Saturday, April 28, 2012

Crooked and Wide

The day I switched my major at James Madison University from music education to music performance, I started defining success as being principal horn in a major orchestra by the time I was 25.  My attitude about this was all-or-nothing; I either made it to the top, or I didn't make it at all. Perhaps the most disturbing part is that I actually thought this was a realistic goal and would be relatively simple to accomplish. 'After all,' I thought, 'I'm a really hard worker and everyone keeps telling me that I'm good at the horn, so I'm sure something will work out.'

Well, here's how my life's path has gone since then:

Complete BM
Work at Retail Clothing Store
Start MM; Have a Breakdown
Abandon MM; Consider Career Switch
Work at Coffee Shop; Wallow in Self-Loathing
Restart MM; Still Consider Career Switch
Complete MM; Start DMA; Teach a Little; Freelance a Little; Discover el Sistema
Continue DMA; Build a Horn Studio; Freelance in 3 States; Volunteer at Sistema Programs
Move to Boston for Sistema Fellowship

My 20-year-old self (or even my 25-year-old self, for that matter) would look at this path and think that my almost-28-year-old self is a complete failure.  I'm not a principal hornist in ANY orchestra, much less a major one.  I'm still in school, for crying out loud!  I haven't achieved perfection on my instrument.  I have to work several different jobs to sustain myself.  What have I done with my life?  Did I just give up?  When did I become a quitter?

This type of thinking beat me down for a long time.  I wanted a straight and narrow path, one that would lead me directly into that highly-paid orchestra seat.  Every time I was thrown a curve ball, I didn't even attempt to swing at it; instead, I berated myself for not being able to magically will the powers-that-be on the mound to toss me an easy pitch.  I felt lost, confused, and completely unsure of myself.

It wasn't until about six months ago that I finally hit a breaking point with this type of thinking.  I was drowning and had to find a way to come up for air.  This wasn't an easy process, and it still isn't.  However, I've learned that when things don't work out the way we planned, our perception of our own lives can become so distorted that it is completely unreliable.  Instead of trusting my thoughts, I'm learning to trust only the facts.  That being said, here are the current facts of my life:

-I am a performer, teacher and scholar.
-Though I am FAR from rich, I am able to sustain myself solely through teaching and playing music.
-In a year's time, people will have to call me Dr. Hockenberry (or more likely, Dr. Rachie).
-My music has taken me all over the US, to several countries in Europe, and soon to South America.
-I actively strive to create social change through music education and performance.
-I have found other passions besides music, and have given myself the permission to enjoy them.

When I look at the facts, is it actually realistic to think that I have failed?  I don't even WANT to be a principal horn player any more- if life ever leads me into a full-time orchestra gig, I want the 2nd or 4th seat.  More importantly, when my life was solely focused on being the best horn player ever, I was profoundly unhappy.  I am significantly happier maintaining the eclectic musical lifestyle I lead today.  I'm not saying that those who take the direct route to the orchestra are in the wrong whatsoever; I'm just saying that, to my surprise, it ended up being the wrong path for me.  It was scary to admit that, but the mere act of admitting it turned out to be the hardest part.  Once I became honest with myself, things fell into place faster than I ever could have expected.

Sometimes, the best thing we can do for ourselves is redefine what 'success' really means.  It is so easy to think that we have failed when things don't work out the way we planned.  What we must realize is that the path is rarely straight and narrow; more often than not, it's crooked and wide.  What's important is that we give ourselves the permission to follow our path wherever it may take us, and embrace the journey.  I'm not saying this is easy- in fact, I still struggle with it almost daily, especially any time I add another roundabout in the middle of my path.  When this happens though, all we need to do is ask ourselves one question: Am I happy in the direction I'm headed?  If the answer is yes, then look before you merge and keep on driving.  If the answer is no, then don't be afraid to alter the course.

No comments:

Post a Comment