It can be difficult to look back at the time I laid the foundations of the musician I am today. In high school, cello was an escape from the monotony of every day. It gave me a place to be during lunchtime and it felt like a relief to have an object attached to my personality.
A few years after beginning cello I became completely goal obsessed. At the start, it was clear that it was something I enjoyed, but I didn’t hold any real expectation on it. I didn’t expect it to help me prove myself. By the age of 14 it stood for little else.
I started to understand what goals were and I’ve never wanted to live an ‘ordinary’ sort of life. The combination of these two things is a hot bed for motivation, perhaps at the expense of true enjoyment.
Practice was all about improving and impressing. I wanted people to see me as someone that practiced a lot, more than everyone else- an unhealthy amount seemed almost glamorous to me. I’m still plagued by this desire often. I was motivated only by the next performance or lesson, and rarely by the actual music. Maybe this is common among young musicians? All I know is that this mindset made my life quite disrupted by obsession and perfectionism. I rarely felt able to stop and enjoy my creations and how far I’d actually come.
I didn’t enjoy performing at all for the first 6 years of playing the cello. Admitting this to myself is difficult, even now. It was a means to an end, a way of attempting to acquire accolades and praise from people I valued. Playing a concert wasn’t about my experience of speaking to people through music, it was instead entirely about afterwards. I would scan people’s facial expressions and phrases of praise and analyse as to whether they enjoyed it.
I was so insecure about failing and letting people down that I clung to every minuscule piece of praise I could. I didn’t want people to feel they had wasted their time in listening to me, I wanted nothing else than for my playing to be valued. The affirmations gave me purpose and validation that my playing was worthy of being heard, something I could never believe myself.
I’m thinking about this a lot at the moment, as I witness these thought patterns still appear from time to time. My cello playing is certainly separating itself from my self worth, and I’m so grateful for that. However, new ventures in the writing and podcasting world mean that the insecurities are high. Some might even call it imposter syndrome. Whatever pride or enjoyment I might have attached to something I create, someone else’s validation can feel more important. My creations need a seal of approval in order to survive, they are often deleted or withdrawn or made ‘safe’ if they fail to live up to my expectation.
The great thing about being brave and creating new and exciting projects is learning about yourself through it. This insecurity regression is interesting to witness and makes me even more grateful that I am freer that I once was with my music making.
I often talk about trying to be excited to fail and learn, no matter the consequences. But it sure does require an awful lot of vulnerability, and that is tiring to go through all over again!