How to Make Tough Decisions: A 5-Step Process

 

This past week I was faced with a tough decision. One of those decisions that I didn’t want to have to make, but it was on me to make it. 

On Tuesday afternoon, Exactly 1 week before Day 1 of the Creative Leadership Summit I was running, I heard from one of my speakers. Their mother was having emergency surgery, and they needed to head cross-country to care for her and their elderly father. They weren’t sure they would be available during their session time. 

“No problem,” I thought. “we can be flexible.”

On Wednesday I heard from another speaker.  Covid had hit their household. Their spouse and one of their kids had it, and they were worried that it was only a matter of time before they were coughing like mad. They weren’t canceling….just giving me fair warning. 

On Thursday, I started to not feel so great myself. 

Meanwhile, I’m desperately trying to get summit schedules and promos and photos up on social media, but the speakers themselves are now up in the air, and I have zero energy. Do I wait and see? Do I try to replace them with less than a week’s notice? 

 

Do I postpone the entire summit? 

 

 

For most of our lives as artists, we are not the ones in the driver’s seat. Even when we’re sick, we’re expected to show up anyway. (I don’t need to tell you how many intermissions I spent lying down in the green room with a fever–just hoping to make it through the rest of the concert and get home to bed– because I’m sure you’ve had to do it just as many times.)

Bad weather? National Crisis? Global Pandemic? Not up to us whether the show goes on.

 

And that’s why “Making Tough Decisions” is one of the most important skills we must hone as we step into leadership roles in our communities and industries. 

 

Over time, I have developed a 5-Step process for handling those moments, and I can tell you from personal experience, that this process works for ANY big decision. Both for work and personal ones. It is the process I used at various points in creating the Virtual Summer Cello Festival, and I used it when my husband and I were deciding whether to take a job opportunity in the states or stay here in Bermuda. (Spoiler alert: we stayed)

 

 

Step 1. The Information Check

Often we start making decisions before we have all of the information, so step one is to gather ALL of the info. Look to see where you are making assumptions, and to the best of your ability, fill those in with facts. 

Example: my husband and I spent most of the weekend debating between 2 different road trip routes when I realized that we didn’t even know if his best friend was going to be HOME that week. The entire reason for taking that route would be to see him, so there was no point in moving forward until we answered that question. 

 

Step 2: The Pros and Cons Check:

Old school, I know, but it works. Take your sheet, draw a line down the middle, and have at it. Write down everything, no matter how small or petty it might seem. Do this for each one.

 

Step 3: The Best Outcome Check

Look at each scenario and ask yourself “How would this one be the best outcome overall”. Make the case for ALL of the possible scenarios with everything you’ve got. 

Option A would be best because…

Option B would be best because…

Option C would be best because…

This exercise will be both eye-opening, and very reassuring. You’ll likely see that while there might be a “best” outcome, there probably isn’t a “wrong” outcome. You’ll see that no matter what you do, you’ll be able to make it work. (and If you can’t see that, then just strike that option off the list!)

 

Step 4: The Value Alignment Check

You’ll notice how your pros and cons list comes into play, as well as your answers to the previous step. Is one “best outcome” ego-driven rather than truly aligned with your values? 

I found myself thinking about how pushing through and having the summit this week no matter what would be best because I will have kept my word. I said it was going to be this week, people bought tickets for this week, and I want people to see me as consistent. It’s important to me that my word is worth something.

But actually, that’s more about my ego than anything else. The summit doesn’t NEED to be this week. And in fact, by NOT pushing through, and by not finding last-minute replacements, the summit will be even BETTER for those ticket holders if it’s held later when my ideal speakers and guests are all available. 

The fact that I wouldn’t have to go through the trouble of refunding the VIP pass holders was also about my own time and effort (and actually, almost every single one of them chose to hold onto their passes for the postponed summit date!)

So in the end, although there was a bit of a Value stand-off between “I am someone who keeps promises and stays true to my word” and “I put out the highest quality work possible”, I decided that my “promise” of an amazing experience was more important to my audience than my “promise” that that experience would be this particular week. 

 

Step 5: The Gut Check

Make the decision in your heart. Maybe tell one person close to you that you trust. How does it feel to say it out loud? Do you feel relieved? Anxious? You can even say them both out loud and check for changes in your breathing, heart rate, muscle tension, etc. For me, it’s always more a feeling than a thought. 

When I Voxered my biz bestie and said the words “I’ve decided to postpone the summit” It wasn’t followed by a clear thought of “yes! That’s right” but I did feel very calm afterward, and immediately felt the tension in my back and neck release. Soon after, I was flooded with thoughts and ideas for the postponed Summit, and I knew I had made the right decision. 

 

So, friends, I AM sorry and disappointed that I won’t be seeing many of you on zoom this week for the Creative Leadership Summit, but we will gather at the end of August (exact dates will be announced soon) and it will be amazing. 

In the meantime, I hope that the above 5-Step Decision Making Process is helpful to you, no matter what kind of decision you need to make. If you try it out, please leave a comment and let us all know how it went for you.

And I can share this with you as well: In my experience, the more I have gone through this process, the more I trust it. A bonus is that I now trust that no matter what, I can make something work in some way, and I’ve also learned that I really can trust my gut. Deep down, we always know our own “right answers.” 

 

Cheers, 

 

Kate

 

P.S. Curious about what other attributes, habits, and mindset skills would be most helpful to you as you move towards up-leveling your career, step into more leadership roles, or re-structure your career to allow for more time and less hustle? 

I’d love to chat with you about it. You can book a free (completely no strings attached!) 30-minute discovery call with me. We’ll meet over zoom and figure out what your next best steps might look like. 

 

Why This is an Incredible Moment For the Arts

 

It makes me so happy to open up Instagram and Facebook these days and see my friends’ faces smiling back at me from various rehearsals and concert venues. Captions are back to the usual jokes about summer concerts, and gig mishaps.

It’s almost as if the Universe snapped her fingers and life went back to normal. Concerts, theater, exhibitions, and performances of all kinds are back on the table, and there is a general sense of relief amongst us all. And although I won’t be on stage anymore, I am right there with you, rejoicing at every season announcement popping into my inbox.

 

This time also brings with it an incredible opportunity for us artists and creatives. One that I sincerely hope we don’t miss out on.

 

Over the last 2+ years, I have talked to so many of you about your thoughts, ideas, hopes, and dreams–not only for your own life but for your entire industry. Time after time, you said “I’m sure a million people have had this idea” and I can assure you, I’ve never heard the same idea twice. 

Some of your ideas were for new ways of harnessing technology to keep things going. Teaching studios, Festivals, Workshops, Community Zoom “gatherings”, Commissioning projects. And through the execution of those ideas, you found fulfillment and a different kind of job satisfaction. You felt the joy and exhilaration that comes with leading the way.  

Some of your ideas, however, were steeped in a certain amount of frustration, given that it’s hard to start up an IRL concert series or an educational or a community initiative when everyone is in lockdown. 

 

And here, my friends, is the opportunity. 

 

 

With things opening back up, there is a narrow window of time where we can open them up differently. We can redefine what the industry looks like. How things are done. With more fairness, equality, technology, and new ways of having our artistic and creative voices heard. 

Because the days of having the artists on stage, and the leaders in back offices are over. These days, more and more of those folks in the back offices are or were performers themselves, and more and more of the folks on stage have smart, valid ideas that would help improve the status quo. 

 

Does that describe you? Are you someone who at some point in the last 2 years had an idea of something you’d like to see? 

You don’t have to put that away just because the concert clothes have been dusted off. The two can exist beautifully. 

Want to know how? 

Wondering what it would take to step up and help create a new way? 

 

Join me next week for the Creative Leadership Summit–happening June 28-30th from 12:00-1:45 ET each day. 

 

You’ll hear from over a dozen artists from the worlds of Music, Dance, Theater, and Visual Arts. Artists just like yourself who have taken the bold step of taking their own ideas seriously. They have created new and better ways of doing things, and each of them is incredibly inspiring. 

The best news? It’s all Free. Yep! FREE. You can register right here

Want more?  With a VIP pass, you’ll gain access to each day’s Bonus session (on doing your own PR, the ins and outs of grant writing, and how to be an expert fundraiser.) You’ll also get to participate in the “Redefining Yourself as a Leader” Masterclass I’ll be giving on Friday, July 1st (also at 12:00 ET) and you’ll get recordings of all of the Summit interviews and sessions so you can watch them at your convenience. 

 

Join us for some inspiration. Join us to learn how others did it. Join us to learn how you can do it as well. 

 

 

Whether you have a project in mind, or you’ve been feeling like you’re ready to take a seat at the table and have your voice be heard, this summit was created for you

See you there!

Cheers, 

 

Kate

 

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.

 

Photo by Nick Morrison for Unsplash.com

An Open Letter to My Students

 

My Dear Students, 

You might be curious as to why I have decided to step away from playing the cello–after so many years of focusing my life around it. 

After all, this thing that you are striving towards–this ability to play well enough to get chosen for festivals, conservatories, competition winners, and performances–is so difficult to achieve, why would anyone just give it up?

One of you boldly asked if the shutdowns of the pandemic caused me to feel undervalued or disenchanted with society’s view of the professional musician. I thought that was a very good question. 

 

But the answer is no. 

 

 

Stepping away has far more to do with my own personal circumstances and choices that I have made. 

Some are small, detailed choices (like choosing to NOT work most evenings and weekends) But mostly, it was the choice to spend my time doing other things. 

People talk about having a calling in life. For a while, I figured mine was to perform–because that’s what I had always done. Don’t get me wrong, I loved it, had (have) a ton of great friends from it, got to travel all over the world because of it, and wouldn’t trade my cello playing years for anything. But it was something that just sort of happened. It was never a deliberate decision on my part. 

I started at 5, practiced, had lessons and great teachers, got into festivals, got into NEC, then New World, then summers at Spoleto, Tanglewood, then Boom! I was a professional musician. It’s easy to get onto a path and get carried along without having to make many decisions. 

And please know this, dear student: I had my share of rejections and low moments just like everyone does (and possibly more!) but the good moments were so great, and when saying yes means seeing and hanging out with your friends, and saying no means staying at home alone like a loser, you go (obviously). 

And so it goes. 

 

What the pandemic did, was force me to get creative and think out of the box. Ideas came to me that called me to “step up” as a decision-maker, to do things differently than they had ever been done before, and in doing that kind of work, my soul lit up. 

  • The work of creating something new, like the Virtual Summer Cello Festival. 
  • The work of mentoring groups of talented young cellists like yourself. 
  • The work of coaching and mentoring other professionals in creative fields like music, art, and dance so that they, too, could create new projects that would affect more people. 
  • The work of writing words and ideas that would help a vast number of people. 

 

I had found my calling. Or it had found me. Whichever way you want to look at it. 

 

 

But here you are, sacrificing time with family and friends in order to practice. Giving up lazy summers at the beach to attend an intense summer festival. Perhaps giving up the idea of being a “normal college student” in order to attend a conservatory. 

And you might be wondering if it’s all worth it–if the people who come out the other side on top, want to walk away. 

 

It is. And here’s why: 

 

1. As a student of music, we learn about commitment, dedication, and discipline. 

That commitment that means you get picked up from a sleepover before your friends are even awake in order to get to chamber music rehearsal week after week is the same commitment that gets you and your team across the finish line of a big work deadline later in life. The dedication that had you running to summer festivals to hone your craft further is the same dedication that you’ll need to finish your Ph.D. when your buddies are taking off to Greece for a month. And the discipline you showed by practicing most days of your life (even when you didn’t feel like it) will get you out for a run (even though it’s raining) when you’re training for your first marathon.

 

2. As a student of music, we learn how to strive for excellence in anything we do.

From a young age, we are taught that if we push ourselves to go past the point of simply learning a new piece, and really “perfecting” it, it becomes a completely different experience. Building our technique in order to execute a musical line with beauty and intention rather than being happy that it’s somewhat recognizable is what sets us apart in the workforce later in life. I remember my NYC musician friends who took temp jobs to earn some extra cash. The companies kept trying to hire them full-time because as musicians, they didn’t know HOW to do anything half-assed. It starts in the practice room but quickly leeches out into everything we do.  We set a high bar, and we go after it. giving 100% to everything we do.

 

3. As a student of music, we learn the power of having a “universal language.” 

Your music will take you all over the world, and you will come across people with whom you don’t share a spoken language, and still, you’ll be able to sit down and play music together. Without words, you’ll listen, feel, and understand each other’s intentions. You’ll see that no matter where people are from, you likely have more in common than not. That’s a powerful feeling, and knowledge that will serve you well in life. 

 

4. As a student of music, we learn that emotions are malleable. 

Life is 50/50. There will be as many bad days as good. As many moments of bliss as there are of heartache. Knowing the power music has to either express and lean into your emotions or to lift yourself out of them is hugely beneficial. If you don’t believe me, try opening a soirée with Mozart’s ebullient Eine Kleine Nachtmusik, and then follow it immediately with Puccini’s funereal Cristentemi. Trust me, your audience won’t know what hit them, or why they’re suddenly weeping into their champagne. 

 

5. As a student of music, we learn from an early age how to connect the dots. 

We learn who Beethoven is in chamber music. We learn about Germany from a book we read. We learn about Napolean and France in history class. Then we play Beethoven’s Eroica Symphony in youth orchestra, and it all comes together. We see how the various puzzle pieces fit, and we see how ideas, people, politics, scientific progress, literature, fashion, and art are all connected. 

And, truly, I think that’s what people mean when they talk about creativity. I don’t think it’s a characteristic that people are born with. I think Creativity is simply the ability to see connections where others haven’t seen them before (along with a willingness and a curiosity to try things out.) Every time we play a new piece, every time we do some background reading on a composer, we’re fine-tuning that skill. 

 

 

Dear Student, you might be wondering if you should go into music professionally or not. I can’t give you that answer. It’s something you have to want to do. But know this: 

  • Life as a professional musician is a wonderful life (and doesn’t have to include being a “starving artist”!) 
  • You don’t have to do it forever. You can do it now, and enjoy it until you want to do something else. There is ALWAYS something else to do. And you will NOT have wasted your time and efforts. Trust me on that one. 
  • Listen for, and follow your calling, and know that we sometimes get multiple callings over a lifetime. 

 

Isn’t that wonderful? 

 

Cheers, 

Kate

 

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

On Giving Up My Performance Life

 

Here’s a riddle for you: 

Q: What do you call a musician at the height of their career (whatever that means…) who decides to stop performing? 

A: I don’t know. Nobody does that. 

 

Except that’s exactly what I’ve done. 

 

A few weeks ago I stood on the stage of an international performing arts festival, feeling that high of just having nailed the timing of the final cello/piano gliss at the end of Piazzolla’s Le Grand Tango, and took a bow for the last time in my career. 

40 years after my first one. 

I’m not so old that it was time to stop playing, so it wasn’t a matter of “bowing out graciously”

And I’m not finished working–I have plenty of exciting projects going, so I wasn’t “retiring” 

And I’m not angry or disenchanted with music or cello, or anything like that, so I didn’t “quit”. That word is so full of defeat and anger. Neither was involved.

The truth is, our industry doesn’t really have a word for it, because it’s not something that people do. Once you’ve become a professional musician, you remain a professional musician until you die or are forced to retire under unpleasant circumstances. 

We’re not supposed to admit that it’s possible we could simply choose to spend our time doing something else now. 

For me, the decision has been brewing for quite some time. Back in 2018 I spoke to a few trusted friends and colleagues about my thoughts, and I was told over and over that I “couldn’t quit” it was like I had said the most absurd thing in the universe to them. They simply couldn’t fathom that I would even entertain the idea of not being a cellist. After all, it had been my entire identity since I was 5 years old. 

They all suggested that I double down. Play better concerts in better venues and get paid higher fees, THEN I’ll be happy. 

So I did. 
And I thought I was. Until…

 

When the Pandemic canceled a 2-week West-Coast recital tour in early April 2020, the disappointment lasted about a minute and a half and was quickly replaced with an overwhelming feeling of relief. 

I realized in that instant how burnt out I was, and I decided to call this pandemic-induced  “year-of-no-concerts” a sabbatical. For 6 months, I wouldn’t even think about practicing or performing. 

By the end of March, however, I had created the Virtual Summer Cello Festival, and by August, the Bridge Online Cello Studio was born, and somewhere in there, I started taking on coaching clients. October 2020 saw the very first cohort of Profit Pivot. There have now been 4. 

 

And here’s the thing: 

 

The sense of fulfillment, pride, and satisfaction that I got from creating something brand new out of thin air and seeing the impact it had on these students was so far beyond how I had ever felt after my best, most successful performances. 

Watching a client have a major a-ha moment, create their own legacy projects, and see their dreams come to fruition lights me up more than anything. 

And to be honest, I suddenly felt like for me, performing was perhaps more about my own ego than anything else. Yes, I’m sharing music. Yes, I’m communicating stories and emotions. Yes, I hope the people in the audience are touched and moved, and feel a wonderful sense of human connection. But I also just wanted to play really well, and have them like me and the way I played. I certainly didn’t feel like I was making any kind of impact on the world. 

 

 

But in the work I am doing as a coach, a mentor, and as a writer, I DO feel like I’m making a difference. 

When a client messages me out of the blue and says that they have just realized that every dream they had when they started working with me has now come true and that they are happier than they ever could have imagined because of the work we have done together? 

 

I’m pretty sure my concerts didn’t quite have the same effect on people’s lives. 

 

I’ll spill the tea about what is next for me in a future post, but after sitting in this “post-cellist” life for a little while now, here are a few interesting observations. 

 

     1. People get VERY invested in other people’s identities, and they might need time to grieve their loss too.

      2. That doesn’t mean you owe it to anyone to remain steadfast in their view of you. Just because they have always known you as “Joe the pianist”  doesn’t mean you always have to BE Joe, the pianist. 

      3. People in industries other than music seem to understand that this was a big, momentous decision, but are mostly excited to hear about what’s next for me. 

      4. Most people want to reassure me that I can always change my mind at any time, and that it wouldn’t take me more than a couple of weeks to get back my chops back. (Great! But I’m all set, thanks.)

       5. An alarming number of people have looked at me and said “yeah, but, like, you’d play a concert with/for me if I needed you, right?” (Correct Answer: nope! Not even for you. But I still love you.)

        6. People in the music industry have either unfriended/unfollowed me (because without a cello, I’m useless to them?) or reached out to tell me that they also want to stop playing and do something else, but feel like they aren’t “allowed” to. 

        7. The biggest and most surprising bit of inner turmoil I faced was anxiety over whether people only liked or loved me as a cellist. I mean, my husband met a cellist, fell in love with a cellist, and married a cellist. Would he still want to be with me if I stopped being that cellist? (Correct Answer: So far, Yes! (phew.))

 

I’m still not sure what to call it. “I’ve quit being a cellist” doesn’t sit well when I’m on zoom giving a lesson on the Barber Cello Concerto, and “I’ve retired” doesn’t sit well when I’m working with a client on strategizing their next project launch, and “bowing out graciously” just makes me sound old and decrepit. Despite how my knees felt after this morning’s run, I’m not QUITE there yet! 

 

So I’ll offer this, to anyone who finds comfort in labels or definitions: I’m moving on from performing in order to focus on other, more fulfilling facets of my career. And it feels amazing. 

 

I’m so grateful for my training, my teachers, the sacrifices my family made in order to pay for lessons, instruments, festivals, etc., (apologies to my poor brother who never got to go on nice vacations growing up “because cello lessons are expensive”) and for the incredible opportunities that came my way because of my cello playing; but those experiences are mine forever. The friendships I formed through music? I treasure them deeply, and those get to remain intact too. 

 

I just don’t have to practice octaves anymore 😉 

 

Cheers, 

Kate

P.S. If you’re 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

 

Evidence that I was once SUPER adorable.

How Gardening Made Me a Better Musician

 

Throughout my life, there are only two things that have remained constant fixtures: Playing the cello, and Gardening. 

In fact, my 2 earliest memories are of eating all of the raspberries in the allotment when I was about 3, and playing French Folk Song in my red and white strawberry dress for my Kindergarten class. (I’m not sure if I was more proud that I got to wear a pretty dress to school or play my cello for my classmates. I think they brought equal amounts of joy that day). 

Since that first performance at age 5, I have always had to practice. And with the exception of the years I was in school at New England Conservatory, and then in Miami for the New World Symphony, I have also always had a garden. 

Over the past two years, through the work I’ve been doing with my Virtual Summer Cello Festival, and Bridge Online Cello Studio students, I have spent a lot of time boiling down the best, most efficient, and most effective methods of crafting music (ie: practicing). Alongside that, came the time and space to learn more about the best, most efficient, and effective methods of growing a garden. 

And, surprisingly, they are exactly the same. 

Here are 10 things Gardening can teach us about being a musician (and vice versa)

 

 
1. It’s good to start with a plan

In gardening, one must look at their space, the amount of sunlight it gets, what and how much they want to grow, and at which point of the year those plants will thrive. Even here in Bermuda, there is no point in planting lettuce in June. It’s just too hot, and don’t expect your peppers to grow in January–too dark! 

Likewise, as musicians, it’s important to look at the year.  When do you have auditions, competitions, performances, and tours? How much time do you have to practice? Can you repeat programs? When is the best time in the year to schedule the premier of that (totally impossible to play) new piece? Probably not the week you get back from vacation. 

 

2. Assume the plan will change along the way.

I had the perfect plan for one of my flower beds. Onion sets would be planted in mid-October and would be ready for harvest in mid-March–just in time for my pepper and eggplant seedlings to go into the ground. Except…the cold fall meant that the onion sets weren’t available until early November, and they weren’t ready to be pulled until mid-April. Meanwhile, my peppers and eggplants were bursting out of their little pots. I don’t know why the onions are taking longer than usual, but they are. And instead of trying to force them (only to be faced with rotten onions later on), I needed to adjust. So, we changed course. I put the peppers and eggplant into the potato bed (I’ll find another spot for those later) and can let my onions take whatever time they need. 

In Music, we often have to adjust. Perhaps you planned on learning some new rep for an upcoming performance, but life got in the way, and you didn’t have the necessary time to adequately prepare it. So you swap it out for something that feels more comfortable. You’ll have time to learn and perform the new rep later. Often students will get “stuck” on a concerto because competitions and auditions keep popping up and they need to use it….again. And then they win, so they need to keep it ready to perform. 

So yes, the plan will change and you will need to adapt, but without the plan in the first place, you’d just feel lost all the time and wouldn’t know what you were adjusting to. 

 

3. Symbiotic relationships are super important

In the plant world, if you plant certain things in close proximity, you’ll have greater success. My yields improved dramatically this year when I planted Borage (a plant with little blue flowers that are like crack for bees) amongst my vegetables. My garden is FULL of bees now, happily sucking the nectar from the borage, and then pollinating all of my vegetables. But, putting certain other plants next to each other is a bad idea. One attracts a bug that will decimate the other, for instance. So it’s important to know what works with what, and which things to keep away from each other. 

Same thing in music. It’s so important to find other musicians to collaborate with that make your heart sing. That pianist that always seems to make you play better–where rehearsals are full of laughter and inspiration, the quartet that has an easy way of communicating with one another. And it’s equally important to understand that, for whatever reason, some people might not be the best fit and they never will be. Don’t try to force it. Your companion plant is out there. 

 

4. Forcing it with fakeness might work in the short term but never in the long term.

Ahhh…synthetic fertilizers. Use it on your plants, and they will double in size, throw out tons of flowers or vegetables, and generally shine for you. But they won’t taste as nice, it’ll kill all of the good insects buzzing around, and you’ll be destroying the soil (so good luck next season!) 

As musicians, we can see right through fakeness…eventually. The person at the rehearsals who wants to be your BFF, hang out, have lunch, grab a coffee, and then, ZING, starts hinting (not-so-subtly) that they want you to get them on that sweet sweet gig you get to do every summer? Yeah. don’t do that. Form genuine relationships with the people you work with. See above about whether it works or not. 

 

5. Work with what you have

Some tasks in the garden require heavy lifting, a lot of energy, and a lot of time and focus. Yesterday, I planted a pomegranate tree that has been sitting in its pot long enough. It needed to go into the ground. But I knew it would require a lot of digging, dragging large bags of soil and compost, pruning the tree, etc. I meant to do it on Saturday, but I was feeling a bit low energy on Saturday, so instead of planting the pomegranate tree, I did some other important tasks that required less exertion. Sunday I had more energy and the tree got planted. 

I’ve never understood people who had the same practice routine that they did day in and day out. No matter what. I teach my students different ways to approach their practice that go along with what kind of mood they’re in. From slow, quiet intonation work, to a full-out mock performance run-through, to drilling the trickier passages. We can use our shifting energy levels to our advantage if we pay close attention to them. This also takes away the “I can’t practice, I’m too tired.” excuse. Because they know there is work that they can do when they’re tired, and it will still benefit them. 

 

6. Grow what you love and what excites you.

I’m not going to grow turnips, and I’m not going to grow kale. I don’t care how easy they are. I don’t care how healthy they are. I don’t like them. I never have, I never will. And I have grown many a kale plant that just grows and grows and I never pick the leaves (because I don’t like it) and they take up a ton of space, and I feel virtuous for growing Kale, and everyone comes over and remarks on how awesome it is that I’m growing kale (and such an enormous plant, too!) I’m done with Kale. And Turnips. 

I also spent years (so many years) of my life playing contemporary music. From NEC to New World, to Tanglewood, to freelancing in Boston, it seemed the cool kids were always the “new music” crowd. I loved the people, I loved the scene, I loved that I was a part of something great and important–allowing today’s generation of composers to be heard– and I played a lot of great pieces. Oliver Knussen, George Benjamin, Michael Gandolfi, Jessie Montgomery, Andrew Norman, Caroline Shaw, Joan Tower. I could go on and on with all of the great experiences I had. 

But I didn’t love it. My dyslexic brain has a REALLY HARD TIME reading music in general, and this was just exhausting. And in between those great moments were a lot of just “meh” moments, and in between those, were some really unbearable moments. So while I will always support new music (musically and financially) I’m not going to play it unless I really want to. 

So please, play what you love. Explore, take risks, all of that, but mostly, play what you love. 

 

 

7. Quiet, calm Observation is your best tool.

Sometimes I just sit in my garden with a cup of coffee and just watch. I see where the bees go, how the sun is hitting certain plants more than others, how that branch has grown so much it’s casting shade on the beets, etc. I notice things I wouldn’t normally have seen, and I’m able to make the necessary adjustments. 

In the practice room, it’s just as important to spend time quietly observing your work as it is hacking away at it. The quiet observation can come from looking at the score and noticing new details, or from listening to a recording you just made and taking notes. 

Take moments here and there to just watch. What’s happening with your shoulder there? Is that tension? And there…that phrase didn’t seem to go anywhere. What does it need? 

 

8. Gathering data and adjusting accordingly will lead to success.

I keep a garden log, and when I was a student, I kept a practice log. I wanted to learn what worked, and what didn’t. From my garden log, I learn just how long it took a seed to germinate. I learned which plants will thrive in Bermuda, and which will say “no thanks!” I learn how late in the season I can grow potatoes before they succumb to blight due to humidity, and I learn the results of various experiments I try. All in the name of doing it better next time. 

In practicing, the log or journal can keep track of how long it took for a piece to be committed to memory, or how many weeks it took you to get that tricky passage in tune and up to tempo. Recording yourself is, of course, one of the best ways to collect data: Where are you in the process right now? You can take notes on what you want to fix, and work from those. 

I’m a big believer in the Pareto Principle: That 80% of your results will come from 20% of your effort. Keeping track of things will teach you what your 20% is. Do you make more progress when you practice at a certain time of day? When you’re actively listening to recordings (yours and those of other professionals?) when you practice slowly? Or when you start with a full warm-up? What is working? What is a waste of time? 

 

9. It’s all about the foundation

At the end of the day, it’s about the quality of your soil. The micro-organisms that are happily living underneath the ground eating, pooping, dying, and decaying. It’s incredible what is happening down there. The worms are creating holes in the soil for the plant roots to crawl into. Without those holes, the roots get stuck. Stuck roots mean stunted plants. But you won’t see any worms unless there is good organic material in that soil. Compost, vegetable scraps, seaweed–all that good stuff. And pour that synthetic fertilizer on the plants to get them to grow anyway? You can definitely forget about those worms. 

Any musician will agree that without a foundation of good technique, proper posture, bow hold, embouchure, etc. there is no amount of talent or time in the practice room that is going to help. As boring as it might be to stare at your slowly moving arm in a mirror for 5 minutes, It is worth spending time on those foundational basics. Without it, you won’t get very far. 

 

10. Patience is key. 

You can’t force a season. Gardening has a rhythm built-in. you plant the seeds and wait for them to germinate. Then you plant them and wait for them to grow. Then you harvest them and wait for them to finish, then you let the soil rest a bit and…wait. Even here in Bermuda, where we technically can grow food year-round, the summers are generally too hot and dry for things to be very happy. In fact, my sun and heat-loving nightshades (tomatoes, peppers, eggplants) will go dormant from late July to August. They won’t die. They just stop producing for a bit, and when things cool down a bit, they kick back into gear.

As musicians, we need to build in a rhythm as well. We have “the season” from September until May, and then “the summer” from June-August. And summer festivals feel wildly different than the rest of the year, but we need to think about a rhythm to our work. A new piece. Getting to know it, figuring out our interpretation, memorizing (if appropriate) performing, making it our own. All of these things need time, and they need patience. We have all had students (and have all probably BEEN that student at some point) that always had their eye on “the next piece” and was always in a hurry to be “done” with their current repertoire. 

Patience, grasshopper. All in good time. 

 

Conclusion: 

For me, being a cellist was always about the process, from learning a new challenging piece to playing around with concert  programming, I loved preparing for things even more than I loved actually doing them (though that was fun, too)

 Same with my teaching. I love watching the growth from one lesson to the next, which exercises will help this student the most? I had a student perform this past Sunday-a student who for years suffered from crippling performance anxiety, just walk onto the stage confidently and played the beep out of the Boccherini Concerto. I was proud of her performance, of course, but I was more moved by what it represented for the growth in her mental game than her musical one.

And as a gardener, I suppose it’s the same. While I do love sitting and admiring my plants, flowers, veggies, bees, happily buzzing away, and all that good stuff, What I truly love about gardening, is seeing the health of my soil improve from year to year. More worms, greener plants, larger vegetables. I love planning new beds and observing what happens when I do this, or that. Does it improve the situation or make everything die?

Our work as musicians is so much more rewarding if we see it for the long game it truly is. What relationships will we nurture? 

How can you take that long view this week in your own work? What plan can you put in place? How can you adapt that plan? Who can you help/accept help from? Do what feels more organic and authentically you? Build on your strengths? Amend your weak points? Play music that excites you? Calmly observe your work? Learn from the data? Lay a good foundation? Show patience with yourself?

Happy Practicing (or gardening….if that’s your thing 😉

Cheers, 

Kate

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 creatives live their best lives. 

Is Self-Care Going to Be the Death of Us?

I have a bone to pick with the current concept of “Self-Care.” 

Now, before you freak out on me, hear me out.

Anyone who reads this blog knows that I am ALL ABOUT taking care of yourself. Living the life of your dreams, working smarter so that you can work less, so that you can sleep more, dream more, live more.

But…things are getting a bit carried away.

It’s been a few years now since the whole “Morning Routine” thing caught on, and that was nice. It was somewhat interesting to read about how different people started their days off, but these days, it’s more about the social media trend and glorification of “That Girl” and what “She’s” doing every day that everyone wants to emulate.  On Tik Tok alone, videos with the hashtag #thatgirl have gotten over 2 BILLION VIEWS.  And, oh, man. “That Girl” has basically taken every item on every single morning routine list and combined it into one overwhelming behemoth of an expectation for mere humans. 

 

Photo by Bruce Mars for Unsplash.com

 

I would argue that while the idea of “self-care” started out to be a balm against the burnout epidemic caused by an unhealthy “hustle and grind” culture, it has morphed into its own level of obsessive and unhealthy behavior. 

“That Girl” gets up early and does her 24-step skincare routine and hand-picks her matcha green tea leaves in Bali and sips it while she goes between her sauna and her ice baths. 

And just as people felt horribly inept and unworthy when they weren’t pulling all-nighters and working 24/7 during the hustle-years, now, people are being made to feel unworthy if they don’t wake up at 4 am and spend the next 6 hours following a laundry list of “living my best life” directives.

Self-care has started to spiral out of control into it’s own form of hustle culture. I’m fearful it’s going to end up killing us all. 

Seriously–here’s one I read about recently: 

  • Wake up at 4:00 am
  • Drink 20 oz of water
  • Light therapy to help wake up
  • Stretch for 15 minutes
  • Meditate for 20 minutes 
  • Run 5K
  • Dry brush skin
  • Shower–ice-cold, obviously
  • 12-step skincare routine (it is mandatory to be wearing a crisp white waffle-knit bathrobe, btw)
  • Make a smoothie and a coffee (all organic, please)
  • Read something inspirational for 30 minutes
  • Journal for 30 minutes
  • Write  a list of 10 things you are grateful for
  • Decide on the top 3 tasks for the day. 

WHAT? By my count, that is FOUR HOURS of morning routine, and you’re not even dressed yet! 

 

Photo by Shashi Chaturvedula for Unsplash

 

But aside from the fact that no one actually does this list of things more than (maybe?!) once, one thing that stands out to me is that in those first 4 hours of being awake, in this long list of “important things to do in order to be my best self and live my best life” nowhere, NOWHERE does it mention another being. There’s no “kiss my partner good morning” or “call my sister” or “text back and forth with my best friend” or “snuggle fest with my dog” 

Is “That Girl” really so alone? It’s very clear she doesn’t have kids but does she not have a job? Does she need to practice? How can she afford all of that Matcha? 

Photo by the 5th for Unsplash.com

 

a morning routine for normal people (who are also thriving quite nicely, thank you very much)

While a 20-part morning routine is a bit excessive, we all have a few things that we need to do in order to start our day feeling centered and not in complete chaos. For me, that includes the following 3 things:

  1. Coffee with my husband (who brings me a cup as I’m waking up..awwwww!)
  2. Writing Morning Pages
  3. Check on my garden (I suppose this is my version of meditating)

Each day might look slightly different. I might make the bed as soon as I get out of it, or I might get to it later–after a garden stroll and a dog walk. There’s no set order (except for the coffee–that’s pretty much an as-soon-as-my-eyes-are-open kinda thing.) 

Do I lie in bed and scroll through social media? Some days, yes. Others, no. do I get up early and go to the gym? A few times a week (if it’s a good week!). Do I stretch? If I’m feeling tight, yes. 

 

Photo by Oveth Martinez for Unsplash.com

The thing is, there are hundreds of things we can do each day to help us be our healthiest, perform our best, and be “That Girl”. But I don’t think any of us have time to do ALL of them EVERY day. 

Many of them can be built in as habits, like taking vitamins, making the bed, drinking a glass of water, etc. They can become automatic and take very little time. 

But perhaps one shouldn’t feel obligated to do every single thing, every single day. Pick a few biggies that are your non-negotiables, add in 1 new one for a week to see how it feels, and for the rest? Maybe try to do them once a month or so. 

Because to me? Self-Care feels like I am living according to my values, and my values tell me to get enough sleep, enjoy a good cup of coffee, and bask in my little family of husband, dog, cats, and garden. If I can start my day with those things in place, the rest is just gravy. 

Photo by David Mao for Unsplash.com

 

Cheers!

Kate

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 creatives live their best lives. 

The Right Way to Make Career Decisions

 

As Creatives, our careers are made up of a series of projects. Whether you are a musician, a dancer, an actor, a writer, or a visual artist, opportunities are presented to us almost daily in the form of invitations, requests, and our own ideation. 

But we all know what happens if we simply say yes to everything, right? It’s a recipe for burnout and overwhelm. 

It would seem, then, that the ability to make the right decisions regarding these opportunities is one of the most important career skills we can develop. 

 

 

I once had a colleague at an arts organization I was doing some work with. He was in an admin/management/ops position and was in charge of making sure everything ran smoothly. 

He was smart, capable, and truly had the organization’s best interest at heart. 

But at every single planning meeting, he would storm off in a puff of frustrated anger shouting “No! No! No! We cannot add more! We can’t do it because of A, because of B, and because of C.” 

And privately, he would bemoan the artistic staff and how clueless they were about the realities of the situation. Understaffed. Every cent in the budget was spoken for. There’s not enough time in the schedule as it is, etc. etc. “Why didn’t they understand?” 

He felt very strongly that he was the only sane person in the room, and that it was his job to stand strong and keep the organization from taking on more than it could handle. 

And he did. He somehow managed to stop every new initiative that was presented.

The organization stalled. It lost momentum. It stopped growing. People grew bored with the status quo. Eventually, he left and moved on to a new position in a new organization. And as much as we all loved him, we were relieved. 

 

 

Why was he so wrong? 

Because he wasn’t making decisions in the right way, and as a result, he wasn’t allowing the organization to make the right decisions. 

He had a classic “No, Because” attitude instead of a “Yes, if” attitude. 

Stay with me. 

It’s very easy when we are presented with a new opportunity, to simply see how it fits in with your current situation. 

Whether it’s a gig that comes up last minute, a new teaching position, an audition that you might want to take, or a new project that you’ve always dreamed about doing, It’s usually the case that it WON’T fit into your life as it is. Or that it will, but it’ll have detrimental effects later on. 

 

 

Here are a couple of examples: 

Example #1: The contractor from an orchestra 30 miles away that you play with occasionally calls needing a last-minute sub for this weekend’s big concert. You don’t have access to the car, the rehearsal schedule happens to conflict with 3 lessons you are teaching over that weekend, and you were looking forward to finally having a weekend afternoon free. 

Answer #1: No, because my partner needs the car that weekend and I have to teach. 

Answer #2: Yes, if I can carpool with another player, and if my 3 students are willing and able to reschedule their lessons. 

 

Example #2: There’s an opportunity to show your art at a gallery in town, but the deadline for submissions is SOON, and you are already busy at work and at home taking care of the kids after school. 

Answer #1: No, because it’s not a good time-I’m super busy. 

Answer #2: Yes, If I can get that new intern to help with this project at work, and if I can put the kids into the after-school program for a couple of weeks so that I have a couple of hours to paint each afternoon. 

 

Example #3: A group of your students comes up to you with this amazing idea to get all of the students from nearby schools together to do a massive fundraising concert for a worthy cause close to their heart. You’re swamped as it is, and don’t really trust these students to make it happen. You know it’s going to fall on your shoulders. 

Answer #1: No, because it’s too much with everything that we have going on. We’re trying to get ready for our own concert, and I’m completely swamped. 

Answer #2: Yes, if you kids can write a proposal, get the other schools/directors on board, and if we use some of the repertoire we are playing in our upcoming concert, some pieces from the fall concert, and just 1 new short piece. 

 

The thing that they all have in common?

The “No, Because” answers simply took in the status quo to make the decision. This is how it is, and so we cannot do X. 

The “Yes, If” answers, however, got creative, and took into consideration the possibility of growth all-around. Can we improve or change the current circumstances to allow for this new opportunity to thrive?

Now, I should say: declaring “Yes, if” does not lock you into doing anything. It’s simply that. Yes. This is possible IF these parameters are put into place. Those involved in making the decision, then, are the ones to decide whether THAT is possible or desirable. 

Maybe you don’t want to put your kids into afterschool. Maybe you love spending that time with them in the afternoon. 

Maybe you would prefer to have some of your weekend time clear–and even though you could do that gig, you’d prefer to have more time at home, and less time in the car. 

 

 

Another Way

Circling back to those painful planning meetings, if our colleague had had more of a “Yes, If” attitude, it might have sounded more like this. 

“I love it–great idea! I think we could make this happen if we can bring in $30,000 more in funding and if we hire 2 temporary workers: 1 to help the marketing dept. with the promotion and 1 to help with general rehearsal set up–our current ops staff will already be busy handling other things. Also, we’ll need to put off this other project we’ve been working on so that we can focus on getting this one off the ground. It also conflicts with my anniversary trip to Hawaii, so everyone will have to be okay with my not being present during the actual shows.” 

See how he would have left it in their court? If they don’t think they can raise that $30K, and they aren’t willing to hire the 2 temps, then they can make the decision that it’s not worth it, or the timing isn’t right. 

And if the project IS worth it? Then they will raise the money and hire the additional staff. Other projects will be put on hold, and the new initiative gets launched. 

 

So, what about you? 

How many opportunities have you passed up simply because you weren’t seeing past your current circumstance? 

How many new projects have you taken on without thinking about what will truly be needed for it to thrive and to keep you from burning out? 

It’s not just Yes or No. 

Try to start with a “Yes, if….” 

And then decide from there what is best for you.

Cheers!

Kate

 

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 creatives live their best lives. 

Spotlight Series: The Happiest Musician: Oboist and Author, Jennet Ingle

I am so excited to be bringing back my Spotlight Series! This monthly series features amazing creatives that are doing things THEIR way, and on THEIR terms. Each one of them has contributed to the betterment of their industry by following their dreams as well as their hearts; all the while, listening to their gut instincts. 

The series returns today with another inspiring human, oboist, reedmaker, and now author, (and my dear friend) Jennet Ingle. 

 

As an oboist, Jennet has served as Principal Oboist of the South Bend Symphony Orchestra since 2006 and performs as soloist and chamber musician across stages everywhere.  She is a teacher, a coach, and a community-builder through her various programs.

In 2020, the most isolating year of our lifetimes, Jennet worked to build a community for oboists.  Her signature group program, the Invincible Oboist, demystifies instrumental skills and helps oboists to get past the STRUGGLE to find ease in their playing.  She created a Reed Club that meets every Monday for social connection and to discuss details of the reedmaking process.  She started a group program for reedmaking beginners, as well – Zero to Reedmaker – which teaches the process through a series of group classes and accountability.

As the owner and operator of Jennet Ingle Reeds, she makes and sells over two hundred handmade reeds every month to oboists all over the world and has helped hundreds of people with their own reed-making through her video series, The Five Minute Reedmaker, her weekly online Reed Club and annual live Oboe Reed Boot Camps.

In her spare time, Jennet pours her energy into Prone Oboe, a blog about her active life and a behind-the-scenes look at the process of learning, teaching, and performing music at a high level.  She sends a weekly email newsletter filled with ideas for her community – about the intersections of oboe, life, and entrepreneurship.

I had the chance to ask Jennet about her approach to music-making, entrepreneurship, what inspires her, and her incredible new book: The Happiest Musician (which you should all run out and get immediately!) 

 

 

TFTL: Where do you live and what is your favorite thing about living there? 

JI: I live in South Bend, IN. It’s a really NICE city, and I live very close to a riverside path where I can run in nature every day. I like my orchestra here and the cost of living is VERY low which made it possible to get comfortable fast and build our lives easily. 

 

TFTL: At what age did you start playing the oboe? Were you naturally drawn to it, or was it something that someone suggested you try? 

JI: I was ten, in my fifth-grade band program. I knew it was my instrument the moment I heard it! I was lucky to have a real oboist teaching woodwinds in my elementary school, so I was set up with good fundamentals from the beginning and no one told me it was hard. 

 

TFTL: When/How/Why did you decide to write a book?  Was it outside your comfort zone or something you had some familiarity with already?

JI: The idea came out of a coaching session and felt immediately resonant. I’d always been a reader, and books have been so influential for me, and I wanted a way to make an impact. I had been blogging for a long time – ever since my child was a baby – and I was writing all the time, so 650 words at a time felt really comfortable to me. The idea of making an outline and writing something long-form was new but not unreasonably new – musicians are comfortable with taking big projects and breaking them down into manageable tasks, so it was easy to imagine my first steps and just start. 

 

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? 

JI: It’s a lot.  I spend ten or twelve hours every week on my reed business – making the reeds and sorting them. I have someone who does the shipping for me, which saves me HOURS.  I spend ten hours or so teaching and coaching, between one-to-one sessions and group programs. I try to create something every day, whether that’s a blog post, a video, an email to my list… but of course, I also have to practice my instrument and go to actual gigs. As a freelancer, this means a different orchestra and challenge each week!  This month I’m playing a video game concert this week, a recital and a cirque concert next week, two recitals the following week, and a masterworks concert after that. 

 

TFTL: Did you always have a clear picture of what you wanted your career to look like?  

JI: I always knew that my life would revolve around the oboe. I didn’t realize when I was younger that that would include playing it, speaking and teaching about it, writing about it, making reeds for it, and running the business I’m currently running. It was simpler in my head when I assumed that all I would do is sit in an orchestra playing solos. But I also feel like that simple idea would have bored me and burned me out. 

 

TFTL: What were some of the obstacles that you faced in your path towards becoming a professional musician?

JI: I had assumed that in order to be a “real” professional musician I had to start by winning an audition into a “real” orchestra. And I was out on the audition circuit for YEARS, being in the finals, being the runner-up, winning little jobs but not big jobs. I was successfully making my full-time living as an oboist years before I actually believed that I was successful. 

 

TFTL: What do you think it takes to “make it” in today’s classical music world?  

JI: It takes creativity. It takes being willing to think outside the box – in the way you teach, the way you practice, the way you help to publicize events you are involved with and the way you look at the big picture as you start your own projects. We were raised to learn and play the notes on the page, but we need more than just that skill – we need to be COMMUNICATORS. 

 

 

TFTL: Practicing: Love it or hate it? What do you find is the most challenging aspect of it?

JI: I love it. I wish I had more time to do it. Digging into interesting challenges on the instrument is a reliable path into the FLOW state for me, and I crave this state of pleasurable work. There are so many other claims on my time – as a business owner, a teacher, a coach, a mother – and practicing nearly always feels like the lowest priority of the day.  Making myself prioritize the creative work of practicing, which is important but rarely urgent, is the greatest challenge. 

 

TFTL: Do you have a morning ritual or routine to get you going each day? Can you share some of it with us?

JI: I start with coffee and journaling. It feels really important to me to get my mind clear and my day planned before I start. I also try to get outside as early as possible every day, especially in the winter. Sunshine is really important for my mental health, and it’s hard to come by in Indiana! 

 

TFTL: What is your favorite thing about attending (not performing in) a classical music concert these days? 

JI: There’s a lot that really annoys me about the way classical music concerts are run – the stuffiness, the rituals – but what I love is watching real humans work to create beauty, work to do something supremely difficult and athletic and artistic, and work to overcome their own mental and physical obstacles to SHARE something with the audience. I love this dance, I love it every time.

 

TFTL: What 5 things are always in your carry-on when you’re traveling?

JI: A book. My journal. My computer so I can create whatever occurs to me and be in touch with the world. A tarot deck. And lotion because I hate it when my hands and face feel dry.

 

Quickies:

 

  1. Most creative time of day:  Morning, FOR SURE. And then, weirdly, around 4 pm I either fall asleep or push through that dip to do something GREAT.
  2. Favorite Book (fiction): I can’t even think of the last fiction I read. OH – Watership Down. It’s Lord of the Rings with bunnies, sure, but it’s also about leadership, and about courage, and about prizing everyone’s contribution, and about taking care of each other, and about forgiveness…
  3. Favorite Book (non-fiction): The Big Leap, by Gay Hendricks. So much gold. I have read it over and over. 
  4. Best advice you’ve ever been given:  My teacher always used to say, “Don’t take yourself too seriously – take what you DO seriously.”  I love that! It seems to give a lot of permission to care about your product, your practice, your communication – while also allowing you to have a growth mindset for yourself.
  5. Where can people learn more about what you do?  I encourage people to sign up for my email list, to follow me on YouTube (If they are interested in oboe reedmaking), or (soon) to subscribe to the Crushing Classical podcast for conversations around musical entrepreneurship! And! My new book, The Happiest Musician just came out on Amazon!

And where else can people find you?

 

 

Thank you so much, Jennet! 

 

Would you love to transform your creative career into something you truly love? Are you unsure where to even start? I’ve got you covered. These are the exercises I use for myself and my clients to help us see new opportunities and possibilities. You can grab it here for free today. 

Cheers!

Kate

The Most Important Thing

 

I was in a discussion yesterday with a very wise woman, who mentioned that perhaps the most important thing (and she really did mean The Most Important Thing) was to feel relaxed. 

Immediately, I thought of how musicians tend to feel right before we begin a performance, or actors when they are about to walk on stage, or writers just as they are about to hit “publish”. As we take those steps towards our most important work, we feel a lot of things. However, I’m not sure Relaxed is the right word.

But maybe it should be. Here are 4 reasons why: 

 

Photo by Kelly Sikkema for Unsplash

 

1. When we’re relaxed, we are free of fear, stress, shame, and tension. 

To me, when I am feeling relaxed, it means there is an absence of those 4 horsemen above. I am doing my thing, in the flow, in the zone. I feel at ease. When I’m about to perform, the last thing I want to feel is fear of not playing well, the stress of too many long practice days, the shame of not feeling prepared, and just forget about tension–that’s a recipe for disaster. 

 

2. When we’re relaxed, we feel that all is as it should be. 

When I am sitting in my sunroom with a fresh cup of coffee and a book, feeling relaxed, it’s because I know my work is done, things are taken care of, and there’s nothing else I need to be doing. All is as it should be. Wouldn’t that be a great place to walk out on stage from? That all is as it should be? 

 

Photo by Artem Beliaikin for Unsplash

 

3. When we’re relaxed, we are able to find our flow, and enter the zone. 

On a beautiful warm, sunny day, I could spend hours in the garden. And if I have a clear day on the calendar, I can practice, write, or read without noticing the time passing. When we are in a relaxed state, we are free of distracting thoughts and concerns, and we can work uninterrupted. There is nothing blocking us from getting into the zone. Which is ideally where we want to be when we’re performing. 

 

4. When we’re relaxed, we do our best work.

We can think more clearly, react faster, and make better decisions. And so, while I always considered that bolt of adrenaline to be a key factor in any good performance, maybe that’s just a bonus. Maybe the real key, the Most Important Thing is to get oneself into that Relaxed State. Free of fear, shame, tension, and stress. Knowing that the work is done, all is as it should be, and we are free to get focused and enter the zone. 

 

Photo my Christin Hume for Unsplash

 

And if it’s true that we all universally function better in a relaxed state, how can we create an environment that lends itself to others getting into that relaxed state as well? 

How can we welcome our students into their lessons in a way that better allows them to leave those 4 horsemen at the door? How can I ensure that my coaching clients are able to find that sense of safety and clarity in their sessions with me? 

And in what ways could we do more to create or sustain such an environment of relaxed community for our colleagues, our family, and anyone we interact with?

Food for thought on this gloomy Monday. I would really love to hear your ideas about this. Leave a comment or shoot me an email.

Cheers, 

Kate

Sign up for “The Weekend List”–my weekly newsletter that hits your inbox each Friday with my curated list of things to read, try, ponder, or check out. All geared to help musicians and creatives live their best lives. 

 

Photo by Brooke Cagle for Unsplash

 

 

Why I am a Huge Fan of Content Deprivation Weeks


 

There are a lot of folks out there peddling “Productivity Hacks” or “How to be more productive” “Get More Done in Less Time!” and for the most part, I ignore them. I do a lot, and I think I work pretty well. If I use someone’s hacks to work faster, I’ll just end up working more, and eventually, I’ll be working too much, and I’ll burn out. No one wants that. 

But here is something that I DO commit myself to doing every so often. The point of it isn’t to be a productivity hack per se, but it’s the best way I know to get amazing, focused work done without feeling exhausted at the end of it. In fact, I usually end up feeling more refreshed than I have in a while. 

 

Consider it 1-Part Productivity Hack, 1-Part Meditation Retreat. 

Have you ever read or done The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron? I first came across this gem of a book when I was in my mid-20’s, and I still take it out and go through the 12-week process of journaling and exercises every few years as a sort of “alignment check-in”. I have found it enormously helpful at various stages in my life and career. It’s currently guiding me through the most monumental change I’ve gone through. 

One of my favorite exercises in the book occurs in week 4, and that is the exercise of “Content Deprivation”. She calls it “Reading Deprivation” but she also wrote it in the ’90s, and back then, actual reading was pretty much your only option for taking in content! 

 

Photo by Christin Hume for Unsplash
Here’s how it works: 

For 1 entire week, you are not allowed to read anything, nor are you allowed to watch TV. In the 2022 version, that would also include no social media scrolling, podcasts, audiobooks, youtube videos, gaming, or Netflix. 

The idea is that for 1 week, you stop consuming content, and instead, you spend more of your time producing content. That can mean: 

  • Finishing that pile of recommendation letters
  • Tweaking your website
  • Folding the laundry
  • Painting the powder room
  • Catching up with a friend
  • Trying out a new recipe
  • Painting plant pots bright yellow

 

Photo by Roselyn Tirado for Unsplash

 

You will feel the results of this exercise both internally and externally. Yes-you will get more accomplished, but it will change the way you think, and the way you see the world around you. Bold statement? Yes. Also: True. 

 

How Much Newfound Time Do You Think You’ll Have at Your Disposal? 

 

I dare you to take a guess at how much of a normal day you spend consuming content. If you’re like me, you’ll say something like: “Well, I scroll Instagram or Twitter for a few minutes in the morning, and then I listen to a podcast when I go for a walk, and I watch an episode or two each evening after dinner.” 

And then try it tomorrow. Put the phone down (posting your own content is okay). No clicking on those medium articles that pop into your email. In fact, no clicking on anything that will take you down a content-consuming rabbit hole. No watching someone’s Live that pops up when you were in the middle of something else, no staring at Pinterest for 45 minutes looking for just the right minestrone recipe. You get the idea. You’ll be shocked at just how much time you normally spend consuming content.

 

Photo by Jessica Lewis for Unsplash

 

Since The Artist’s Way is a book on cultivating creativity, the main point of this exercise is to get us to take creative action in those moments we would otherwise be enjoying someone else’s creative output. But here are 4 additional (and amazing) reasons to do a content deprivation day or week. 

 

1. Work Gets Done Faster

I’ve always considered myself a pretty efficient worker. I get shit done. But during Deprivation Week I am much better about how I use my time. I realized that I would go to linked in to check someone’s title, and I would get distracted by a notification, click on an article, and 10 minutes later….there I was. Doing and thinking about something completely off task. I’d get right back to my task, and I’d finish it, but usually not without getting distracted by several more emails, videos, and articles first. 

Now? 1 tab at a time unless I am actively using something for immediate, in-the-moment research. The result? Not only does my work get done faster, but my head remains clearer throughout the process. I’m not having to constantly bring myself back to the task at hand. There is less time transitioning from one thought world to another. 

 

2. The Satisfaction of Crossing Things Off Your Long-Term To-Do List

 

All of those small bits of time–the 15 minutes before you start teaching, the 10 minutes until dinner is finished when you’re sitting in the car picking someone up? Normally you’d use that time to consume something, right? You’d open up Facebook or Twitter, or you’d have a book with you or a podcast. There is always something there to fill the void. 

But when those things are off-limits? You’ll find yourself remembering that you need to refill that Rx or order more contacts. Make that appointment, water the houseplants, or put that bag of clothes to be donated in the car. As you cross off those little things that have been on your to-do list for months, go ahead and feel like the gold medal olympian you are. You deserve it. 

 

3. You’ll Feel More Present

 

I was walking Tango this morning in the Botanic Gardens––one of our favorite spots. I usually spend this time listening to a podcast, feeling very smug that I am accomplishing 3 things at once. Walking Dog. Spending time outside. Learning something new. But today there was no podcast. It was just me and Tango. We watched the butterflies dance around the wildflowers that were blooming in the back trails, I noticed different flowers, people- (and dog-) watched and soaked up the morning sunshine. Getting back in my car, instead of thinking intensely about whatever I had been hearing on the podcast, I felt relaxed and free. 

 

Photo by Chewy for Unsplash

 

4. Your Own Brilliant Thoughts Will Surprise and Delight You

 

This is prime time for your best ideas to make themselves known to you. No longer blocked by information going in, your own thoughts start to pop out. Especially when you’re just about to get bored. Don’t be surprised if sudden thoughts about starting a festival, the most perfect concert program idea, or an idea about a resource you could put together for your students appear out of the blue. 

I’m 3 days into my content deprivation week right now, and besides all of the work I’ve managed to do in half the normal amount of time, I have planted my broccoli seedlings, made vet appointments for the animals, renewed my Rx, had a lovely long chat with an old friend (her life is as interesting as the best Netflix series anyway, so…) cleaned out the guest room, and made a new soup recipe. 

But more importantly, I’ve had some lovely quiet walks, took a long bubble bath, had a 1 person dance party in my kitchen, had interesting conversations with my husband (that didn’t revolve around a TV show), and just got quiet with my own thoughts. I’ve gotten more work done, yes. But I also feel calmer, more relaxed, and more centered. 

 

Photo by Krists Luhaers for Unsplash

 

What about you? Could you do it? If you really can’t fathom a week (you’d be surprised!) maybe you could do it for a day? Maybe you could get your whole family in on it and report back on the experience. 

Leave a comment and let me know if you do try it, and how it was for you! 

Cheers, 

Kate

Sign up for “The Weekend List”–my weekly newsletter that hits your inbox each Friday with my curated list of things to read, try, ponder, or check out. All geared to help musicians and creatives live their best lives.