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Hot Take: Don't Give 110% | Classical Musicians

The blurry image of a flute in front of music with the caption, "Don't Give 110%"

You know how people say, "give 110%" when practicing, playing sports, working an office job, studying for school, etc.?

When you think about it, you can’t really give 110% percent.

That’s just another way to say, give your full effort, and then borrow some from tomorrow. Do everything you can, and then do 10% more work on a depleted brain. Satisfy TODAY's goal by sacrificing your health, your energy, your time, and your commitment to other areas of your life TOMORROW.

When you keep borrowing some from tomorrow, you don’t get to fully refill. It's like putting air in a tire with a hole in it. The air will continue escaping even as you actively put air inside of it. It's a relentless chase. It’s HARD on your body. It’s HARD on your brain.

Here's another example. Let's say you're driving a car, and you need to get from point A to B, which is 110 miles away. Your tank only has gas for 100 miles. You can’t just borrow some of tomorrow’s gas before refilling your car… That’s scientifically ridiculous.

Along that same line...

You can’t use 110% of the battery on your phone.

You can’t use 110% of the pages in a notebook

So why are we demanding 110% out of our one and only precious human body?!?

"Work hard and you'll be successful" is what we hear. That's possible, but when (and how hard) will you get burnt out? What then?

What if, instead of working hard, we work fully?

Society (hi capitalism, which trickles down from working adults to school-aged students), rewards working hard: giving up every ounce of your energy and more, being rough on your body, and wringing yourself dry. What if we worked fully instead? What if, at the end of every day, instead of being utterly exhausted, burnt out, with aching muscles and fried brains, we were spent?

What if we used our full effort, and still felt whole at the end of the day?

For musicians, this can look like:

  • Being consistent with practice in a way that aligns with your goals, while also leaving ample room for normal life inconsistencies (getting sick, having an extra busy month, changing seasons)

  • Not subscribing to the mentality of "the show must go on" and prioritizing health and well-being over performances (get a substitute for the orchestra concert, postpone the recital, the world will keep spinning and you will remain whole)

  • Setting boundaries and saying "no" to far-away gigs, low-paying jobs, and optional but unfulfilling ensembles, rehearsals, clubs, etc.

When I was a music student, I was guilty of prioritizing my success over my well-being. It was the culture. It was revered. I worked HARD. Although it got me where I am today, it has left irreparable damage on my body that has changed the way I view work.

Full work is not weaker, lazier, or less virtuous than hard work; it's intentional, it's efficient, and it prioritizes the full human over the work that we do.

To be clear, this is a systemic problem that primarily affects marginalized communities. Many individuals (especially in BIPOC, LGBTQ+, and disabled communities) are forced to run on fumes just to get by in our current society. But there are many others (including MANY musicians) who are under the false belief that running on fumes is noble, worthy, and appropriate.

If you are an educator or leader, it starts with you: foster an environment that encourages full work instead of hard work. If you are a worker, a student, or a general human being, advocate for yourself and be discerning about what you need to do to survive and thrive.

Take a step back. Work smarter, not harder where you can, whether that's in your career endeavors or your practice routine. In other words, don't give 110%.

In the words of my middle school band director, "Do what you can, not what you can't."

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