I have been thinking about this idea of “hard work” and the similarities and differences between that and “working hard”. A number of different conversations recently have sparked the desire to clarify my own thoughts and I thought it might be beneficial for others to see the process and maybe do some of their own inquiry.
I’ve always had a strange and somewhat strained relationship with “work”. It has to do with how I was raised, but also social conditioning. Some things I was taught either consciously or unconsciously include:
- Always work hard. (Sometimes confused with “always work”.)
- Work should have a result.
- Work comes first.
- Keep working until it’s done. (or you burn out trying)
- Don’t talk about how hard it feels.
- Don’t fail. (If you do, that means you didn’t work hard enough.)
- Don’t waste your time. (Strongly connected to results and failure, and doesn’t leave room for exploration, trial & error, and fun.)
Within my life, this has manifested in some of the following ways: I struggle with always being productive and the guilt that surfaces when I’m not. I also struggle with balance and focusing on other things that are also important. I deal with doubts, frustrations and thoughts that I’m just not good enough, especially concerning things where I’m not sure of the result. Lastly, I battle the fear of never doing enough.
The last few months have forced me to evaluate and reevaluate my relationship with work. Moving to a new city and new physical space has completely changed my whole work environment. Being home and working online, as well as the sudden halt of familiar life, the need to limit social interactions and no in-person music-making of any sort has forced me to look at my own expectations. I had to try and figure out how to find the motivation and inspiration to work. I had to factor in my experiences as a perpetual student, professional musician, college professor, visual artist, private teacher, and as part of Brave Musician. That’s where things got really complicated. I found that so often my ideas about “work” didn’t align with how I truly wanted to approach working.
So I started to think about it from different perspectives. I talked to some friends. I listened to some podcasts. I reflected in my journal. Some things I noticed that were missing in my current situation were:
- Patience and grace with myself. I was more than willing to give both of those things to others, but not myself.
- Flexibility with “deadlines”, especially self-imposed ones. I mean, we’re in a pandemic! Instead of being flexible, I found myself beating myself up, and then not feelings like even trying.
- Others. I felt like I had to tackle it alone. (musicians are pretty notorious for this - it’s the whole “get alone in a practice room and work it out” mentality. Ugh.)
I found that telling myself to work harder wasn’t working. I couldn’t force myself to focus better or longer. It wasn’t about will power. I found that things that were challenging in non-pandemic situations were exponentially harder now, yet my expectations were not being modified. Everyone deals with stressful situations differently, and I tend to alternate between flashes of uber-productivity and feeling like a sloth, moving very very slowly. Accepting that the stress still very much exists is a really important piece.
I’m not sure I have all the answers, but right at this exact moment, here’s some of the ideas around work that I’m going to experiment with. Work isn’t a straight line. You don’t have to know everything all at once - that’s an impossible expectation. It’s not about right or wrong, except when it is - clear goals, instructions, and skills are important, but sometimes it’s about exploring and learning. It’s definitely not always easy, but sometimes it’s really easy - you find that flow state - and that’s ok too. It doesn’t have to always be hard. I’m going to treat hard work more like learning - it’s a messy process with ups and down.
To sum it all up, I’ll leave with these little nuggets:
- As you learn better, do better.
- Work hard, rest hard. (Even though so much of my life feels like play, I still need rest.)
- Work on things that are rewarding.
- Work on things that feed your curiosity.
- Work on things you find yourself obsessed with. (more on that in another post)
How is this idea of work manifesting in your life? Do you notice any changes in the last few months? What are you working on? Share with us in the Brave Musician Forum or tag @brave_musician on IG.