We've all heard this advice when things get tough to handle in our careers: What you do is not who you are. I've been thinking about this a lot during the pandemic since what I did (performing/teaching in person) couldn't be done in the traditional sense. We all had a little time to separate ourselves from what we did.
I wondered if I ever needed to play the flute again, and whether anyone valued what I had to offer. There are dozens and dozens of rejections in the career of a classical musician, and I started to wonder if my reasons for playing the flute were strong enough to continue.
I wanted to share my perspective on this issue because after taking 8 months off of my instrument, I found out that it is actually part of who I am. After a long time of not playing, thinking of starting a new career path, and feeling pretty defeated, I realized that I missed it. It is part of my life that is actually extremely important. I’ve dedicated my life to this instrument, and to think of giving that up was really hard to come to terms with. I even sometimes think that people don't totally know me until they've heard me play the flute. And like so many people who quit, I realized it wasn’t the instrument that was the problem, it was dealing with the industry and the culture.
So where do we go from here? Playing an instrument is an expression and when we cut that off, it can be hard, so how do we separate what we do from who we are in this case? Well, I don't think we have to.
Here's what I come up with after studying mindset coaching, helping myself through this process, and coming out the other side deciding not to quit: Flute is part of who I am. My parents are classical musicians. I have identified as a musician my entire life. It's my thing, it's what I'm good at, and I love it.
This is where it gets dicey: When your worth as a person gets tangled up in how well you do the thing you love, or how "successful" you are at it. If you make it mean that you as a person aren’t good enough if you don’t win an audition or succeed like you thought you were supposed to, that’s where things get unhealthy. I used to think since flute is my purpose, if I don’t advance in auditions or my career, then it was all for nothing and people didn’t value what I had to offer. (I realize how over-dramatic this sounds now, but brains don’t default to nuance.)
I'm personally both in therapy and mindset coaching for myself (gotta walk my own talk), and of course, this issue came up. My coach asked me what is the bar for worthiness? Are other people worthy? I said, "Of course! 100% always!" Then my brain chimed in and said: Except me...
I watched my brain do this and I'm convinced everyone who thinks they're "not good enough" feels the same way: Other people of course are good enough and always worthy - but I have to work for it... This sounds dramatic when read on a blog or written down on a piece of paper, but it's how our brains work. The more dramatic your brain is being, the more those thoughts probably need to be written down on paper. This creates awareness of how our minds are working.
So I had to practice this new way of thinking: I am a human therefore I am worthy.
Once I adopted this way of thinking, I knew I had so much less to lose. I felt the need to prove myself dissipate. I felt a sense of wholeness that I really think I’d been missing until the past couple of years.
Then my coach said something incredible in that session... She said, "What if you were always worthy (you didn't have to prove yourself), and all the rest was just fun?"
*commence brain explosion*
Worthiness is a concept humans made up. It was just someone's thought once. Someone made up that word. So why not choose to believe that everyone, just by existing, is worthy?
We are taught by society to do certain things in order to be accepted and worthy. And in the process, we tend to stop accepting ourselves as worthy. We even use this as a motivational tool sometimes, we tell ourselves we aren't good enough in order to motivate ourselves... We just want to be accepted, but we’ll never feel that way until we accept ourselves first. And when you do that (it takes some time), it’s the best feeling in the world.
When you accept yourself as a worthy human being that exists in the world, and you practice thinking that every single day, that graspy energy goes away. The need to impress everyone goes down, and your relationship with YOU gains a strong foundation.
I didn’t even know that this was the root of so much anxiety for me. I have spent most of my career trying to prove myself. Now without that motivation, I’ve created room for deeper learning in my practice room, the ability to scroll social media without thinking something is wrong with me, and I’ve become SO much nicer to myself.
Music school teaches us to critique our playing, but all too often, we turn that into critiquing ourselves as people. If we aren’t doing everything possible to win the audition we think we’ll be seen as lazy, irresponsible, not dedicated, or inadequate. These judgments aren’t facts, they’re thoughts that can be proven wrong.
So where do we start? If what I have described sounds like you, I’m going to give you a starting point to practice believing you are a worthy human. Start neutral: I am a human that exists in the world.
I love thinking in really meta ways, I find it comforting - I know that many people find it uncomfortable, so take or leave what I say here depending on where you are in your relationship with yourself. I am a human that exists in the world is a sentence that acts as a reset button in my mind. When I am a human that exists, I can see all the extra stuff: how well I play the flute, how much I've done or not done, and all of the judgments I'm placing on myself, really clearly. It makes me realize just how negatively skewed my mind has been.
Now, when I say I practice this thought/belief, I mean think it a lot of times. Remind yourself to think it a lot of times. Whenever you’re feeling down on yourself, you can just repeat, I’m a human sitting/standing/lying in a room.
Byron Katie once said, "We only do three things in life: we sit, we stand, we lie horizontal. The rest is just a story."
This perspective helps me when I feel helpless. You get to decide whether you're worthy and what you think of yourself, nobody else can do that for you. Decide something that makes you feel good and work your way there, but start with neutral until that becomes your automatic thought.
I’m a human and I play the flute. I love it, it’s my thing. I love performing and teaching. I also think I’m pretty good at it. I am a more fulfilled human because I play the flute. These are all beliefs I’ve cultivated for myself on purpose. It is up to you to write yours.
If you are interested in taking this work further, I have a one-on-one coaching program that will help you get to the mindset of your dreams. If this episode resonated with you, I highly recommend booking a free discovery call with me! It’s an hour on Zoom where we discuss where you are, where you want to be, and we talk about how mindset coaching can help you get there. Click here to sign up for a discovery call!