Five Things Junior Year Taught Me
After the ridiculous past couple of weeks I’ve had, everything is finally beginning to wind down. The only things I have left to do are edit a term paper draft, play a jury, and do a conducting final. Before I head off to practice the day away, I sit here on this glorious Saturday afternoon eating a bowl of my chicken and squash stew that I just took out of the freezer, and I feel the need to reflect on what I learned in my junior year of college (in ascending order of importance).
1) Your comfort zone is your worst enemy.
You have to do stuff you don’t think you’ll like sometimes. That’s how you get stronger and learn to expand your interests. First example: I was placed in the Contemporary Music Ensemble at my school, during the same time as I was giving my junior recital in November. The music was impossibly hard and it was overwhelming for me to be in a position of having to learn this new music so quickly while staying calm and preparing for my performance. I complained about it while it was happening, but in the end, I loved the music, it was one of the most satisfying performances I’ve ever played, and I’m glad it happened. Second example: I’m not a huge partier, and never really did much socializing outside of my close knit group of friends until the past year or so. I went out of my comfort zone a LOT this year and learned how to be less socially awkward. Is it socially awkward if you openly acknowledge that you’re socially awkward? …Whatever.
2) Perfection isn’t everything.
I try way too hard to be perfect at everything. This includes, but is not limited to: everything. This is a toxic way of thinking sometimes, because it can literally make you insane. I had several mental breakdowns this semester because I felt so imbalanced all the time. When I was focusing on making my music perfect, I would fall behind in my schoolwork. Then, when I would be focusing on making my schoolwork perfect, I would sacrifice time and energy and fall behind in my music. Making too many sacrifices in the name of perfection is unhealthy and unproductive, which leads me to number 3…
3) Pick your battles.
Prioritize. Think, what’s more important to YOU at the moment? For example, if it were between feeling confident in a gen-ed paper and feeling confident in my jury repertoire, I would probably pick the latter. Similarly, when you have an overwhelming amount of music to learn, what should you practice first? The music for your recital which is in 5 days, or the hard piece of music that you have to perform in 3 weeks? Putting everything in the forefront is a horrible idea. That’s how things end up not getting done. Simply write out what needs to be done and put it in order of when it needs to be done by. Then, go and do it.
4) Don’t let your opinion of yourself be the only opinion.
Of course, your opinion of yourself matters a LOT. If you’re totally unhappy with yourself (which I hope is not the case) then you can’t be productive or get anywhere, and should probably sit down and reflect on what it is that’s making you feel that way. But, it’s important to remember that your opinion of yourself is not the one that always dictates your success. This works both ways. For me, it could mean that I’m feeling like the worst violinist in the world until an opportunity comes along to remind me that hey, maybe I’m being hard on myself. Or, it could mean that when I’m feeling a little too confident, I need a little kick in the butt that says, “Hey, cut it out and keep working.” For example: When I applied to my summer festivals this year, I was sure that I wouldn’t get in where I wanted to go. I applied for two “reach” festivals (one of which was my top choice… Sorry for getting into college app lingo), and reapplied for the same program I went to last year, but asked for a fellowship. In the same week, I learned that not only did I get into my top festival, but I received the fellowship from the other. I was shocked, and to be honest, I let my ego get a little big. Then, I found out I didn’t get into the last festival I applied to. It didn’t bother me too much, because I had already decided on where I was going, but it reminded me that confidence is only productive if you’re humble as well.
5) Do whatever it takes for you to enjoy life.
Go out on a school night. Sit in bed with a cup of tea and watch TV after a long day, even if you feel you don’t deserve it. Cook dinner for your friends. Go to the gym (you’ll feel good afterward). Sit outside on a sunny day to study or do mental practicing rather than holing yourself up in a practice room. This is what will make the stress go away, even if it’s only temporary.
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