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A Flutist's Self-Worth

The Sensible Flutist: A Flutist's Self-Worth

Monday, June 6, 2011

A Flutist's Self-Worth

A thread on the FLUTE list popped up that saddened me. The question of the distinction between amateur and professional players came up, and I read the thread with dismay. The original poster's intent was to ask the valid question why we flutists don't support each other more, but the resulting discussion didn't answer this question.

A certain flutist wrote who said that she is a "nobody in the flute world" because even though she leads a fulfilling musical life, the fact that no one knows her outside her own circle and she doesn't hold an orchestra or teaching position doesn't hold value in her eyes.

An unfortunate stereotype of flutists is that we're all catty, uber competitive, and self-centered. When I meet a new flutist, I always gauge the person to figure out their attitude. By the end of my time with them, I know whether they share the same philosophy of music making I do (if you've read the rest of my blog, you know how I feel about music) or whether they are purely career focused (i.e. constantly focusing on the orchestra audition circuit or teaching positions). When I pick up on the latter attitude, I usually come away a little deflated and questioning my own worth.

Seeking approval from others is a struggle for me. When I was in college, I constantly wanted the approval of my flute teacher. She was hard on me, and it took me years to realize that it was because she wanted the BEST for me. I wasn't in her studio to be told how good I was. I was in her studio to progress and become a better better my chances of becoming a successful musician.

So what does "successful" mean? For a lot of flutists, this only means winning an orchestra or teaching job at a major school. Orchestra jobs are diminishing. The Philly Orchestra has declared bankruptcy, the Louisville Orchestra is no longer employing their musicians. Now, more than ever, flutists (and musicians everywhere) must be flexible and open to creating their own opportunities.

Your self-worth as a musician and as an individual should not be tied to what others are doing. We are musicians, with creative impulses and the ability to create opportunities for ourselves. This is what creative entrepreneurship is about. It's about taking control of your life and your destiny. It's about creating opportunities for yourself where none seemingly exist.

Do I struggle with self-doubt? Yes. But I struggle more with self-doubt when I find myself worrying about what others think especially those who have won those types of jobs we dream about in music school. My self-doubt dissipates when I stop worrying, and I start focusing on my own goals again.

If you have an idea for something great, pursue it. Don't let entrenched attitudes stop you. Winning orchestra and teaching jobs is the old way of thinking. Now, more than ever before is the time to seize on opportunities. The power of the internet and social media can take you from obscurity into something more.

Unfortunately, a lot of musicians don't know how to seize on these new opportunities. Instead, I meet a lot of flutists who had big dreams shattered by the harsh reality of the real world. Life often gets in the way of what we would like to have, but it doesn't mean that we should give up just because we can't win an orchestra audition or a teaching job.

Be flexible, adaptable, and true to yourself. Your musical career might take a path you didn't expect, but the path least travelled leads to the most fulfilling work.

Go out and create! Here are a few resources to help you get past self-doubt and start or rejuvenate your career:

Jade Simmons' Emerge Already! Blog

Beyond Talent by Angela Myles Beeching

The Savvy Musician by David Cutler

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At June 6, 2011 at 7:04 AM , Blogger Erica Ann Sipes said...

Brava, Alexis. As always, your bright, optimistic, honest, & caring approach to others, yourself, and music making shines through in this post. You are one of those people that can truly be a light in what can be an oppressive place.

I admire that so much!

Thank you,

At June 6, 2011 at 10:25 AM , Anonymous ursula smith said...

Dear Alexis,
Absolutely wonderful post. These are issues we all struggle with. Our creativity is something precious to nurture regardless of what jobs or positions we do or do not have. Casals kept practising into his 80s, after he had stopped playing regular concerts. When asked why he still bothered, he replied that he thought he might still learn something

At June 6, 2011 at 2:08 PM , Anonymous Laura Lentz said...

Wonderful Alexis!
I've been thinking about "success" these days and how to define it, and yes you are so right on that we have to define it based on what is important to us and how we view success. Not only because traditional jobs are tougher to get but also because more and more we're realizing that forging our own paths is also more satisfying and meaningful. Something great that David Cutler said was, more or less, "don't worry about other people's paths, just worry about your own." And to do this it takes people around us who support us, but it also takes a kind of inner strength to keep going ahead.
Thanks for a great post and also for mentioning jade simmons' blog!

At June 6, 2011 at 6:23 PM , OpenID fluteangel said...

Dead on Alexis! I couldn't have said it better myself! I went through the very same thing, up until very recently, seeking validation from others, and it's not something we all necessarily ever grow out of it, but being aware that that is what we are doing is the first step - then having the guts to go after your dream in a new way is the next! Excellent post!

At June 6, 2011 at 6:39 PM , Blogger anna said...

Great post Alexis. I still get the flute list and JGFC emails but rarely read them all through. I think getting bogged down in it can make you feel that you aren't a real flute player (or musician) unless you conform to whatever the outdated norms are.

I think flute players in particular are stuck in the past. It's all about creating your own niche or destiny in the industry.


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