Wednesday, December 11, 2019

Avoiding burnout this holiday season

Happy Gigmas, everyone! December is blessedly busy for musicians; I say "blessedly" because we need the cash.  And we all know that this full calendar is temporary, so we tend to say "yes" to every extra holiday gig that comes our way in order to make up for January's blight.

But that can make us super crazy by the time New Year's rolls around. 

The need to gig is real, so I'm not going to preach (too much) the virtues of taking time off, meditating for 30 minutes a day, and other things we can't afford to do.  But I do have some suggestions to get through December...

1. Start every day with structure.

The busier you are, the harder it is to maintain a feeling of control. But control eases anxiety, so you want to keep proving to yourself every day that you've got some.

If you open emails, texts and social media first thing in the morning, you've opened up your life to everyone else's energy and opinions. Once this happens your own mission and focus become diffused.

Start with a morning ritual that works for you and is easy to accomplish. For instance, if you like to meditate, read or work out in the morning, have everything you need ready the night before. And remember, your morning routine is not someone else's. Do what's right for you.

I always find it is helpful to set an intention for your day. If you crave a morning warm-up routine (I do), schedule it into your day and insist upon it. If you need to get up earlier in the morning, or skip some non-essential task (that's a personal decision), do it.

The National Alliance on Mental Illness references morning routines to avoid burnout and support productivity. "When first starting the day, it's important to avoid 'decision fatigue' by having a set morning routine."

2. Focus your thoughts

What you focus on grows. So, if your focus is on everything that is not working, you can expect those things to expand in your life and stress you out. Focus on what is working, then reboot the places that need attention. Similarly, if you spend all of your time focusing on how tired you are, how many more Nutcracker performances you have to get through, etc...well, you know.

I find it helpful to write down what I want to accomplish by the week. This allows clarity and keeps me from having to remember everything. It also keeps me from focusing solely on the (sometimes negative) minutiae of getting through each busy day, so that I'm not neglecting longer-term projects I need to accomplish (like updating syllabi for my adjunct teaching, etc.) And the bonus is that I can see the light at the end of the tunnel!

3. Stay out of the how

How is an exhausting word for most people. When you ask how, you'll feel a rush of anxiety going through your system that sets you off in many different scenarios and opens loops. For instance, "how am I going to get this all done?" is quite a daunting question.This is a recipe for burnout.

Instead of how, ask yourself, what needs to happen next? This puts your brain in solution mode. Make a list, and then prioritize. Where there is a problem, there is a solution.

Asking questions around next required actions will keep your brain focused on a solution map rather than spinning worry, which creates burnout.

4. Remember the 2/3 rule

Is it too late in the season to say this? There are three general gains you can make by saying yes to a gig: music, people, and money.  To elaborate, the music might be so inspiring that you just have to say yes. The people might either be really great to work with or really great for making connections in order to network in the community--you decide what's important to you there. And the money...I don't need to explain that, do I? So, if 2 of the 3 categories are fulfilled, you can probably rest assured you'll be glad you did the gig. You can decide to do a gig for just one of those categories, and people often do, but know that it's your choice to make. And if the calendar's filling up, it might be wise to insist on 2/3.

5. Avoid comparison and judging.

Somehow, even when w're at our busiest, we manage to covet others' work, perceived prestige, accomplishments, etc. Seeing other freelancers more during this season can dredge up all those competitive feelings, along with the unwelcome humble brags. But when we compare ourselves to other musicians, we'll likely do one of two things: think negative thoughts about them or think negative thoughts about ourselves. This creates a boomerang of low vibe energy and throws emotions into a downward spiral.

Two thoughts here: the grass always seems greener, but that other musician you envy may feel like she's drowning right now. She may even envy you! And focusing on your fantasies of inadequacy are not helping you get though the here and now: "negative self talk is the No. 1 barrier to success."

You can avoid deprecating self talk by lifting others up. Be excited for those doing well. You're building a career in a system that thrives on all musicians doing well.

Once you understand there's a never-ending amount of support and creativity, you'll feel inspired by those who do well and drop the competition.

In the long term, you may find burnout creeping in for reasons other than the PTSD "Sleigh Ride" is causing you (like, "what am I doing with my life ?" sort of stuff). If that's the case, I encourage you to read these two excellent blogs by Clarinet Jenny and Dr. Jessica Quinones, International Flautist.

Thursday, December 5, 2019

Tips for college audition season

Applications to study here at UW are flying in right now, and I know that some of these unfamiliar names in the database are about to become members of the Wyoming flute family. It is so surreal to me! We will go from being awkward strangers (yes, I feel awkward at these auditions, too) to developing lifelong relationships in the span of two, four, or maybe five years. Isn't that crazy? 

Students have a lot of decisions to make, as do their prospective teachers: is this a good fit musically, personally, professionally? I have written some posts in the past about this and don't really have anything new to add just yet, but thought I would share them again in hopes that something here may be of some comfort as students make the Big Decision in the coming months. 

Good luck to everyone this audition season!

What can you do with a music degree?

Choosing the right college for you

And if you think University of Wyoming might be a good fit for you, read more about the program here.