Don’t spend your time and energy working towards a goal that isn’t yours.
During the pandemic, we’ve all been confronted with ourselves and our busy lives. It’s given us a chance to decide what parts of our lives we want to keep and what parts we feel happier without.
Last March, and especially after graduating in May, I realized how much happier I was with more time to rest. I valued time to choose what to do. I valued creating. Making music on my own terms. I was overjoyed at freedom. Not having to drive long distances and fear my old car breaking down. The world slowing down. Going on walks. Obviously, I’m not alone.
Each new phase of my life, high school to undergrad to grad school to post-school, I have felt a new lightness. New stresses come, but old stresses go. In high school, it felt important to me to be the smartest and most talented at everything, as many high schoolers feel, but at the end of four years of taking AP classes I hated and getting 2-5 hours of sleep a night, I realized that I valued focusing on what I was good at, and sleep.
In undergrad, it felt important to me to be so busy and productive that I could be proud of not having any free time, but at the end of four years of going non-stop, I realized how inhumane I was expecting myself to be. I realized that I valued playing flute, which gave me more joy and satisfaction than my classes, and balancing my life.
In grad school, it was important to me to take care of myself, but also make money to pay the bills. It’s hard to do this when much of your time is taken up by classes (which unfortunately, don’t pay you to sit in!!) It was also important to me to practice and to learn more about my field, but the stress of working and not having enough money were constantly exhausting. I realized I valued rest.
I graduated, and rest came. It felt like the first time I rested in 10 years since I started high school. I valued having few obligations. I valued free time. And then I used my free time to go on walks, stop at free little libraries around my neighborhood to pick up books, and read. I played flute with a newfound freedom that could be whatever I wanted it to be, with no lessons or classes or performances coming up. I played with drones, I improvised, I found new technique books I had never used before and tried them out, I played solos I never had the chance to study. And I remembered how much I value creating. I’ve spent time building my flute studio in Boston because I value the freedom of working for myself and passing on what I’ve learned to students. I value teaching from home without traveling long distances so that I have more time to practice, eat, and rest. I help my flute students find what they value in their lives, including finding what they value in music to help them reach their musical goals whether competitive, or joy-seeking (or both).
In some ways I am lucky that a lot of things in my life fell into place at the same time — I graduated, ready to rest, and the pandemic world didn’t send me into an opportunity that would make me just as busy and unfulfilled as before. But maybe, in my time of rest, I recognized what I valued and designed this myself. It’s taken me many years of trial and error to even begin to understand what I value, and that will always change. I will have to continue to ask myself what I value as my career and life change.
What happens to many of us is that we get stuck in a rut of doing our life the way it already is and accepting the parts that don’t serve us. I was guilty of this for a long time. We don’t have control over every aspect of our lives, but maybe we can take more control than we think. Do you value advancing in your career, socializing, alone time, financial freedom, health, practice time, creativity, free time, adventure, resting, cooking, time with loved ones, good food, new experiences, flexibility, stability? What if you quit that extra committee, practice less of what’s required and more of what makes your heart sing, picked up a new hobby (or an old one), treat yourself to a meal from a small business, give yourself a solo day trip, buy a cheap camera or guitar, give yourself a day off?
What can you add or subtract from your life to align yourself with what you value?