Freelance Chronicles Episode 9 – Coming back from burnout

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You may have noticed

a little bit of radio silence from me over the past few months.  Other than the Podcast (which is also on hiatus right now due to summer scheduling issues) I have been pretty detached from the harp world.  The reasons for this are multiple and various, but really they all came down to one main issue: burnout.  With my season busier than ever, a wedding of my own to plan, and the general comings and goings of life I would find myself sitting in front of my computer staring at a blank blog post for hours trying to think of the right words, the right topics, and the right message for my first blog back.

Two months ago I even started writing a blog about burnout… before quickly realizing that I was still too burnt out to write about burnout… no bueno.

My original plan was to do a bunch of research on burnout, write a long post on the typical methods of healing, and then attempt to implement those tools in my own life in an effort to move past the road block that I found obstructing my path.  I found the standard care tips to be mind-numbingly obvious and unhelpful in this process:

  • Get some exercise
  • Take a break
  • Hang out with friends
  • Ensure you communicate with your partner about why you feel bad (so they don’t think it’s them)
  • Remove yourself from things that are associated with work (i.e. sitting in front of a PC all day)

Awesome.  Thanks.  Not helpful.

Exercise is extremely important, and I love the way I feel when I am working out consistently.  But when the season gets busy and I start feeling tired all the time my internal motivators to get to the gym go dark.

BridezillaMy life is my work… as I am sure is the case for most harpists.  Harp is ingrained in basically everything that I do on a daily basis!  My work time, my leisure time, my self-care time, everything!  Taking a break and removing myself from my work are not options, especially October through May.  In my world and the idea of calling a bride
to say that you are feeling really burnt out and need to take a personal day is laughable.  No professional freelancing musician would ever consider such behavior as a reasonable option.  We go and go and go until we cannot go any more and then we go some more until the season ends leaving us with the simultaneous and contradictory feelings of sweet relief and panic at the onset of slow season.

So how did I pull myself out of the cycle of burn out?  Honestly, I’m still working on it.  But, in the process I attended a workshop that changed my perspective on myself, my music, and my career.

Savvy Musician in Action

To get a better idea of what this workshop is and to meet David Cutler, the creative mind behind this workshop and general way of life, check out this video made from this summers workshop (look out for me!)

I could go on for hours about the ways in which this workshop has changed me, but really it came down to one essential, small moment over breakfast one morning…

What makes you unique?

cheese grits

yumm…

It was the third morning of the five day workshop.  Dannel, my fiancée, and I were sitting at breakfast in one of the rehearsal rooms of the music building at the University of South Carolina in Columbia, SC (imagine the thrill of eating cheese grits in a location where food is typically forbidden!!).  It was early, and we were both sleep deprived.  One of the things they don’t put in the brochure is the intense pace and lack of sleep one should expect during this workshop.  Dannel was just pulling out of his morning stupor and having been sick for the past week I was basically the walking dead.  As we slowly shovel the most delicious cheese grits in existence into our mouths suddenly David Cutler comes over and sits with us.

My team at Savvy Musician in Action. 5 days turned us into family!

My team at Savvy Musician in Action. 5 days turned us into family!

Something I should mention is that this workshop had around 70 participants of all age categories and walks of life.  One of the participants is the Director of Music at Roosevelt University; another the conductor of the Jazz Choir at Carnegie Mellon University; there were flamenco dancers, composers, instrumentalists, graphic designers, and podcasters.  With that in mind, imagine you are finally getting face time with the director of the program and a man who has made a truly viable career for himself in the music field full time… at 8:30 in the morning… over cheese grits.

His first and only question to us:

“What makes your ensemble unique?”

We both sputtered over our response having never actually considered what, other than our instrumentation was unique about our ensemble.  He sat and spoke with us about this for about 5 minutes before being pulled away.  But, this along with another talk that he gave (which you can see in the video below) changed everything for me.

The opportunities and people at the workshop have taught me to think more expansively about my career and to consider every option when searching for the kind of life that I desire.  My biggest take away from the five days spent at the University of South Carolina?  That my potential for creativity and greatness is limited only by my own fears.  It seems so simple… but when I look back on my life it is not the failures that I regret, but the decisions made based on fear.

Want to know the best part?

Ok ok… David Cutler is going to be at the American Harp Society conference this coming weekend in Atlanta!!  His workshops are all day on Saturday July 1, and I cannot recommend your attendance of these classes more!  There are so many wonderful classes, workshops, lectures, and performances  this weekend and honestly I am sick with having to choose what I will and won’t attend, but I IMPLORE you… attend the classes by David Cutler.

Check out this schedule for all of the events at the AHS conference in Atlanta!

Burnout and you!

Kristina with her teacher Kathleen Bride DMA graduation May 2016

Kristina with her teacher Kathleen Bride DMA graduation May 2016 (Photo credit: Anna Lenhert)

So am I still feeling burnt out?  Sometimes.  Sometimes I feel like my doctoral degree sucked all of the creativity, energy and motivation out of me… don’t get me wrong… no regrets there… but I believe that there is a recovery period that one must go through after completing a degree like DMA.

What am I doing now to get better?  Well, 2 weeks away from the instrument was helpful and left me with a hunger to play; time with my family was rejuvenating; heading to the gym and still battling the cold that just won’t go away; and spending time every single day putting to practice the lessons I learned at Savvy Musician in Action to work towards the life that I want for myself in one way or another.  So I guess I followed the seemingly obvious advice of my burnout research in the long run.

There are big things coming, and you can expect to hear much more from me in the time to come!!  If you haven’t listened to the podcast yet stop everything you are doing and get your butt on iTunes and subscribe!  The next two months promise some really interesting interviews for HCP and I can’t wait to share them with you!!!!

Closing

Take care of yourselves, support one another, and always remember that we at Harp Column have your back!!!  Comment below with how you deal with burnout, or inspiring workshops that you have attended this summer!  If you are attending the conference in Atlanta please come up and introduce yourself!  I’ll be performing with Dannel (Kontra Duo) on Friday on one of the Kaleidoscope concerts. We will also perform twice on Saturday at the Virginia Harp Center Booth in the vendor exhibit hall!

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About Author

Miami based Dr. of harp, gown-addict, lover of bulldogs, and fitness enthusiast.

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