When you look back at the road map of your life, does it look like you expected it to? Did you expect the twists and turns? Did you expect the detours you were forced to take? Do you regret them?
I don’t regret the path my life has taken, not by any means. I don’t regret the way God has molded my road map; the way He placed roadblocks and detours and alternate routes to get where I’ve been. I never expected things to play out the way they have; the success I’ve encountered is more than I could have ever wished for.
But I do confess, I’ve made mistakes that I have trouble forgiving myself for. I have made errors in judgment that have, ultimately, added more stress to my life, even if they seemed they would help me at the time. I’m sure it sounds crazy that I have trouble forgiving myself for simply adding stress to my life, but it’s so much more than that. It’s the areas in my life where I chose to add that stress. It’s the way in which I complicated my situation.
To put it simply, I allowed music to ruin my life when it was supposed to make things easier. There was once a time when music was my greatest joy in this world. When I made music, I felt free. I felt unstoppable. When I was performing on stage, I was the king of this realm. I loved music so much that I pursued it in college. I spent four years practicing and playing and performing. I took four years to practice 6-8 hours every day, to study great composers, to learn to compose and critically analyze music. And I loved it. I lived for it. I could not get enough. When I neared graduation, I applied for masters programs in music. I searched for ways to get more music in my life. And for a while, I thought it was because music was the only thing I was good at.
Looking back now, I know that’s not true. I was good at a fair amount of things, and I would have been successful at anything I tried because I have good work ethic and because I don’t allow failure to be an option.
So at 23 years old, I walked into my first classroom with bright eyes and a head full of fresh ideas. I was young and idealistic and full of vigor and passion. I stood before my students, confident that my knowledge and love of music were going to be enough, and I taught students how to love music the way I loved music. As I grew as a teacher, people recruited me to teach workshops for them. I was called to judge competitions and to teach private lessons. I was called to play in symphonies and musicals and record on different projects (you can, in fact search for me on Spotify and find me.)
And that’s when I started making choices that were unhealthy for me. I couldn’t get enough of people wanting me for my music. I had dreamed in college that I would be a performer, but I didn’t actually think that would ever happen. I never dreamed that I’d be at a place in my life where I would perform in 5 concerts in a weekend. But last Christmas, I did just that. Six years into my professional career, I was performing nearly every weekend. I had traveled to Ireland to perform. I had written music that had been performed all over North America. I had been in a short film. I had lived a life entirely unlike I had ever expected.
But all wonderful things come at an expense, and my life was no different. I had traded something huge to achieve success. I had traded my love of music. I had given away the one thing that had gotten me through high school, the thing that had been my focus in college. The thing I had gambled on loving so greatly that I’d staked literally everything on it. When you get a degree in music education, you’re not qualified for much else. I was stuck.
My days began to be filled with drudgery. I dreaded my alarm clock in a way that I never had before. I dreaded going to work in way that I never had before. Maybe I wouldn’t have experienced burnout so quickly, but I was teaching full time, spending all day teaching orchestra at multiple schools. I was repairing instruments and planning fundraisers and planning trips. I was teaching private lessons after school to my students for free. I had filled every nook and cranny in my life with music. I had turned the thing I loved most into the biggest chore in my life.
And when my work day was over, I’d load myself into my car and drive to whatever rehearsal or performance was on the agenda–sometimes more than two hours away–and saw away on my viola. I felt trapped in an endless cycle of performances and teaching and rehearsal. It was like the world’s worst rinse and repeat.
The fact that I had alienated the thing I loved most in the world was adding insult to injury. Because I didn’t even have a way to escape. Music had been my escape. Music had been the way I processed and dealt with things. How could I process and deal with the hatred I’d developed of the thing I used to process and deal with the important things in my life?
So I pursued a masters of education with an emphasis in reading and literacy. I started teaching English. I took a break from performing. I withdrew from the musical world that I had grown to love and hate so much. I took up art and writing and did everything I could do avoid exacerbating my hatred for this hallowed thing in my life.
It’s been six months since I decided to bow out from the thing that once brought my the most joy, and for the most part I haven’t missed it. Standing in front of my English classes this year, I’ll admit that once–and only once–I asked myself if I had made the wrong choice by leaving the music classroom. But that was a fleeting concern and I quickly came to my senses.
Since August, when I really made the conscious decision to leave music for a while, I’ve played about half the number of concerts I normally play this year. I have definitely missed the extra money, but I have not missed the stress and the anger that I felt for my instrument. But I’ve also not missed my viola. I’ve not pined for music the way I once did. I’ve not said “I need to get home a practice right now.”
All of that changed, however, last week when my wife and I attended an Annie Moses Band concert. Annie Moses Band is my favorite group of musicians. They are incredible! I’ve had the opportunity to play with them a few times in the past, including my trip to Carnegie Hall earlier this year. That trip, as well as the one in October–in which the lead eldest sister of the AMB also performed–were the only times I had fun performing in a long time.
Watching them perform together, enjoying themselves, and sharing their passion for music and their love for Christ stirred something cold, dark, and dead in me. Watching the way they expertly performed on their instruments and owned the stage, I felt my first stirring of longing for my music. For the first time in literal years, I felt the passion I once had for music, I felt its absence in my life.
That night, in that church, swimming in beautiful music, I began to forgive myself.
I went home that night and practiced. I practiced the next day. Just holding my viola in my hand, playing the difficult music I chose for myself–not the music somebody else chose for me to perform–changed the way I saw everything. Putting the bow to the strings, I heard just how poor my playing has gotten. I heard just how much I’ve lost along with the passion and the drive I’d lost.
I have a long way to go before I love music the way I did before. And I’ve got many hours of practice ahead of me before I regain the level of mastery I once had. And maybe those things will never come. But I’m a lot closer today than I was last month.
What are you denying yourself forgiveness for? What are you continuing to punish yourself over? Is it worth it?
I hope you, too, can find the power to forgive yourself before it’s too late.
The Plucky Reader