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Coping with burnout? (Read 1225 times)

Offline ajlongspiano

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Coping with burnout?
« on: May 23, 2019, 01:18:36 AM »
     Have any serious pianists here ever experienced a long term mental and emotional burnout with the piano? If so, how did you overcome it and what strategies did you employ to keep your head above water and survive (this is especially directed towards professionals or conservatory students: people who can't afford to not practice.)

     I have an unconventional and intense history with the piano. I started studying with a teacher fairly late (when I was about 15) and decided I wanted to be a piano performance major at 16. By some miracle, against all odds, I got into a music school and since then I accomplished some things that convinced me I had a chance of succeeding in such a difficult and unstable field. However, I have worked so hard, practiced so much, and given myself so whole-heartedly and without compromise to this field that a few months ago I essentially imploded and hit a huge breaking point. I haven't enjoyed practicing in months and have to force all of the work out of myself by the ounce. I have graduate school auditions and my senior recital within the next year but I honestly don't know if I want to go through with doing those things. A very large part of me wants to quit music and try something different because it has all been so vapid for so long.

    Are there any important things I should consider before making a decision like dropping music in order to pursue another career? Hopefully, some of you have experienced this before and can share advice. I would greatly appreciate perspectives from all of you who have experienced similarly!

Best,

AJ

Offline georgey

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Re: Coping with burnout?
«Reply #1 on: May 23, 2019, 05:04:16 AM »
AJ,

Just seeing this now. I went to U of Toronto as classical guitar performance major working on master's degree.  Half way thru Toronto, I quit and went back to school in USA for a math degree and never touched the guitar again. I'm retired now after 30 years with a company in math related field.

I'm wondering if you can take off a year just to work on your senior recital and graduate school audition programs.  You may have a completely different outlook on things with this time off and you may also begin to enjoy practicing again.  Not sure if this is possible for you.  If you are unable to do this, then maybe work to minor in another field but just go to school part time and practice piano on the side? 

You seem like you need some time off.  I would not make any final decisions until you have some time off.

Offline ronde_des_sylphes

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Re: Coping with burnout?
«Reply #2 on: May 23, 2019, 09:49:19 AM »
Hi AJ, sorry to hear this.

If you can speak to your faculty and arrange for some time out, I think that would be very beneficial. It sounds like you've reached the stage where practicing has become a chore and an obligation. Time out would also allow you to acquire some perspective and evaluate what you want to achieve through music. This is a purely personal opinion, but it seems to me that, at least in terms of how it appears to me, professional career pianists are far too dependent on external validation from their nominal peer groups (professors, critics, competitions). I would argue that, once a pianist reaches a certain level, and imo you have, the person (with the exception of the rare especially insightful colleague/teacher) who knows best your strengths and failings is.. YOU. Thus, aim to please yourself; it is more satisfying in the long run than trying to please myriad other opinions who will approach music from their own, different perspectives.

Don't cast aside what you've already done, but preparing to return afresh would probably be a very good idea.


Offline mjames

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Re: Coping with burnout?
«Reply #3 on: May 23, 2019, 09:52:03 AM »
Learn to chill out. You can take a break from school you know, you know a gap year. Spend it by trying different things like travelling or even trying different genres of music. You have the next 5 or so decades of your life to be a part of the labor force, there's no need to stress yourself over getting to the uni finish line; relax and take things at your pace.

Sign up for a year abroad. Europe's fun.

Offline lostinidlewonder

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Re: Coping with burnout?
«Reply #4 on: May 24, 2019, 11:27:03 AM »
So what I write may ruffle some feathers of those who are avid proponents of institutional academia but here I go. Honestly I don't really think that a degree is the only stepping stone for it all or even a good one, many are conditioned to believe that it is the only way to "make it" and sure if you want to be employed somewhere it may help. From the univeristy students I have taught many have suffered a great deal with their creativity and inspiration being suffocated by the requirements to pass their grades and get their degree. Those who finally achieve their degree then are left feeling rather unsatisfied and lost. They felt like it is was like constantly climbing a new ladder each time and at the top you have made it! But when they graduate they wonder why they still have not made it, so they go into the working work and start climbing more ladders because at the end of those ladders surely they will make it!

Some started piano climbing the grade ladder, then achieved a diploma level then finally thought they must have made it, no, they had to go to university and study more, get a degree, then surely a masters degree will help, a doctorate? Then they achieve all the training they need and wonder where to go next, some drowning in student debt. Some then try to build a career teaching and start from the beginning again wondering if all that traiing before actually benefited their journey or should have they just started teaching straight away? Some try to perform and then realize that their degree didn't really help them with a solo career, why wasn't there a course on "how to sell a concert"? Some are quite disillusioned with their degree when they realize that the business of organising concerts and selling tickets and hosting a successful concert really has little to do with how well you are able to play or studied at university. Most of the general public don't care what % marks you got for your practical examinations, they don't care about your degree or which teacher you studied with and they really dont care which competitions you have won.

Fastforward a couple decades after you complete you degree and you have got work surely you feel that you must have made it now and that all the hard work has paid off. Some reflect and wonder was it necessary to climb all these ladders in the past to achieve a point which probably isn't exactly what you had dreamed for in the first place but you had to settle for?

We need to think the "now" for what is your meaning following a musical career because you need to live that right now not later, not after you achieve some paper saying you are an educated musician. This forever reaching for the carrot on the end of a stick is just a major distraction that some get so caught up over and don't realize that their musical career starts now and should be lived now. If you want to be a performer then no degree will help you get butts on those seats, go out and start to learn to sell a concert, start small and build. If you want to be a teacher go out there and get your first students now, learn about it all now, no degree or ladder climbing will make that time any more right.

If this idea of finding the meaning of your musical journey "now" is frightening and you are completely at a loss as to how to answer it outside of the academic environment you really need to seriously consider the benefits of another career path. You need vision as to where you want to be, you have to be excited with that direction, you have to live it now as well and build towards it now and that doesn't start with achieving a degree.
"The biggest risk in life is to take no risk at all."
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Offline Bob

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Re: Coping with burnout?
«Reply #5 on: May 25, 2019, 11:31:20 PM »
Find music you like.  Find what you originally liked about music.

On the other side, that's the job.  It doesn't matter whether you like it or not.  Just put in the effort to get done what needs to get done.  Enjoy what you can along the way, but it really won't matter so much as what the results are.  That happens with anything though when it becomes more "full time," whether it's a job or being a student.  At some point you get more than you'd like shoved at you.
Favorite new teacher quote -- "You found the only possible wrong answer."