an online cello studio for advanced students.
Until then, online learning was for amateurs and people who were just dabbling. They didn’t want to commit to ‘actual lessons” so they bought a cheap and simple pre-recorded online course that would teach beginners how to be Horowitz in 6 months.
Due to the pandemic, online programs became the only way forward. Dozens of colleagues asked me to help them get set up to teach their lessons online, and the texts they would send after they successfully got through their very first zoom lesson made me so happy. I felt like I was using my actual skills and experience to help my industry cope a little bit better.
Even though life has now returned us all to IRL events, students are still loving the options that online lessons afford them. I have a former student in London who still plays for me over zoom before big auditions or competitions, and I have students in Spain, South Africa, Venezuela, Indonesia, and all over the US in my Bridge Online Cello Studio.
They love that they get to know each other in this way too.
And teachers like it as well. Even my colleagues who have local, in-person studios are thrilled at the ease of having an online lesson if they have to be out of town for a gig, or if one of them isn’t feeling 100%, or if “car is in the shop” and the student can’t get to their lesson. The teachers are needing to reschedule fewer lessons, the students are missing fewer lessons, and everyone is thriving.
(6 years ago, when I was teaching my students over skype whenever I was out of town, those same colleagues thought I was CRAZY and wondered how that would ever work! Oh, I laugh…)
But I’m not saying all of this to brag. My point of all of this is to tell you:
In getting over my own fears, in answering the “what will people think?” question with “Who cares?” in pushing past the hesitation to hit “send” on that first VSCF announcement email (and I can thank my coach for the needed encouragement at that moment!) I was allowing myself to contribute something unique.
At a time when we were all standing around asking what the hell we were supposed to do as artists when the world was shutting down, I chose to raise my hand and say (meekly at first, and then a bit louder)
I bet you have an idea or two yourself. And I bet you’ve had several over the years. And I would also bet that, like me, you have felt a bit too terrified to raise your hand, put your professional reputation on the line and speak up.
But what if you did? What if you decided to stop playing it safe, stop selling yourself short, and stop playing small?
What if you found the inspiration, the confidence, and the tools to allow your unique voice to be heard? To do something small, or biggish, or maybe even enormous that would have ripple effects on your industry for years to come.
What if, by taking a small risk, you ended up making a major contribution to your colleagues and to future generations? What if you ended up leaving an important artistic legacy?
If you’re reading this post in real(ish) time–Late August/Early September of 2022, I invite you to join me for a free masterclass that I’m doing on September 7th, 8th, and 10th that will address how to do this.
It’s called “Choosing the Legacy Path” and it’s part of the other contribution I aim to make in my little corner of the world: Helping other artists and creatives do what I did–raise their hand, take a risk, and allow their voice to be heard.
It’s for Musicians, Dancers, Visual Artists, Actors….Creatives of ALL colors and fashions. Because can you even imagine what this world would look like if all of the smart, talented creative people out there stopped waiting to be called on to lead the way, and just stood up?
Come to the Masterclass and we can figure it out together. It’s free, and it might just be one of the most important hours of your career.
P.S. Interested in a 2nd weekly dose of creative motivation and inspiration? Grab a copy of my free workbook “10 Habits of Successful Artists” and sign up for my weekly Friday newsletter: The Weekend List.
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.
As many of you know, the big topic that I’ve been pondering lately, and (slowly) working on a book about, is “Potential”. I wrote an initial blog post about it here, but today I wanted to continue the conversation a bit.
As artists, we have been taught to live up to an ideal of perfection since day one. But assuming that that initial “ideal” is several decades old and that we and the world have changed somewhat, my question revolves around what it looks like in the day-to-day adult world of someone (and someone with a life–relationships, responsibilities, work to do, a household to maintain) who is interested in “reaching their fullest potential.”
I was talking with someone the other day, and he was saying that he knows he wants to do more. He feels in his gut that he was put on this earth to do MORE. But he’s just not sure he has the skills necessary to achieve his vision and has no clue where to even begin. He also laid out the other 2 big ones. He didn’t have the money to take a bunch of classes or go back to school for another degree, and he didn’t have a ton of time left over after his existing duties as a performer, parent, spouse, and soccer coach.
What I told him surprised him and I don’t think he believed me for a long time. Here’s what I said:
I know, I know…sounds like I’m trying to simplify a rather complex notion. But almost every single person who has booked a discovery call with me over the last several years has had some version of: “I don’t have the right skills, I don’t have the money, and I don’t have the time to achieve my dream.”
Until they do it anyway.
And with all of them. EVERY.SINGLE.ONE. (myself, included, btw) all it took at the end of the day, was courage.
And as my clients have learned, courage is like a muscle, and the more you use it, the stronger that muscle gets, and the easier it is to use it. One client who was once so nervous any time she had to have a meeting with the director of her community teaching job that she would go to the bathroom and throw up, now has no trouble holding court in front of the entire board, leading to positive changes for the entire organization!
So back to our day-to-day completely normal adult lives. How do we start moving forward towards those dreams that won’t stop nudging us? That 1 thing that we have said “I always thought it would be cool to…..” but never actually took it seriously enough. Or, you do truly mean to do it…someday…forgetting that we don’t actually have forever.
So let’s get cracking, shall we?
1. Name your dream/idea/vision. Say it out loud, or write it down, or take out an ad in the Times, I don’t care, but get it out of your head.
2. Take the first step. What is the very first tiny little baby step you can take to get yourself one tiny bit closer? Here are some ideas:
Here’s a hint. The first steps are never new business cards, a shiny new website, or headshots. Those will come, eventually. What you need now is a step you can start and finish TODAY.
3. Give yourself positive reinforcement. When you’ve completed your first step, celebrate your win, and plan something small you can do tomorrow. Each day, you can ask yourself “What is my next best step forward?”
4. Practice flexing your courage muscle. Post the reel you made in Instagram (have the courage to post it in spite of what others *might* think of it!) Set some boundaries with a colleague (“I love chatting with you, but I really need to focus right now. Could we find some time afterward to catch up?) Ask for help: “I need a distraction-free hour each morning to get some writing done. Could you be 100% in charge of the kids from 6-7?”
The world has changed so dramatically in the last few years–particularly in the arts. More than ever before, it’s going to be up to us as creative individuals to lead the way forward. Our ideas matter, the new projects, programs, and initiatives, new ways of teaching, and new ways of doing anything, really are going to be what keeps the world spinning now.
And the feeling you’ll get when you take action and start moving forward on your dream? Eventually, it will be a reality, and you will look at it and say “wow! You exist! I did that!” Just like I have seen my clients do over and over again. It’s an incredibly powerful feeling, and one that brings joy, fulfillment, and a sense of both purpose and legacy.
I want that for you, my friend. What’s your thing? I can’t wait to see it.
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.
A couple of weeks ago I found myself with an unusually clear week. A few of my 1:1 clients were traveling and we had moved their sessions to either the week before or the week after, and both my Bridge Online Cello Studio and my Bermuda School of Music teaching were finished for the summer. I didn’t have any meetings or appointments on the books, save for one 5 pm meeting on Thursday.
This was the moment I had been waiting for, and I seized it.
I declared Tuesday-Friday a Stay-At-Home Work Retreat. I have spent a lot of time over the past several months working IN my business, rather than ON my business. In other words, my days were taken up (quite happily, I’ll add) with 1:1 sessions, cello lessons, rehearsals, discovery calls, and writing my blog posts and weekly newsletters. There wasn’t a lot of time left over to work on tweaking my logo, cleaning up the copy on my website, updating some photos and social media handles, and putting important systems in place.
The same thing happens to us as performers, too, doesn’t it? We have periods where we have so many back-to-back performances that we spend all of our practice time learning new notes and in rehearsals and performances. Imagine 6 months of that, and then spending a week working just on fundamentals. Scales, etudes, focusing on your sound, changing your strings, getting your bow rehaired, and reorganizing your music collection.
Now, most entrepreneurs will decamp to a local hotel armed with whiteboards, journals, and a laptop–getting rid of all familial distractions to undertake such a retreat, but I live in Bermuda, and it’s difficult for me to justify spending $800 a night (plus food and gratuities) to sleep in a bed less than a mile from my own.
Tuesday morning I woke up feeling giddy. Like, Christmas morning when you’re four years old, giddy. I was armed with good coffee, fresh fruit, breakfast items, and a few healthy snacks. I locked myself in my office/studio and got to work.
Here are 6 things I learned about the process. A few things I will definitely repeat, and a few lessons learned.
I had a running list in my head of all of the things I wanted to tackle, and I spent some time on Monday trying to figure out an order that made the most sense. Ie. It didn’t make sense for me to batch write some content BEFORE I tweaked my logo because I’d have to go back in and manually add it to each one.
Do some goal setting, mission defining, and long-range planning. This is the time to dream and will make sure that everything you do during the following days flows in the right direction. I started by reviewing my last 12 months, and then I looked ahead to the next 12 months. Which things did I want to continue? What did I want to change? tweak? Stop doing altogether?
I vastly overestimated what I could get done each day. There are always going to be more things that I’d like to do in the time I have, but next time, I’m going to have a master list for each day in priority order. I spent the end of each day bummed that I was “behind” and hadn’t accomplished “enough” but when I took a moment on Friday afternoon and looked at everything I had done over the week, I was amazed. Set yourself up for success.
Most days I pour a coffee before my eyes are even open, but as far as breakfast is concerned, I’ll just wander into the kitchen whenever I get hungry and find…something. Before my retreat started, I picked up yogurts, bagels, smoked salmon, and some fruit, and each morning at 8 am sharp, I sat down and had a beautiful breakfast. It felt a bit more “hotel-like” and kept me in retreat mode when I easily could have slipped into my normal day-to-day routine.
I told my husband (who is a teacher, and therefore, was going to be at home as well) that I was doing this work retreat and that I was going to be working really hard all week. “Gotcha!” he said “No interrupting Kate!” (he’s the best, by the way). He also walked the dog for me each morning and picked up a lot of the household tasks I normally do (grocery shopping, laundry, etc.) I acknowledge how lucky I am in the fact that I HAVE a partner to help out, but there are always people around to help you if you ask for it.
Before Friday even ended, I had grabbed my post-its and blocked off 3 days at the beginning of each quarter to dedicate to a retreat. Beyond that, I am also going to Take 1 full day each of the other 2 months, and a half day each week that will be dedicated to certain tasks. My plan is to determine which tasks need to be done weekly, which are monthly tasks, and which ones are quarterly. Once I’ve nailed down a system that works for me, I’ll be sure to share it with you.
Are you already doing something like this? How are you structuring your time? What tweaks have you made to your system? I’d love to hear what’s working (or not working!) for you.
P.S. I know that not all of my lovely readers are entrepreneurs, but honestly, this kind of retreat transfers to every part of life. For performers (as I described above) for taking care of your house, the garden, your relationship? Finances? So many choices.
P.P.S. One of the most common requests I get from clients is to help them figure out systems they can put in place to help make their lives run smoothly, with less friction between performing, teaching, and family life. Often, the systems we create for them end up increasing their income AND giving them some free time in their schedule. So they have more time to do the things they love. Like save the world, or eat more ice cream. Either way, if that sounds like the type of thing you’d LOVE some help with, book a free 30-minute call with me and we’ll see how I might be able to help get you started.
The buzzword of the last few years has been “Habits” and I think we can all agree that we have James Clear, author of the #1 Best selling book (of all genres!) of 2021, Atomic Habits to thank for that. He goes deep into the HOW of habits. How to form them, How to quit them, and How they shape us.
But when it comes to a group of talented and highly trained artists, do our particular daily habits determine whether we will be successful or not?
Surely, things like how much financial support we have, who we know, and the particular talent we were born with have more to do with our level of future success than whether we do situps every night before bed, right?
Having spent the first part of my life working to achieve artistic success as a professional cellist, and now working as a coach to high-performing musicians, dancers, filmmakers, actors, and visual and spoken word artists, I have seen time and time again, that a) all talent being equal, the better habits win out every time, b) those things like financial support, contacts, and even our talent all come down to our daily habits, rather than simply being bestowed upon us, and c) an average talent with good habits beats a super talent without them over and over again when it comes to the long game.
It’s all about who you know, right? And as smarmy as that sounds just stated like that, when was the last time you were in a position to choose a group of people to work with and you didn’t start with your immediate network? It’s just the way the world works. We want to know that we will enjoy the people we are working with, and we want to trust that they are the right person for the job, so we choose people we already know.
But it’s about WAY more than the number of FB friends you have.
A while ago, I had a call with someone who knows EVERYONE. Seriously. This guy is super connected to all of the bigwigs in his industry. But he was frustrated that no one was offering up any opportunities. “If it’s all about who you know, and I know everyone, why isn’t it working for me?” he asked.
I asked him how often he nurtured those relationships.
An essential habit that successful artists have built into their routine is to reach out to people in their network. Not because they need a favor, but because they have something to offer them. An article they thought they might enjoy. A text or a call on their birthday, rather than just the generic FB message, and these days in 2022, engaging with their social media posts–sharing them, commenting on them. It helps them, you end up being top of mind for them, and it opens the door to future conversations.
I know in certain arts fields–I’m looking at you, ballet–there is a lot of structure in place when it comes to doing one’s daily work even at the professional level. You still go to class with the rest of the company each morning, and if you don’t show up, it’s noticed.
But in other fields like music, art, or writing, only the individual really knows how much they are working each day. Take a day off from practicing? No one will even know, right? There’s also that romantic notion of “waiting for inspiration to strike.” The artist bums around all day, and then suddenly runs over to the piano to start practicing at midnight––sleeping housemates and family members be damned.
The artists I have spoken to and worked with who had the most success had a much better handle on their routine. Some woke up before the sun and did the same warm-up routine every single day no matter what. Others, who maybe have different life circumstances, with young kids or a fluctuating freelance schedule, still know when they do their best work and do what they can to ensure they can work when they need to.
Of course, I’ve also seen the importance of taking time off to rest, and making sure one is balancing their craft work with having a life outside of their craft. So I’m not saying that in order to be successful you need to be a slave to your art. In fact, it’s quite the opposite.
By knowing your schedule, when you do your best work, and the available support and built-in parameters you’re dealing with, YOU are the one in control. You’re not a slave to the whims of your muse, You carve out time each day and work on your craft.
I think we can all agree that when it comes to starting out on a life in the Arts, there are a lot of costs associated with it.
As a student, we invest in Instruments, lessons, gear, ballet shoes, art materials, studio space, festivals, and pay-to-play concerts in Carnegie Hall. The list is almost endless. But we’re learning and growing, and it just comes with the territory.
The thing is, for many artists, the idea of investing in their growth ends the day they are handed a diploma.
“Alright! I’m a professional now. Guess I know what I need to know!” and off they go.
Successful Artists, however, continue to look for opportunities and ways to invest in themselves–a better instrument, a writing program, another degree, a coach, a professionally designed website, or taking some more lessons with a performing or teaching legend.
Unfortunately, these investments tend to be big-ticket items, and sometimes those are hard to fathom. It can feel far easier to spend $100 ten times, than to spend $1000 once.
I once spoke with an artist who desperately wanted to work with me. She “just knew” I was the right person to help her get her project off the ground and then she would be both artistically fulfilled and financially more stable. But she didn’t have the money to pay me at the moment. She needed to spend the summer working to save the money.
Totally fine. Her choice.
Fast forward to her Instagram account which shows her going out to (very) fancy restaurants every week, traveling on an extended summer trip to Europe with her college besties, and showing off her latest shopping hauls.
And again, that’s fine. Everyone has the right to spend their money how they wish. I literally spend money on dirt, so I don’t judge.
But when she booked a second call and tearfully BEGGED me to take her on at a reduced fee because she didn’t end up making any money over the summer?
That’s a hard no.
I won’t sit here and tell you where, when, or how you should spend your money. My point isn’t that some things are important to invest in and others are not. The point is that some people spend money according to their values, and others don’t. They spend money on whatever comes up at the time if they can “sort of” afford it.
Is it important to you to eat well, have interesting experiences with your friends, and live in the moment? Then, by all means, enjoy that trip, the shopping, and the gorgeous brunch at the fancy restaurant in town every weekend.
But if your values point elsewhere, make sure that is where you are putting your money. Even if it means that brunch is a hard-boiled egg and a black coffee made at home for a couple of months, it’ll be worth it to you in the long run to have the other things that really matter to you.
So there you have it–just 3 of the many habits that I have seen work time and again to bring the highest levels of success to artists.
1) Nurturing your network in a regular (and genuine) way.
2) Being more intentional and consistent about how (and how often) you work on your craft.
3) Knowing how and when to invest in yourself (according to your values and your long-term goals)
I hope you found this helpful. If you’re curious about what other habits you can put into place to set you up for success, click here for my full list of 10 Habits of Successful Artists. It’s something that I have been working on for a while now, and I’m excited to put it out there for you all as a thank you for being a Tales From The Lane reader.
Enjoy! And Cheers!
P.S. Summer is the perfect time to take a look at the direction your career is headed. If you’re not gushing with excitement about what you’re currently doing, let’s chat about what small or big tweaks you can make to get things going the right way. You can book a free 30-minute consult with me (absolutely no strings attached!) by clicking this link.
Yesterday, my husband and I celebrated our 7th wedding anniversary. The day started out well. Cards and gifts, a long walk with Tango, a nice breakfast, and messages from friends and family streamed in, wishing us a beautiful day.
It was a little after noon that I heard the news. Another mass shooting. The 300th mass shooting in the last 186 days, in fact.
Highland Park, Ill is a 10-minute drive from where I grew up. It’s where the Ravinia Festival is (the summer home of the Chicago Symphony) and where I spent several high school and college summers working. I have spent a lot of time in downtown Highland Park.
More importantly, it happened way too close to where my family still lives. My nephew’s girlfriend is from there. It’s a miracle to me that they weren’t at the parade.
So yesterday was full of grief and fear and worry. But that’s sort of par for the course these days isn’t it?
This latest shooting came right on the heels of a week of horrifying Supreme Court decisions that will affect us all. And those came right in the midst of horrifying testimony about the dangerous state of mind the “Leader of the Free World” was in on January 6th. (I’m sorry-did someone say something about him sending an armed mob over to the Capitol?)
And all that came, personally, on the heels of the sudden, random, and tragic death of a dear friend of ours.
The past month has been a doozy, to say the least.
I’m seeing the posts on social media, I’m reading the texts from friends and family, and I’m hearing the words. The compounding stress of all of these events is beginning to take its toll on us as a society.
This constant barrage of stress is not sustainable, yet we must manage it, right? We can’t all just stay at home wallowing in our grief at the state of the world, but we also can’t (and don’t want to) bury our heads in the sand and just not think about it.
So how does one go about living a life, getting our work done (practicing, rehearsing, writing, working, caretaking, cooking meals, etc.) while also making space for this particular kind of grief?
After reading several different articles by people with far more expertise than I have on this topic, I’ve rounded up 7 of the top suggestions.
I thought this was really interesting and has helped me often. Instead of “I’m just so sad.” it’s “I’m feeling sadness right now.” It gives you permission to feel other things later and allows for the natural flow of emotions, rather than getting stuck, and spiraling into bad feelings.
It’s tempting to stay glued to the screen to get the latest possible information, but unless that information will affect you or your actions in real-time (like those who were in hiding/sheltering in place while they searched for the shooter yesterday) just turn it off. You can catch up later, but nobody needs to have their heart racing and cortisol surging unnecessarily.
Because pacing around the kitchen isn’t doing you or your downstairs neighbors any good.
When the stress and grief are causing the kind of brain fog that won’t allow you to get any work done, ease in with some mental busy work. Do a jigsaw puzzle, or the crossword, or knit a scarf. Make a new batch of sourdough starter. Once your brain has detached from the more stressful thoughts, you can redirect it towards productive work.
In trying times, you likely need both time on your own to process and think, and time surrounded by others–either to make you laugh or to share the burden. That balance will be different for everyone (know thyself).
It’s easy to think to yourself “What difference does it make if I can play this concerto if the world is ending, and all of my rights are being taken away?” But it’s just as easy to think “my artistry can provide a platform, from which I can be a force for positive change.” choose wisely.
Let’s just assume that everyone is doing the best they can at any given moment. You are. They are. We all are. Know that you’ll have good moments and bad ones. You’ll say and do the right thing, and you’ll say and do the wrong thing.
And hopefully, with the suggestions above, our “best” will get a little bit better each day.
Sending all of you a giant hug. Here’s to better times ahead.
P.S. Did you find this helpful? Sign up for “The Weekend List”–my weekly newsletter that hits your inbox each Friday with more tips, tricks, and life hacks for creatives, as well as a curated list of things to read, try, ponder, or check out. All geared to help musicians and other creatives live their best lives.