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My Redefinition of Progress

Updated: Feb 10, 2021

I recently had a breakthrough. I’m sure that we’ve all found these past few months taxing in one way or another, and I’m no exception. Honestly, I’ve been a wreck. When the quarantine started in March, I was a student with plans to move at the end of the semester; I was playing in multiple groups including orchestras, bands, chamber ensembles, and was making plans for recitals on the east coast. Then suddenly I got the email I had been dreading for a little while - all concerts were canceled. Classes moved online, and state borders were closed. With that announcement, I felt so many emotions. Guilt for not being able to tell my orchestras, teachers, and students in person that I planned to move over the summer; sadness over not being able to spend more time and make music with my friends and colleagues; frustration with where I was with my career as a musician and knowing that this global issue was going to hinder my own personal development timeline that I had imagined. These emotions had to be dealt with and could have a blog of their own, but I really want to focus on this last one. Like I said in the beginning - I recently had a breakthrough, but what was it all about? I realized that I had the wrong view of what progress looks like. I’m sure we’ve all heard this over the years - that progress is never a straight line. It feels like a roller coaster, but when you look at it through an outside perspective, it comes in small bursts and plateaus. I was first exposed to these images in the book Chop Wood, Carry

Water by Joshua Medcalf, a book that was recommended to me in one of my first sessions with my coach and mentor, Karen Cubides. As most students, I took in the information and could relate to it, but I didn’t really understand it. I was then exposed to this idea again when I attended The Mind Body Spirit Workshop held by Jeremy Wilson and Karen Cubides, but it didn’t sink in until about mid-December. The last few months, I was struggling with motivation to play my instrument, struggled to pay my rent, and was in a seriously dark place since I had only moved to Nashville two months earlier and was in a new city far from my friends and family. Fortunately, I found a couple of old friends living nearby, a strong support through the emerging artist program, and was challenging myself to approach everyday things in a different way which helped me avoid completely giving up.

Now let’s talk about what really triggered this breakthrough. It honestly started without my permission or intent. I was introducing a friend to a favorite show of mine, Your Lie In April. To put it simply, it’s centered around a pianist who has lost the desire to continue playing piano after his mother’s death. Throughout the series, we follow his rocky path to rediscovering his passion for performing music. (This is just a high-level overview of the plot - I highly recommend watching the show to really experience the significance of the journey). That show made me want to watch another that I had discovered around the same time as Your Lie in April called Forest of Piano, a show about a student that has a natural gift for playing piano and eventually grows to love playing so much and discovering his own sound that no one else can replicate. The combination of these shows made me start to reflect on my past. Some things that I’ve learned from this reflection are this: Throughout my undergraduate education, I was trained to improve my technique, but also to play with passion and musicality. This was something I really identified with. When I went on to my graduate studies, I felt like the focus was set more on playing everything on the page exactly how it was written. These conflicting views created a cognitive dissonance in my head. While I was in grad school, I improved in the technique I was lacking, however I never felt like I was truly playing my horn. I couldn’t figure out what I seemed to be lacking in my playing that prevented me from advancing in auditions, getting people excited to hear me play, or wanting me to come to their schools to perform for their students. My teachers struggled to help me find answers and always approached it as a technique error, and that’s when I started to slip into self-doubt. I began asking if I was doing the right thing. Should I just go get a public school job or even just a retail job and not have to worry about this anymore? That’s when I attended the Mind Body Spirit Workshop. After that workshop, I finally found myself feeling inspired again. I realized that I was missing the emotional aspect of my playing and began working on that again and could feel improvement in my playing. Then I moved to Nashville. Things were great at first; I was experiencing new things like living in a big city, practicing in an apartment and not a practice room, no longer being a full-time student, teaching online, being far away from good friends and family, and no longer having as much of a safety net underneath me. I also had this idea that once I got to Nashville everything was going to change, and it did - just not in the way I was expecting it to.

I thought I was going to be able to network easily. Since we were living in a pandemic, it wouldn’t be as hard to meet musicians for a socially distanced coffee and try to work my way into the scene more. That hasn’t happened. I knew I wasn’t going to be able to work and had prepared myself for that, but not having a single gig since March, not playing music with anyone for so long - we all know how tough that has been. I was lucky that I had more friends than I thought living here. A couple of friends from my past days performing with the Blue Knights live here and have been a great support for me. But even so, I began to fall back into the hole of losing motivation to play. Looking at my horn only made me sad and frustrated. There was about a month-long period where I only played my horn to teach. I couldn’t practice and felt guilty for not practicing, but the inspiration was gone. I was hitting a wall - the same wall I was hitting back at the end of my time as a student. The same wall I thought I broke through in the middle of the summer. Through this time, I tried to change my focus and let the universe send me the messages I needed to see to help me find my way. I took some advice and found a day job. This helped me provide structure to my days again, and I could feel myself want to play my horn again because it wasn’t looming over me all day. This is when I became even more open to options. I began to think that working retail wasn’t too bad and that it was paying my rent pretty easily at the time, so maybe I could do this and just have music as a hobby. That’s when I started watching Your Lie in April and Forest of Piano again, but there was one more thing that came into my life completely unexpected. I was watching the show Mr. Iglesias, a sitcom following Gabriel Iglesias as a public-school teacher, when one episode addressed a concept call “Ikigai.” It’s basically a four-part Venn diagram

used to find your purpose in life. The four circles are as follows: “We are good at it”, “We love it”, “The world needs it”, and “You can be paid for it”. If what you do falls into all four circles, that is your Ikigai, your happiest path. This really resonated with me and I began to reflect on what fall into all four of those circles for me. Working retail: I’m good at it, The world does need it, I can definitely be paid for it, but I really don’t love it. Teaching full time

at a public school: I’m good at it, I can barely make money with it, the world absolutely needs it, but do I love it? No - I much prefer teaching privately. Performing music: Am I good at it? Yeah, I wouldn’t have gotten here if I wasn’t; Does the world need it? Absolutely, I can’t think of a time the world needed it more; Can I get paid from it? Yes; Do I love it? I can’t think of anything that fills my heart more than performing music. When I broke things down that way, I realized that I am following the right path. There are just a lot of twists and turns going on right now. This was also when I looked back over the past few months and could see my progress, and I learned something very important: Progress is only clear to us on our journey when we take a second to pause and look back. In the moment, it feels like you’re going nowhere, and the goal is just taunting you on the horizon. This is when I learned that we can’t spend all of our time looking in one direction. We have to be present in the moment, have eyes on the future, and find time to rest and look back on the progress we‘ve made. This time to look back will help us to find the right path to go forward, to find the soft spot in the wall and break through, and most importantly to take pride in the growth we’ve made in our journey so far.

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