I’ve been away all month and have thought a lot about a special post I wanted to write on the concept of worry. I’ve wanted to write this for quite some time, but didn’t feel like I’d do it justice; however, I’ve collected a lot of thoughts and wanted to offer each of you some of the tips and tricks I’ve learned and present some very practical tools from people much smarter than I am that can help anyone overcome their individual fears and worries. This post is a bit lengthy, but I hope the concepts I present will be of value as I’ve already seen drastic improvement in my mentality after applying these practices over the past month.
As some of you may have seen, I recently came out with a crazy music video as a promotional tool for my new album, which features explosions of color from within a white baby grand piano. It was so much fun to make, and I was excited to release the video and create more awareness for my new album, My Favorite Things, a project I had slaved over amidst completing the first year of my doctorate. The producer of my previous album, a man I respect more than almost anyone, ended up not being able to produce this album, so I told the record label that Lindsey and I would co-produce it. I did all of the arranging myself, most of which was done between 10 p.m.-2 a.m. on school nights. Since I’m a bit of a perfectionist, each arrangement took me a long time to finish. We flew home for Christmas and Spring break, and were in the studio all day every day recording. Two months later, I was in a bit of a bind, as we released the album during my finals week at Michigan (one week before Mother’s Day). I made sure to finish all of my classes early, make the 25 hour drive back to Utah, and perform the next day in front of 15,000 ladies at BYU Women’s Conference. It was a whirlwind of events!
Because everything had stacked up so heavily, we decided to wait to do a music video until June, and we released it in mid-July. I knew it was going to get all sorts of feedback, but I was pretty astounded at the incredible amount of hatred and negativity it received. Of course, the video is pretty controversial, with me playing Chopin on a piano that is breaking down through exploding paint and chalk-bombs, but it certainly wasn’t meant to be a serious portrayal of my feelings toward classical music, but rather a fun and creative new take on color in music, and a way to get people excited about the album. I received email after email from people telling me that I was “selling-out”, that I was making a mockery of classical music, that I had lost all sophistication for my art, and that I was an embarrassment to music. Even people I greatly respected and who had been very positive influences in my musical endeavors emailed me, saying these types of things. This was mild compared to everything people were saying on the actual video on YouTube. People would actually take the time to positively rank every negative comment so many times that it would appear at the top of the comments, and negatively rank every positive comment so many times that it was marked as spam and removed. Why would people invest so much time to bring down a young classical musician? I find it laughable that people would actually care so much and be so dedicated to try to discourage me that they would invest their “precious” time to do these things.
Some of you may be thinking, “If Josh really didn’t care, why would he be writing a blog post about this?” I admit, things can be hurtful initially, but when put in perspective, they are completely and utterly ridiculous and quite pathetic. Everyone experiences this kind of stuff at some point or another in his or her life. Human beings can be cruel for a variety of reasons, generally as a result of low self-esteem, a bad childhood, a closed mind (which many people defend as “proper,” “correct” or “the only way of doing things”), or a lack of personal accomplishment. Still, how can one overcome negativity and cruelty and get on with it?
I’ve been really blessed in my life to have great parents, amazing siblings, and most of all a truly magnificent wife who all consistently help me in this bizarre career as a musician that carries almost no certainty or guarantees whatsoever. I personally hate routine, so there are numerous aspects of being a musician that I love. However, I believe almost all musicians have felt the fear of uncertainty at some point or another. “When will my next gig be? Will my studio flourish or fail? Will I be able to provide for my family, save for the future, and survive?” You can make an amazing living as a musician, or a horrible one. The fact that people are so scared to break out of the box of classical music, doing anything out of the ordinary whatsoever, leads many to quit music altogether, because the reality is that there are millions that would like to be a classical concert artist, and only a handful that can actually make it. How can one battle this fear and get on with living in peace and have confidence for a bright future?
Even before the music video was released, I had started reading Dale Carnegie’s How To Stop Worrying And Start Living. I noticed that in my day-to-day routine, I was frequently worrying about the future and what I actually wanted to do. To be honest, I LOVE what I’m currently doing – playing concerts, teaching awesome students, and dabbling with some cross-over work – but I didn’t know what I was going to do a year, two years, five years, or ten years from now. Would I be able to support my wife and future children with this career? What if a bunch of my students quit? What if I don’t get any more concerts? These were all pointless to be thinking about, but they would often plague my mind even though I feel that I’m a pretty confident individual. Where could I find the strength to banish these thoughts?
I want to share a few of the insights from Carnegie’s book that I’ve already seen making a big difference in my mentality and really, my overall happiness level. Everything has seemed to lighten up even in the past few weeks since I initially started reading it. These steps are not specific to musicians – they can be applied to anyone in any situation that might be causing anxiety. I hope that sharing these will help each of you as you battle your own fears and negative influences (these are in no particular order prescribed by the book…these are just some of my favorite aspects from the first few chapters):
1. Take one thing at a time in life. Imagine your life as a giant hourglass, with grains of sand always falling at a continuous and steady rate. No matter what you do, you cannot speed up or slow down time. Whether you have 10 or 100 tasks to do in a day, take a few minutes the night before to write out a plan to accomplish them in a timely manner, but when you are actually working on one of the tasks, only focus on that. Indeed, when Christ taught, “Take no thought for the morrow….,” I don’t think he was saying, “Don’t plan ahead” but rather to live in the moment. Don’t be thinking about task 2, 13, or 99 when you are on task one. Similarly, don’t be thinking about task one when you are on task 99. Stay focused on the present moment, and you will accomplish things more quickly and efficiently. Every thought takes a certain amount of energy, and you don’t want to exhaust your energy on things that are literally out of your control for that moment. Say to yourself, “I physically CANNOT do anything about my 5:00 p.m. task when it’s 4:30 p.m. so I choose not to think about it until 5:00 p.m. comes.”
2. Live in day-tight compartments. Similar to step one, we must realize that life presents a constant crossroads in time. We have a massive past behind us, and a vast future lying ahead. Robert Louis Stevenson said, “Anyone can carry his burden, however hard, until nightfall.” If you’re trying to get out of debt and you owe $100,000 to the bank, don’t worry about the entire $100,000 each day. Instead, ask, “How much can I put toward that $100,000 today? Can I put $10, $50, $100, $1000 towards that debt, today?” No matter how much you want that $100,000 erased, you can’t simply will it to be gone today. You can will yourself to work hard that day and have the discipline to put away a specific amount of money rather than be discouraged about the $100,000 and go to the mall for some “shopping therapy,” basically shooting yourself in the foot and making the goal become even harder. This will cause even more depression the next day.
3. Start off with the worst-case scenario, and build off of that. Let’s pretend that you don’t know whether to take a job in Texas, and you’re living in California. All of your family lives in California, you like it there, but you desperately need the money and Texas is the only place left to go. A lot of people would say, “No brainer. Take the job. Who cares if your family is in California. You need the money.” Others would say, “Forget the money, stay in California and keep job-hunting.” Ultimately, you decide you’ll go to Texas, but what then? What if the job is horrible? What if you hate the community where you live? What if it’s nothing you imagined it would be? Step back and ask yourself, “What is the worst possible thing that could happen?” You aren’t going to die, or go to jail for taking the job. You aren’t going to be a concentration camp victim if you take the job. They won’t torture you. The worst thing that could happen is that you hate the job, hate your community, hate everything about it, and choose to quit and move back to California. Once you accept the worst-case scenario, which is not likely to happen in most cases, everything will be easier from that point. We really can choose to make a situation positive or negative, but if you look at the most horrible possibility and can accept that if it does indeed happen, almost all worry and fear will be immediately erased.
4. Have gratitude dominate your life. I served a two-year church mission for my church, and it was extremely tough. Days were filled with rejection – after all, who wants to talk to those annoying Mormon boys, all of them being named “Elder” and who are just too happy for their own good? I may not have been the typical “happy-go-lucky” type of guy, but I really did learn to love people amidst all of the tough aspects of the mission. I didn’t get to practice piano much and there was a set routine every day for the entire two years. Upon returning home, I don’t think I’ve ever been happier in my life. I got to see all of the people I loved most – my family, Lindsey, friends – and I could wake up every day and practice the piano as long as I wanted to. I loved going back to school and doing things I had been unable to do on my mission. I noticed I was grateful for everything in life that I had taken for granted before. I wasn’t thinking of what I didn’t have, but rather what I could do each day. Since then, I’ve gradually noticed myself losing this perspective, and I have to constantly remind myself to be grateful each day for the incredible life I do have, that it could all be taken from me in a moment, and I need to live life to the fullest.
5. Finally, something that Carnegie mentions in his book is the fact that every day presents a new life. As the infamous Invictus states, “I am the master of my fate, I am the captain of my soul.” We do choose our own course and our level of happiness. While various situations present themselves and we may not have control over the situation, we do have control over how we act in those situations. When faced with opposition, we can welcome it with open arms, realizing that success alone can bring about a false sense of security and can weaken us as individuals if we allow it to. As we face opposition with strength, even when it seems to pile up at particular moments, we should ultimately welcome it, for in doing so it causes us to think and refine our philosophies on life.
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The musings of a (crazy) concert pianist
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