When you hit a rough patch, it’s easy to become negative. I know, because I’ve been there. If you suddenly lose the ability to do what makes you happy, especially if said passion pays the bills, it is very difficult to NOT become depressed. I think it’s acceptable to feel sorry for yourself a little, but you can’t give in. I believe that a lot of us who have suffered through depression do so because we cannot see the bigger picture. We are so obsessed with the thing that we lost that we are unable to move forward. In certain cases, you can’t get back what you lost, and you have to learn how to cope with that fact. In other situations, you can regain what you lost. It will be hard, but attainable, and it is ultimately up to you to make the decision that it is worth that extra effort. I don’t want to wake up at 5:20 am every morning, but if that’s what I have to do to get enough practice, then so be it.
Sometimes, all we need to do is alter our perspective. Some of you might ask, what is perspective? Well, it is a broad term. Basically, it refers to your attitude towards or interpretation of a particular concept or circumstance. A person can have lots of different perspectives, but really, I think that we all are programmed to deal with events, good or bad, in our own personal ways. For instance, as I have mentioned, I am a pessimist, and I always find the bad, even in a good situation. However, others are always able to stay positive and move forward even when there is a bump in the proverbial road. Since I have a tendency to focus on the bad aspects of any situation, my perspective is obviously skewed, and I need to fix it. The big question: How?
Perspective is fickle, because it deals with the mind. If you don’t have a strong constitution, your perspective probably changes constantly and can be influenced by outside sources quite easily. My problem is that I am hyper-critical of myself, and I tend to change my own perspective, usually in a bad way. However, I am also stubborn, and when I set my mind to something, I tend to be unwavering. This was my mindset when I began my journey as a horn player. For those of you that are unaware, I played saxophone for six years before deciding to start learning horn on the side. I played both instruments until my junior year of undergrad, when I decided that I wanted to become a horn player. After I switched instruments, plenty of people were skeptical and didn’t really think that I possessed the capability to earn a masters degree on horn. This doubt didn’t discourage me, on the contrary, it actually fueled me. This drive/desire served me well until that little bit of doubt was allowed to creep its way into my mind after my injury. Once it settled in, it just kept growing and my perspective honed in like a heat-seeking missile.
For a few years, I was unable to step back and look at the bigger picture. How would I be able to change my perspective, when nothing seemed to happen the way that I had planned or desired? I wasn’t being considered for full-time college positions, and I wasn’t even being offered a job as a grade school band director. The jobs that were offered either didn’t pay enough, or were positions that I didn’t particularly want. I was mired in failure, and I did not allow myself to use these experiences in a positive way. Instead of trying to use these setbacks as a chance to improve, I focused on the negative and allowed myself to slip even further into depression. This continued until I allowed myself to see the bigger picture and understand that all of these so-called “failures” did not define who I am as a person.
So, what is the “bigger picture?” To me, it’s life, and it also represents how we live our life. Do you want to be that person sweating the little things, or do you want to be able to let things go, be happy, and enjoy the good moments to the fullest. I finally realized how unhappy I was and decided that it was time to make a change. I had a place to live, food, clothes, a car, plenty of other luxury items, two wonderful children, and a loving wife. I needed to broaden my perspective, because I wasn’t allowing myself to enjoy these great things that I already have. Most of us forget that there are people out their that don’t have enough food to eat, don’t have a place to sleep, have to live in battle-torn conditions, have to deal with racial or religious discrimination on a daily basis, etc. With all of that in mind, most of us have it pretty good, and I think we all just need to sit back and realize that sometimes. Once you have a greater perspective for your place in the world, the fear of going on stage and playing in front of people, seems trivial when compared to the hundreds, thousands of people who suffer and die everyday around the world. Be thankful for what you have and grateful for the fact that you can go on stage and share your passion with others.
Now, allow me to backtrack and address the inevitable failures that we will have to deal with and overcome in our lives. Failures are important, because anything worth doing is never easy. You need failure to grow as a person. I think that most of us who suffer with anxiety probably let our fears have too much power and dictate our lives. We also tend to blame others for our failures in certain circumstances. I fully admit that I have done this on several occasions. This “blaming” is another habit that is unhealthy and that will continue to keep us from moving forward. The only way to get past our mental roadblock(s) is to embrace our failure and turn the tables on the mental game that we play. Instead of thinking, “I must be really bad at this, because I just had a horrible audition/interview,” we have to think in a more constructive manner. First, make sure that you take the time to prepare and set yourself up for the best possible outcome. Next, if you get that job or position, wonderful! If not, say to yourself, “I know that I put forth my best effort, so how can I continue to get better?” This isn’t to say that you shouldn’t feel disappointed, but you have to treat everything as a learning experience, because too much negativity inevitably leads to more failure.
I have always set very lofty goals for myself, and in recent years, I have wondered if I should lower my expectations. The answer is definitely no, because if I lower my expectations, then I will never reach my full potential, no matter the ultimate outcome. A colleague of mine, Marcus Redden, wrote a wonderful blog post on this topic recently. It can be read here. The fact that I don’t play in a top-tier orchestra, or that I’m not a professor at a top university doesn’t make me a lesser person. Failure does not define the person, but rather it is the decision or action taken after a collapse that can tell us who we really are.
My ultimate goal has always been to become a college professor, more specifically, a horn professor. I don’t plan on backing away from that goal anytime soon. Sure, it’s disappointing that it hasn’t happened yet, but I know that there is a great opportunity waiting for me, so I just have to keep pushing myself. In the meantime, I may not completely enjoy my current job, but I have to see the positive. I have all the things that I need, I get to spend time with my kids and watch them grow, and I also get to mentor some pretty talented young horn players. My life may not be what I expected, but it’s pretty good at the moment. Ultimately, the choice is yours. You can either enjoy life, or continue to make yourself miserable.