Who and what define our happiness?
I graduated with my Masters degree just over 11 months ago today and returned two weeks ago from spending 6 months in the English countryside studying with one of the greatest flute teachers of our time. Facing both graduation and the end of my time in England I’ve fielded variants of the following questions- “So what is next for you?” A lot of my friends are in or have been accepted to doctoral programs, some are band directors, some are still figuring out their next step, and others are living new adventures that don’t involve music. Right now the future seems overwhelmingly open with possibilities and yet, because of that, it’s almost suffocating. I’ve always told myself that as long as I am happy then I will be, well… happy. But what defines true happiness?
I’m going to be real.
The time that it took me to finish my first graduate degree was the most trying two years of my life to date. I had moved to Texas, still reeling from the very fresh end (finally) of an abusive relationship. During the following two years there were many days and weeks when I felt that I wasn’t in the right place and times that I felt I had made the wrong decisions with what to do with my life. A lot of the times the only place I felt safe and valued was in my weekly lesson. Halfway through I had to face down a possible career-ending injury and it was the darkest time of my life; I had to pull myself out bit by bit. A lot of the time I felt like I was falling flat on my face but mostly I was confused about the fact that the environment that seemed to be crushing me was enabling so many others to thrive.
Over the summer I got to travel to Malaysia with Baylor Music Missions and work with two church communities on incorporating music into worship. To say that this was an enjoyable two weeks would be an understatement but I came out of it inspired in ways I never thought possible. While on the other side of the world I realized the impact I could make on people with simple lessons; I didn’t have to be the next Denis Bouriakov or world-renowned flute pedagogue to start making a difference. It took this trip for me to realize one of the biggest lessons my flute professor during my masters- mentor, role model, and friend had taught me: I have a voice and I have something to say.
Being a member of the The Studio in Kent is an extremely unique experience- you attend class two days a week and practice the other five days of the week. I’ve spent a full year of my life studying with Trevor and have never had a private lesson with him because he still teaches exclusively in the master class format. Along with other reasons I loved that aspect of The Studio because I got to listen to him teach five other people every time we met. I learned at least one thing every time I stepped in his house. He’s also a wonderful, caring person who tries to help everyone find their place in music and flute. My head was swirling with new ideas and possibilities for my future when I arrived last October: I was trying to figure out what I wanted to say in life and how I wanted to say it with my newly discovered voice and my time in England helped me find more words. Trevor helped build a new confidence in me, not only in my flute playing but in teaching, my ideas, and that I had more tools in my tool shed than I realized. It’s not that he said anything remarkably new to me; I’ve gotten used to hearing the phrase “have more confidence in yourself,” but leaving school and traveling across the world last summer cleared my head and enabled my conversations and lessons with Trevor and my previous teachers to sink in.
He brought in a guest teacher in February to work with us and she spent an entire day teaching us HOW to teach- how to teach beginners, what materials are available for different ages and abilities, how to manage lessons and a studio, etc., and she said something towards the end of the class that resonated with me. She told us to make sure we allowed ourselves time to practice and play studies, pieces, and tunes that we just loved to keep ourselves inspired by music or else we wouldn’t be able to inspire others.
In the past three years I have experienced my fair share of heartbreak, personally and professionally, but since graduating I’ve realized that the reason those two years were so hard on me (aside from overcoming an injury) was because I let other people define my happiness, success, and value. When Julie told us to find ways to stay moved by music I realized that for too long I’ve been scared about living up to other people’s expectations. I may not be the next principal of the LA Phil or even of the regional orchestra in my town and I may never win the “perfect” job, and that’s okay with me. What I have realized is that I have come out of the last few years with friends I know I will have for the rest of my life, I’ve met my forever friend, I’m a stronger, wiser, and more patient person, and I know that I have something to say. I know that I might struggle a bit longer with how I’m going to say it but for the first time in my life I know that one day I’ll figure it out and I’m okay with the journey it will take to get there
So here’s to letting go of other’s expectations, constantly second-guessing myself and feeling like I’m not ______ enough, that I’m not ready for the world because I haven’t achieved X accolade, and to pursuing the things that I value in life with the people that I love by my side. It’s a liberating feeling; it’s refreshing, invigorating, and I feel happy.