Normally I write about kids, life coaching and what I’m experiencing with my music students but today I was compelled to write about something that transcends both my worlds as a life coach and musician. It may take a bit to get to the point but scene-setting is necessary here so please bear with me!
The other day I read a post on a musician-oriented Facebook page by a woman who teaches music at the college level. She was lamenting that she is exhausted, anxious, and not looking forward to the upcoming academic year and she was hoping to hear from others how they are feeling. I knew the responses would echo her sentiments but I was astounded by the number of people with whom her words resonated. There were at least 100 responses saying that they too felt like a shell of the person they were pre-COVID. My heart hurt reading the replies and understanding the desperation they are experiencing.
Most people lost something because of this pandemic, whether it was work/income, activities they enjoyed, the freedom to travel safely, or a person they loved. Many have drastically altered where and how they work, while juggling children’s educations and activities on top of that. Throw in the anxiety and worry around trying to avoid getting sick and it’s no wonder that many of us feel defeated at times.
Musicians and other creatives have really suffered during this COVID stretch. In a world where what we do is already undervalued and underpaid, this has been a life-altering time. Here are the concerns I’ve heard from colleagues:
- Financial stress: Will gigs come back ever? Will they come back soon enough to keep us from bankruptcy?
- Artistic fears: Will I still be good enough after 18 months of not performing? I should practice but I feel like I’m just going through the motions. Will my stage fright return? Will my imposter syndrome raise its ugly head again?
- Health concerns: If I get COVID will it prevent me from being the artist I am today? I had COVID and I’m afraid that I’ll never be like I was before.
- Teaching: I’m being asked to teach better with less, on platforms that don’t translate well for music/dance/theater. I’d like to be a better teacher but I don’t have the bandwidth to continue reinventing virtual ways to teach. How can we help our students with their emotional health when we’re barely holding on ourselves?
Professional creatives have an incredible amount invested in what they do; often what we do and who we are have become inseparable. The pandemic is not only taking our careers from us but also potentially threatening our very identity, causing emotional wreckage to an already highly sensitive group of people. I remember early in 2020 when people were glibly posting “If you don’t come out of this pandemic with a new hobby or side hustle, you missed an opportunity.” It’s not that easy for us: we’ve spent hours a day for years on end becoming as good as we are, and still need to scrap and claw for work because there just isn’t enough. We can’t put our instruments down for a few months and expect to still be competitive when gigs return. And if you’ve always done one highly specialized thing (and you happen to LOVE that thing!) then it’s not as simple as finding another job: our skills are transferable but we (and others) don’t always see that. Plus, we can’t just cut music out of our lives; that would be like cutting out our hearts.
But what I’ve noticed is…and I’ve had some great conversations with musical colleagues that confirm this…musicians are starting to figure out that they are more than what they do professionally. Their work ethic and creativity are valuable to other industries and when they can combine their music with another job, it leads not only to more financial stability but also to greater satisfaction in their lives. Since studying music takes so much time and energy, outside activities are often put on the back burner but now people are reevaluating and revisiting their dormant interests. COVID has been the impetus that allowed/forced us to think differently. After an initial tug-of-war and some feelings of loss, many people are digging the outcome. I had voluntarily started my transformation “pre-virus” so I wasn’t doing it because my music career was derailed by COVID but quarantine/lockdown certainly allowed me time to pursue it even further.
This last week I planning two outreach concerts and gathering bios from my colleagues when it hit me: I don’t want to put a bio out there that only talks about my degrees, my performances, my recordings, or who I studied with. I just don’t. I’m more than that and so are my musical friends! So I asked them to write new bios that focused on who they ARE rather than what they DO or have done. What do you do when you’re not playing music? What do you like to eat? What was your pandemic guilty pleasure or something else you did while locked down that you hadn’t had time to do before? What’s your favorite sports team, non-classical musician, healthy activity? Do you have pets? What’s your favorite animal? We still put in the training and some high points of our careers because we worked super hard to get where we are; but my theory, and I hope I’m right, is that audiences will enjoy reading this information, relate to us better because of it, and we will ignite in ourselves more joy and understanding of who we are in addition to being damn good musicians.
What does this all mean for me, as I live a dual life as a Life Coach and musician? I can coach my clients (who are mainly girls and young women) to know what they enjoy, what they value, and how they want to show up in the world in addition to identifying talents they could pursue professionally. I get the opportunity to guide people to trust their inner voice, the voice that tells them when they feel limited or ready to break out and pursue additional interests, the voice that tells them when it’s time to let go, even if it’s something they’ve done forever. I get to remind them a person always has the right to grow, to expand, and to change their mind.
If you’ve made it this far, thank you. Sometimes I write for the reader, sometimes I write for me, but this was for all of us. To my musical colleagues: you are beautiful, talented beings who bring so much goodness to the world with your performances and teaching. I hope you can identify and embrace your other skills and interests, incorporating them into your life by choice versus by necessity. You deserve to shine brightly in the way that makes you the happiest. Be well!