Having a career as a cellist is one of the most humbling jobs that I have been privileged to be apart of. Whether it is taking a risk to play for a well-respected colleague or a potential employer, repeatedly reaching out to contractors or booking agents, taking auditions, or even sitting in lessons or master classes, this career path is always requiring complete openness and vulnerability. You have to be willing not only to take risks but also to be persistent and resilient throughout the potential and inevitable turmoil that comes along with this lifestyle.
When I first embarked on this journey of auditioning and freelancing, I didn’t have any particular method or strategy of how I was going to create a life as a cellist. All I knew, was that I had a passion for playing cello and for connecting with others through music, and I trusted that somehow I would make this work. Through trial and error, I learned and created a method that seemed to grow and improve over time. I wouldn’t say it has been easy, but the challenge has been part of the fun. Through this process of stretching my limits, taking risks and opening myself up to new experiences, I am able to learn new things about myself, my cello playing, and how I relate to the world. For me, I thrive on getting the chance to learn and grow every day, even if it is through an uncomfortable experience such as not winning a desired position in a particular orchestra.
This ability to thrive on challenge and the understanding that we are not born with skills, but rather that they are acquired and cultivated through the learning process is what is known as the “growth mindset” (Dweck, 2006). On the opposite end of the spectrum the “fixed mindset” is the belief that our qualities are pre-determined and already set in stone (Dweck, 2006). These two mindsets can show up throughout the different aspects of our lives, and the most exciting part is that they can be changed if we are aware of when the rigidity of the "fixed mindset" occurs.
When I recognize that I am questioning my abilities and therefore become fearful to act, how do I get back to the place of openness and trust again? As Dweck (2016) suggests, once we are aware of the fixed mindset, we can cognitively talk ourselves out of it. If I was rejected from an audition for example, I recognize that I am disappointed, and allow for time to feel that negative emotion. However, as soon as I am ready, I analyze the experience and look for patterns of what helped and hindered my abilities during the performance. As I do this, I might recognize that I didn’t spend enough time on a particular skill or technique, or I didn’t get out of the practice room enough and play mock auditions for peers and colleagues. Whatever it may be, I find joy in the challenge of rebuilding myself, and then without even noticing it, I not only talk myself back into the growth mindset, I feel more positive about the experience and am excited for the next one.
I have been asked many times how I continue to go on, despite the adversity that I have met along the way. When I learned about the different mindsets, I realized that this is part of my secret. My values do not lie in how I am perceived by others, or if I “succeed” or “fail” in the sense of how society would judge me. For me, the most important thing is self-exploration and growth, and I see each situation (even the ones that are stressful) as an opportunity for such learning. This perspective allows me to encounter each challenge through the lenses of curiosity, rather then fear. With each challenge, whether it is an upcoming audition, a passage that is beyond my current level or skill, or contacting a symphony about subbing opportunities, I think about what I can gain from the situation, rather then what I can loose, and this allows me to be able to continuously take risks, leading me to experiences that I never thought were possible.
Dweck, Carol (2006). Mindset: The New Psychology of Success. Random House. New York, NY.