This week I was asked to record a piece for the Royal College of Music, giving my top tips for being a musician online, but to also include an uplifting supportive message for their students during this unpredictable time. And, it got me thinking. One of the most uplifting things I could have been told during my studies, was that it's okay to not be where you thought you'd be. So many of us set ridiculously high (unrealistic) targets. In my case, I'd always had a plan since I was about thirteen or fourteen that I would go to this particular sixth form then Music College and would finally get onto a prestigious Masters Course. From then, I would go straight into a job - no gaps. I was so uneducated about the music profession at that age that it seemed completely doable. Worryingly in recent years, I've come to realise, that on some subconscious level I keep myself accountable to this very old outdated target. So when real life hit this year and I found my entire world spun on its head, my biggest issue was and still is, learning to accept that there can be a plan B, C and ultimately a plan D.
It might be helpful if I share with you, how this year was ideally supposed to look.
I should be coming to the end of my first year in Hong Kong, splitting my time between teaching and performing. Currently I'd be preparing for a summer of masterclasses, as both coach and student. Not in my plan; Covid-19, lockdown and a whole tonne of grieving.
I left for Hong Kong in August and if you've read this blog before, you will know that it really didn't go to plan. I went into teaching with the understanding that I'd keep performing as long as it didn't conflict with my teaching hours. It soon became clear that this was not going to happen, even when performing opportunities presented themselves. First lesson of the year learnt. Sometimes it takes far more courage to admit that something simply isn't working and walk away, than battling on miserably trying to make it fit. So, crying so hard I did that weird embarrassing breathing thing (I'm going to be super brave and just own all my failures this year), I handed in my resignation and set my sights on coming home.
In December, I came back from Hong Kong completely deflated. I found "reentry" a nightmare. I was so desperate to prove that coming home was the right decision that I pushed myself to the limit; finding recitals, applying for cello positions, acquiring students. Whilst my diary was starting to look full from mid February onward, not having a lot on until then didn't make me feel great. I started becoming really tough on myself and honestly it was far from healthy. Perfection is a concept, not something that one can actually obtain. I don't think I've actually met someone who has said they've performed the perfect concert. Even Pablo Casals famously said when asked why he continued to practice four and five hours a day, “Because I think I am making progress". Sadly, my need to prove I was justified in my decision to come home and my addiction to perfection, led to one hell of a crash and burn when life thew me the biggest curve-ball of all - losing my Mum during a global pandemic. No amount of hard work, planning or to-do lists could make me feel in control of this one.
This blog post isn't a "woe is me" waffle but a "here's my year that didn't go to plan, does this make you feel less alone?" article. Now more than ever we need to know we're not on our own in how we feel.
Lockdown has been difficult for us all. Just scrolling down news feed, it's not long until you find something about the sad state of affairs the British music scene is currently facing. Whilst countries like New Zealand and Austria are starting to get the ball rolling, either in the form of financial support or exploring new ways of performing: Musicians in Britain are feeling forgotten, unsupported by the government and ultimately very lost and nervous about what the future may bring. Personally, the small amount of concerts I still have in my diary are being moved further and further back and I'm working hard to find a way to keep in touch with audiences and show I'm still working. Ultimately the blog has been a huge help during lockdown, giving me an opportunity to explore topics of interest to young professionals as well as providing deadlines and routine. But one of the hardest parts I've found of lockdown, is seeing my friends in different countries going back to studying, auditioning and socialising. It's been hard to watch other people moving forward, whilst my feet feel stuck in concrete.
In a year where my plan A went out the window very early on, there have been moments where I've wanted to give up on more than just the career. But, I believe there's something to be learnt in every struggle to take with you for later life - to be honest, it's the only way I've been able to make any sense of what's happened this year. This blog post isn't a "woe is me" waffle but a "here's my year that didn't go to plan, does this make you feel less alone?" article. Now more than ever we need to know we're not on our own in how we feel.
So, here are some of the lessons I've learnt/still very much learning from my first year as a graduate:
1. Have the courage to walk away when you know you deserve better.
2. Your relationship with yourself is more important than anything - put yourself first.
3. It's absolutely okay to make mistake - in fact it's encouraged!
4. Ask for help when you need it, either from a professional or from your support system.
5. Perfection is overrated. And your 13 year-old-self should never be in charge of your life plan.
I guess what I'm trying to say is that it's okay to not be where you thought you'd be. Life loves to throw us a curve-ball or six and no-one can be okay 100% of the time. Some days you feel like you can take on the world and other days you just want to make a large duvet fort and snuggle in it for the day. In all honesty, none of us can do any better than just turning up and doing our best. There's is nothing wrong with Plan B,C or D (even plan Z if need be!). Plan C (or whatever I'm on now) comes into effect in two weeks time and I'm feeling positive about a new chapter.
We've all got this!