Organization ≠ Perfection: A Journey in Self-Discipline

Life, Music | September 26, 2014 | By

When I decided on a whim last year to apply for graduate school right away, the process was exactly as crazy as you would expect. It seemed as if there was so much to accomplish, and so little time in which to accomplish it. I mean, life always feels that way, right? And sometimes, it’s true. But other times, it really does only FEEL that way. So, I bought a planner. I started organizing my day into chunks, hour by hour, in order to fit in everything I needed to do. This seriously changed my life forever. To this day, I still make daily, handwritten schedules. On some rare days, I am able to follow them to a “T,” but when I can’t, I love the security of knowing my own time like the back of my hand, and being able to see it in writing when I don’t. What can I say, I’m the daughter of a professional organizer (literally).

 Having this kind of awareness of my own schedule keeps me productive and accountable. However, as you may recall from a post I wrote about a year ago, this system has already backfired on me once. I got caught up trying to be this perfectly scheduled robot, and when I couldn’t do it (surprise!), I felt like a failure. I was forgetting about this little thing called “life” that happens, which DOESN’T come made up of calculated hours with predetermined outcomes. There’s ebb and flow, and there is ALWAYS room for error somewhere.

Now, let me tell you about another handy little tool I keep close to my heart: a practice journal. When I was preparing repertoire for graduate auditions (…and summer festival auditions, and a senior recital – AAACK!), the journal helped me to keep track of how I was using my practice time. I was able to keep myself accountable, and control my time management and concentration better in the practice room. Lo and behold, I got into graduate school, (some) summer festivals, and had a pretty successful recital.  This little guy was my new best friend in the whole world… Or so I thought. 

As best friends sometimes do, we parted ways for a bit this summer. Then, summer faded into school, and my schedule started up once again.

This week, I was to bring the complete first movement of the Tchaikovsky violin concerto to my lesson. My own personal goal? To bring ALL 21 pages memorized. It was a task I believed I could handle if I organized my time. Besides, at least half of it was already memorized. So, out came my little buddy PJ. I wrote down my weekly goals, broke them down into daily goals via sections/pages, and then designated them over the week based on how busy my schedule was each day. I also included time each day for reviewing every section, hopefully ensuring that I wouldn’t “lose” my work from one day to the next. (See picture above.)

Then, my plan backfired. It backfired so. Freaking. Hard.

Last night, I was reviewing my work from the week – a plan executed straight out of my practice journal. At that moment, I realized that I hadn’t played the first half in a few days. “No big deal,” I thought. “It’s already memorized!” …Not as well as I’d thought, apparently. By this point, it was too late to fix. Besides, I was already behind in memorizing the second half. I had been SO caught up in making every passage perfect that I had accidentally neglected spots that I didn’t even KNOW needed work. So, I spent my evening on the verge of a full-fledged Sarah-style breakdown. I’m only kind of dramatic sometimes.

So, I shared my struggle with practice journaling from this week with my teacher prior to playing my lesson, and she explained that it was because the approach I’d taken had been too mathematical. Deep down, I knew this, but to hear the words out loud made so much sense. In my attempt to work hard this week, I actually ended up overworking the wrong things. So, what did I learn from this?

My practice journal, similar to my planner, is NOT a vehicle with which to attempt perfection, because perfection IS NOT POSSIBLE.

During my audition process, I used PJ very well as a reference, logging hours, and taking notes on what needed work – AFTER the fact. By predetermining what I THOUGHT needed to get done this week (which in reality was absolutely unrealistic, and in hindsight, unnecessary), I really screwed myself over and made myself nuts for no reason. Goal setting is only productive when the goals are in reach. Lofty is one thing, but impossible is another.

This brings me to the moral (and title) of this post: Organization ≠ Perfection. “Perfect” doesn’t exist… It’s just REALLY not a thing. The reason why we organize and budget our time is to achieve OUR BEST. Clearly, my own personal best for this week was not quite where I thought it could be – and that’s OK. But my over-calculated approach and inflexibility affected my ability to see that and get results. 

They say hindsight is 20/20, but I’m happy to say that my foresight is catching up. Going into this week (and every week from now on), I will make a promise to myself not be concerned with having every note be perfect every time. I will not let myself get frazzled, and will practice mindfully. I will continue to use my practice journal to set long/short-term goals, but will NOT over-calculate or sacrifice the music as a result. Also, if my goals end up being unreasonable, I will have the good sense to reevaluate them and keep the integrity of the final product in mind.

With that said, I’m off to practice some Tchaikovsky! 😉



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