It’s not called ‘working’ a musical instrument

Fear of others’ opinions tends to be the number one motivator towards me becoming a workaholic. I believe I have to live and breathe the music I am playing, the essay I am writing, the relationship I am forming in order for it to be worthwhile. I fear not only failure, but more sinister is the fear of unfulfilment. The knowledge that I could have done more/better/differently. Rarely is the sole motivation for the music itself and the joys of musical expression.


The harsh reality is that this ‘living’ malarkey requires equanimity and a foundation of unconditional positive regard. I, however, work aside to play, never letting the two meet. I work, always believing I am in a deficit of time, dreading the long hours I force upon myself. Nothing will be quite good enough, but that keeps me pushing myself and I kind of like it that way.

I want to challenge this pressure. How organic are its origins and how sustainable is the mindset?

I have found myself often wishing for a different, less demanding profession, one with days off and freedom to breathe. I didn’t realise that the reality of my situation is that it is entirely possible to live and breathe alongside work. The living aids the working and vice-versa.

Trust in this capacity is certainly a muscle that needs strengthening. It can be difficult to let go of obsession and control, something that I looked at when in therapy for obsessive-compulsive disorder, but it is essential to be aware of it to allow yourself to live a full life. The anxiety of the initial withdrawal from musical compulsion is great as you delve into the unknown, but it soon becomes clear that the world hasn’t stopped, your value still stands and you are motivated to ‘just go for it’.

It might be that my playing deteriorates through relinquishing control, but if I can’t perform, practice and work alongside adventure and expression then I don’t want to do it any more. I owe it to myself to breathe first and then see what happens to my playing.

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