Monday, January 28, 2013

Getting Comfortable in the Grey Space

Today's post is a bit of a change of pace.  It's not a direct report on all things music and sistema, but instead a more detailed and honest look at the scary inner workings of my brain.

I'm an all-or-nothing thinker.  I always have been, and probably always will be.  All-or-nothing thinking (also known as polarized thinking) consists of looking at things in absolute, black-and-white categories with no middle ground.  It's sort of the "second place is the first loser" mentality; you're either perfect, or you're nothing.

I'm acutely aware that polarized thinking is my default setting, for better or for worse.  Though it may sound like an unhappy place to be mentally, it does have its usefulness- it keeps me working really, really hard all of the time.  I want to be a horn player.  I want to be an El Sistema program director.  I want to be a teacher.  I want to be a scholar.  I want to be an innovative, entrepreneurial musician.  I want to have it all, and I want to do all of it extremely well.  I never want to be anything but perfect, because anything less is failure.  (As an aside, this is why my blog posts are so sparse.  Try to find a typo in any of my entries.  I dare you.)

The other fellows and I are all considering many great opportunities for next year.  Some are concrete employment options with other candidates applying for the same position.  Others are really great projects waiting to be realized, currently only existing in theoretical space.  Additional part time jobs are available, allowing ample time for freelancing and other music making.  All are great options, and all allow us to follow our passion.  However, at this point in time, none of these are black and white opportunities; they are all in grey space.  Grey space doesn't exist in my default setting.  With all of these grey options, how can I be expected to make a decision? More urgently, how can I get through the anxiety of the next several months caused by not knowing where I will end up?

This is my biggest struggle this year. As a black and white thinker, I don't do well with theoretical opportunities or with having to wait and see what happens. Grey space makes my skin crawl, my heart race, and my brain speed into overdrive.  I'm a fairly spontaneous person, but when it comes to my career I want solid and stable answers.  Grey space makes me feel like I am directionless, like I will not be able to accomplish anything if everything remains unclear and undecided. 

I haven't come up with any magic answer for this yet.  I'm trying to be patient and take the advice of wise people. I received a particularly useful nugget of wisdom from President Obama's inauguration speech on MLK day: "We must act, knowing that our work will be imperfect." Another wise (though slightly less famous) man, Rey Ramirez from Soundscapes in Newport News, provided the Breaking the Fourth Wall conference attendees with these words of hope in Philadelphia: "We're changing the world just by being here."

Grey space has come up in conversation a number of times lately, ranging from career goals to cultural considerations to personal life.  Though it's uncomfortable for me, I'm learning that most situations are nowhere close to black-and-white; there is usually an infinite amount of grey space in between, leaving plenty of room to celebrate small victories, learn from minor setbacks, and give people the benefit of the doubt.

So, the wait continues. We are all working hard to figure out where we will end up six months from now, while simultaneously striving to build community through love and music. We're getting as comfortable as we can, believing that the world can be improved even when we're operating from the depths of the grey spaces.  

No comments:

Post a Comment