Lately, I've been seeing a lot of negativity. Whether it is on social media, in classes, during ensemble rehearsals, or even in passing, there seems to be an increased level of agitation and irritability between students and faculty. People say that it is common to hit a wall towards the end of the semester, and it is common to experience "burnout" and encounter a week or so grace period where you are just constantly in a bad mood. This tends to happen at our busiest times, naturally, when we don't have a lot of extra downtime to regroup and rejuvenate. This phenomenon commonly called "burnout" can be toxic, especially to professional relationships. I notice people who experience this begin to complain a lot more about the tasks at hand, become a bit more hostile towards one another, and have little motivation to do anything musical. In a perfect world, we would have ample amount of time each day to unwind, reflect, and rest. It seems that in America, however, no such thing exists. I have had friends who have studied abroad in parts of Europe, and they have said that the European way of life overall is much more laid back. They said that in many parts of Europe, the people schedule "tea time" in their day, as a couple hours to just rest and reflect. In America, that is often thought of as being "unproductive", or "lazy". Being a musician, I believe that we often experience this issue firsthand. It is difficult for me to sit down for a few hours each day and just do nothing. I am CONSTANTLY working. On my lunch breaks, I bring homework to do. When I'm watching a movie, I am either doing homework or mentally going through my music. During my breaks between classes, I am almost always practicing. The only time my mind is truly off all of my responsibilities is when I am out with friends, and even then my mind is constantly racing, reminding me of things I need to accomplish before the day ends.
At the same time, my life has become very short-term. I take my schedule one day at a time, because that is the only way that I can stay sane. My life is only as busy as the day that lies ahead. I believe that there are both pros and cons to this lifestyle. The pros are that I am less likely to become overwhelmed because I tell myself that once I accomplish everything on the agenda for the day my tasks have been completed, until tomorrow. It allows me to rest easier and build in time to exercise or participate in leisure activities if I accomplish all of my daily tasks on time. The cons are that it is hard to conceive long-term goals with this mentality, and sometimes I find myself accidentally procrastinating on projects or preparing for performances that sneak up on me much sooner than I had planned for. I also find it difficult to make time to keep in regular contact with my family (parents, siblings, grandparents, cousins, aunts, uncles, etc.) and to maintain simple life tasks such as doing my laundry frequently, scheduling appointments, and grocery shopping. I have been thinking about ways to create a good balance between short-term and long-term time management a lot lately, and have come up with an extensive calendar system for myself both on my phone and written down. For each person, this system of schedule organization may vary based on how your brain most effectively keeps track of the tasks at hand. For me, as soon as I find out about a deadline for a project or a performance date, I immediately place the date in my phone calendar and set alerts to remind me of it a week before and two days before to give me time to prepare if it has slipped my mind. In addition to this, I also create weekly to-do lists that I leave out on my desk in my room to remind me of all I need to accomplish. I usually divide this to-do list into three separate categories: what I need to practice, what homework I need to complete, and what errands I need to run (grocery shopping, submitting applications before deadlines, dropping things off, etc.). Each day, I mentally run through this checklist and consider all of the free hours I will have and decide from there what I will begin to accomplish. Especially during the end of the semester, things can begin to pile up quite rapidly, so I find it extremely helpful to mentally prepare myself ahead of time to avoid getting extremely overwhelmed. If I know that a project is due a week from today, I will start the project and then sleep on it, and complete a bit more each day until I complete it so that I have time to revise and finalize the project before submitting. If I have a big performance (like the Concerto Competition) coming up in a week, I will make it a point to complete at least one full run through without stopping (preferrably with a small audience) every single day from memory until the competition. It reduces my stress and anxiety, and it provides me with a lot more performance experience that will hopefully lead to a successful performance when it counts. It also allows me to make many, many mistakes in front of audiences with friendly, supportive ears so that when I am under pressure, I am less likely to make those same mistakes if I am aware of them. I find that it really helps to "pre-prepare" for events like these, and it helps me become more successful in the long run.
During my short time enrolled in music school, I have learned a lot about attitude. I have learned that it is extremely easy to make yourself absolutely miserable, and it is easy to fall into a downwards spiral of negativity that leads you to becoming irritable and somewhat mean. I have experienced phases of this, and I'm certain many others have as well. I have also learned that you will receive back what you give. For example, if you become a person who constantly scorns others and judges them harshly on either their actions or their playing, you will get negativity back. If you are one who makes a point to compliment others on what they are doing well on rather than being jealous or feeling threatened, you will receive compliments back. If you have a large ego and you take compliments for granted, you will not receive as many. If you humbly accept compliments with a smile and a "thank you", people are more likely to keep giving them. It is these seemingly simple facts about life that can become so distorted when people are under an extreme amount of stress, and it is important to keep reminding yourself that staying positive is the only way to being happy. You have the power to create your own happiness, much like you also have the power to destroy it. It is important to remind yourself to be humble, no matter how talented you think you may be. This is how you build connections, and this is how people remember you. Nobody wants to hire an egotistical maniac who may be very good but is impossible to work with. You are much more likely to be hired (assuming it isn't a blind audition) if you are not only talented but humble about it and have a positive attitude towards music and your career. It may be difficult sometimes, but try to create a mantra for yourself and come back to it when you are feeling discouraged, jealous, threatened, or any other sort of negative emotion. It is very easy to get torn down in this field, but it takes extremely strong-willed people to know how to build themselves back up, and those are the ones who will go far.
Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.