I play the Horn but I am not a Horn player

I have spent a good portion of the last several months (to well over a year) trying to reacquaint myself with my identity as a human being. I lost it somewhere in pursuit of a thriving music career, and replaced it with this weird, neurotic avatar that only thinks about excerpts and metronome markings. I’ve written about this before, so I’m mostly writing about it again as a reminder to myself to follow my own damn advice…and maybe in part to remind you, the reader, too, just in case.

I used to have fun, you know. I used to go out and laugh with friends and swim and sweat and take walks in the woods. I used to enjoy my life as much as my career, but now I don’t seem to enjoy either very much. I am bitter and obsessed, and completely overwhelmed with feelings of total inadequacy. Objectively, i love my life very much, but honestly, I am too crippled by depression to make much out of it these days. Enter: constant and pervasive self-doubt and insecurity, multiply it by a nearly always-empty bank account, and lastly subtract time and energy, and you have my normal, day-to-day state of operation.

Am I sounding bitter yet?

I write out these feelings because I know they are or have been universal truths to many, many people, from many walks of life, at some point in life. I don’t write these feelings because I expect anyone’s pity, or sympathy, or advice. I write them because I know I am not alone, feeling this way. And, I know that sharing is an incredibly valuable part of the human experience. I write them to connect and identify, and to validate. I write them because I value vulnerability. Because, nobody talks about these things. We are in an age now where mental health is at the forefront of conversation, and yet nobody is actually talking about their mental health. There is still a stigma, and there will always be a stigma for as long as we continue to fake-smile our way through life. We owe it to ourselves and to each other to be freakin’ honest. We look around and everyone else appears to be so happy-go-lucky, so we must obviously be crazy, or inadequate, or alone, right? WRONG. I know y’all are going through shit. We are ALL going through shit, so why don’t we just all come together and talk about our shit? Strength in numbers! I know I am not alone in my crippling insecurity. I know I am not the only human alive plagued with self-doubt — in all aspects of my life, and I have decided that it is important that I share my feelings. I write this because I am tired of masquerading like I have any idea what I am doing, like I have any idea how to succeed, and I write for clarity and understanding of the very thoughts running through my own head. You can’t fully manifest a solution to any problem until you have an at least somewhat coherent idea of the problem itself.

My problem is: I am insecure. And scared. And lost. And uninspired. And in exploring these feelings, I have discovered that I c-o-n-s-t-a-n-t-l-y compare myself to other people, that I judge the validity of my success based on the success of others. And, I don’t know how to stop. Literally no idea. Darwin hit the nail on the head when he coined “survival of the fittest.” It’s a basic, primal instinct to need to feel stronger than, better than other beings. And only more natural that when we do not feel we meet this expectations, that we are overcome with mortal doom. But it is 2018 now, and humans have come a long way since our homo erectus ancestors. Why do we feel so horribly about such mundane things? About the French Horn, no less. It sounds SO ridiculous in those terms, but yet here I am, whining about how completely inadequate I feel in my career.

That being said, it is okay to whine sometimes, because it is 2018 and feelings are valid.

I have such a strong vision of the career that I want, too. It is so clear to me that I can almost taste it. I have been following the only path I know, and it is a completely logical path consisting of a combination of networking, practicing, auditioning, and then, ideally, winning. Rinse and repeat. I do all of those things. Except win. Even in moments of my own decided “peak performance” it is never good enough. And then it’s back to the drawing board. Refining. Perfecting. Refining. Perfecting. And then you put yourself out there again and hope for the best, but the result for me is always the same. A non-win. A dud. A failure. *cue audible whine*

What am I doing wrong? I am playing at the highest level of my life. Every day, I can do things that on the previous day I could not. I am constantly improving. But, it seems like the level of proficiency in the world around me is evolving at a rate that I frankly cannot compete with. It feels like swimming against the undertow, desperately trying to keep from being swept out to sea. And while I am confident in my abilities as a swimmer, I am getting. So. Tired.

And maybe you’re feeling tired, too. Which is why I’m writing this, because you are not alone.

This process inevitably leaves me feeling one of two ways: the rare optimist in me feels like I’m just missing something (swim sideways, perhaps?). The best solution is almost ALWAYS the simplest, after all. But the louder, more persistent voice is continuously whispering in my ear, “You are not good enough.” Now, objectively, I am not entitled. I do not believe that I am inherently deserving of any job or opportunity. Ain’t nobody owe me shit. I know that. I just want to feel like the work that I am doing means something. “It’s the journey and not the destination,” they say. Well fu*k the journey, I’m ready for some damn results can I get a Amen?

But in all seriousness, I think I am on the cusp of a personal breakthrough, I really do, and I feel very deeply that it begins with learning not to compare myself to anyone else. Doing so puts me in a constant state of ‘low’ and when I am ‘low,’ I am unproductive. Unproductive and uninspired and cynical. Comparing yourself to others is only human nature, though. It’s that “survival of the fittest” instinct, it’s how we evaluate how we “measure up” in the world. And while it is important to remain aware of the competition, awareness is not the same as judgement, which we almost immediately resort to, instead. You can set personal goals based on the awareness/observations of your surrounding competition. Totally. Very healthy. But judging yourself against that competition is honestly unproductive, and frankly, it is a cop-out. Plain judgement doesn’t leave any room for analysis or exploration, and all I have been doing is judging myself.

The fact is, we all struggle with all kinds of different things. We each possess different strengths and weaknesses. Truthfully, audition success comes easier to some people. But, for those of us to whom it does not come easy, it does not mean we will never succeed. It just means maybe we have to work a little differently, if not a little harder and a little smarter.

I don’t have the answers. I am an amateur in this realm. I look up to those who have consistent success with awe and inspiration, but also with a great deal of self-doubt and insecurity.

This isn’t really about “winning an audition,” though. I know that. It is about unlocking the power to believe in yourself. It is about learning to be present, to be mindful and appreciative of the circumstances that led to the successes and opportunities I have had. It is also okay to whine sometimes. It’s okay to stomp your feet and pound your fists on the ground in frustration. Feeling frustrated is valid. It’s part of being human. But you can’t, I can’t dwell on these frustrations and at the same time expect anything to change for me.

So my first step is tackling my biggest issue: confidence. Learning it, gaining it, believing it. But not as a horn player, as a human being. Because, truth be told, I am not a “horn player.” I am a person who plays the horn. As much as music is an integral part of me, it is not all that I am. This rhetoric may not work for you, but I expect that it will prove to be essential to my mental health.

My next step? To understand that the one-size-fits-all career for classical musicians maybe isn’t so one-size-fits-all anymore. Traditionally there are two main avenues: teach, or play in an orchestra. And even then, there is that old, tired adage that “those who can, do. And, those who can’t, teach.” Which is frankly moronic.

Ultimately, I don’t want an orchestral career. I don’t want to make a livable salary playing the horn. What I want is to feel good about myself. What I want is to make meaningful art. What I want is to allow myself to accept all that I am, flaws and all, and share that with the world. To share my humanism with the world, through music. But I will never be able to do that as long as I am comparing myself to other people, or as long as I base my own worth and validity on the success of other people, or as long as I keep dwelling on my feelings of frustration and desperation. I am frustrated because I am passionate. I am desperate because I am hungry.

In writing this, I already feel a little better, a little more valid, and a little less distanced from my goals, and it is time for me to take real action.

Stay tuned, take care of yourself, and fight like hell for your dreams.

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