|Posted by tiffanychang on April 6, 2020 at 12:05 AM|
Every year, April fills me with dread because it’s my birthday month, an annual occasion when I get to remind myself how disappointed I am for not having achieved certain goals I’ve set out in my life. I never feel like I am where I want to be in my career, and I get further and further “behind” my personal goals as I get older. I know this is quite normal for artists but I think with COVID-19 this year and without the artistic activities that help me steer personal progress, it will be particularly challenging for me. In March, my busiest month this year got derailed significantly with cancelled events, and things didn’t go as I had hoped in the events that did happen. I’ve spent the last few weeks reflection on those disappointments.
I often think I’m still doing exactly the same things as I was X number of years ago or I’m not improving my artistic situations enough (or worse, the artistic quality I’m working with has dropped). These are single-minded thoughts and unfair statements to assign to my life—simply because they are not true, but I still have them almost every day.
Getting better as an artist is most important to me. The nature of my work is that I lead people to create art, so in order for the art to get better, I must not only be better as a leader myself, but I must strive to collaborate with artists that inspire me to be better and with whom I can create the highest level of music-making.
So I’m always evaluating: am I achieving that goal with what I’m doing now? Am I happy with where I am in my jobs? Am I happy with the commuting? Am I happy at making something out of nothing at Oberlin? Am I happy teaching the same thing for the past 7 years at Berklee? And ultimately: am I doing the right things to further my career to a point where I would be happy? I think the fact that I am asking those questions means that the default answer is “no” to all of the above – even if I probably don’t mean it for all. They are pointed leading questions asked in a way where the desired answer subconsciously is no. That’s bad, no? Interestingly, I’ve read that in negotiations, you want to ask questions that are geared toward “no” since it gives a sense of a “call to action” that inspires, well, action. And maybe that’s what keeps me going, is always wanting to do something about my “unhappy” state of being. Maybe my own question-asking actually helps me move forward?
I am not particularly thrilled with my life now (and maybe I never will be and that’s ok), but I am also not dissatisfied by it. I’m in this weird gray area, in a sort of limbo where it’s difficult to find what is that next step. I’m confused by this state of being. And if I’m using external feedback as a metric for success, it’s confusing too. (What are metrics for success anyway?) I’ve been told many times that I am too good for opportunities; I’ve been told just as many times that I am not good enough for other opportunities. So I end up being wanted by nobody – or so it feels – and I have no idea how I got here. That is all disappointing.
I haven’t exactly figured out how to deal with these sentiments and nip them in the bud before I go into a downward spiral, but I often tell myself that I should be grateful that 1) each year of my artistic life looks different with new opportunities and 2) I have artistic experiences that others would love to have. I have learned to trust that I will have new opportunities each year, even though life is very uncertain as a freelance artist because you don’t know if you’ll have it until it comes. I have learned to notice my life is different now than it was before - and I'm thankful for it. Being grateful is key, and ultimately, I always believe in that genuinely even if it takes me a while to get there.
Also, if I allow myself to get lost in my work, study, and vision, life is instantly full of meaning, purpose, and worth the challenges.