I am an indecisive person.
I admit it. I couldn’t even decide how I wanted to start this article.
Do you relate?
Either way, stick with me here.
When I was in college, I envisioned myself as a teacher. I had always enjoyed helping people, and I excelled at figuring out new ways to explain or approach things. Then, like many newbie teachers, I got scared once I actually had to start being in front of children.
I dragged my feet through student-teaching and brazenly declared that it must have meant I was actually a performer at heart. I felt sure I was going to abandon teaching once I dove back into performance during graduate school.
Then, low-and-behold, doubt crept back in and I just couldn’t see my life as a classical musician anymore (you can read all about that process in my article “Musicianship & Transformation: A Classical Musician’s Journey To Self-Discovery“). So during the last year of my performance degree, I took an education class on a whim. That single class completely turned me back around; I found my footing again in teaching music. Upon graduation, I decided I wasn’t a performer after all and I was embraced by the education community in Austin.
I began my first full-time teaching job the following semester. Miraculously, it wasn’t difficult for me to feel at home in a classroom and with students. I loved helping them connect with themselves, and each other, through music.
I threw myself into my teaching career with absolute resolve. Not only did I get to teach something I was passionate about, but I got to teach kids how to problem solve and learn how to be good to one another; how to work and create something meaningful together. We had a family and orchestra community that was important to me and important to the students in the program.
A year or so went by…and the doubt came back. There was a persistent nagging in the back of my head that I longed to perform again. While teaching provided stability, I felt like a whole piece of me was missing. To my relief, the opportunity to join a band fell into my lap and I was gleefully whisked away by the performance world yet again.
Flash forward and I found myself either playing shows or rehearsing with different bands almost every night of the week, oftentimes until clear after midnight…and then having to wake up at 7:30 in the morning and teach middle school for eight hours.
I started to resent my job. It wasn’t just the early mornings and long hours, it was the grading periods, taking attendance, and inoperable copy machines. It was the field trips and competitions and professional development days. There were broken instruments, emotionally burdened students, angry parents, and fussy administrators.
I was completely physically and mentally exhausted all the time. I worked myself sick while pouring myself into both of my lives. In my eyes, anything less than 100% was unacceptable, but there was absolutely no way for me to dedicate myself entirely to one thing without sacrificing something about the other.
My mind was riddled with conflict about what was the “right” choice. How could I leave my students? I had put so much work into my job, and now I was just going to walk away? I painfully dug through my own feelings to decide that the best course was to leave teaching for my own well-being.
I worked a part-time administrative job for an educational program for a year before I started missing teaching again. I certainly had more time to gig, and a freer mind to concentrate on music, but I just couldn’t shake the pull to be in a classroom…I missed my students.
I found myself yet again wondering what to do. Being a teacher and being a performer are both parts of my identity; I genuinely feel love and passion for both. How can I piece them together in a way that isn’t detrimental to the other?
The truth is, I am constantly torn between being a teacher and being a musician. It feels like I live two different lives, and they are both at odds with one another. If I edge too much in one direction, it causes me to sacrifice the other. When I back off of one thing, I inevitably get drawn back to it, and I just can’t see myself not having both in my life.
Some teachers I know have largely given up performing, and some musicians I know have abandoned teaching. Neither is wrong, but I can’t seem to let go of either one. How can you really dedicate yourself to teaching and live the life that is required for gigging musicians? Does one of these things have to suffer? Do we eventually have to choose one or the other?
I’m constantly working on finding a balanced life between the two because I’ve accepted that I don’t want to give up either one, nor do I think I have to. It’s taken some time to carve out exactly how much I want to teach, but as I navigate and piece together fewer jobs I am better able to be fully present in each of my life’s avenues.
It has been difficult to allow myself to get here. I’ve had to begrudgingly give some things up and learn hard lessons about being a chronic workaholic. As someone who has been a 30-year-old career-minded person since I was 10 years old, I’ve had to find my wall so I would stop running into it.
I had to ask myself if loving teaching really meant I wanted to do it for eight full hours a day, five days a week. I felt like a bad person for wanting to leave the profession, especially because I really poured my heart into it. However, as much as I loved my students, I realized it wasn’t fair to them to be a half-shell of a human when I went to work after a late-night show.
I’ve had to learn to be honest with myself about what actually feels right in order to feel balanced day to day. In this sense, my journey as an educator has been similar to my story as a performer.
This is all to say that I still feel pushed and pulled in opposing directions. I suspect the scale will teeter and swing from my teaching half to my performance half my entire life. On particularly difficult days, I still wish I could just choose one. But now, armed with greater self-awareness, I have a better understanding of how I can balance out my life if I feel it begin to fall off a cliff.
While I think about what kind of universal truth this all holds, I’m aware we all face self-doubt, indecision, and uncertainty when it comes to finding exactly how to make ourselves feel happy and fulfilled. Perhaps the following lessons I have learned for myself will sprinkle some amount of wisdom on your life-purpose cupcake if––and when––you find yourself questioning what really makes you feel whole:
Give yourself the freedom to make changes without feeling guilty.
It has been difficult to whittle everything down and find exactly the right opportunities for me, especially with the weight of leaving my job and my students (Google “teacher guilt”), but it was worth giving myself permission to admit I wasn’t happy, let go, and explore new opportunities.
Realize that after walking away from something, there will always be things to miss…but don’t let that overshadow the reason you left in the first place.
Find a supportive community in whatever you do.
If someone you work with does not make accommodations for other important parts of your life, that person probably doesn’t care about you very much, and you don’t owe them anything.
Don’t do something half-hearted, especially if the only reason is for money.
I have taken both teaching and gig opportunities simply because they paid well, even though they were unfavorable situations. I guess you just have to do it enough times until you really learn the cliche that money doesn’t buy happiness. Your time is worth more than money.
Find opportunities that add to your sense of self, but walk away from those that are so demanding they absorb all of your being.
Let yourself have days off.
I have had to learn, re-learn, and learn again to say NO. You don’t need to do everything. Say no to things you aren’t genuinely excited about, and realize that you may also have to learn to say no to opportunities that you are actually interested in. It isn’t worth running yourself so ragged that it hurts to think––or just exist––as a fully present version of yourself.
Go home when work is over.
Whether it is a class, a gig, a meeting, etc., go home when it’s time to go home.
Make your life and your days the way you want them to be.
You may need to make tough decisions; we can’t possibly do everything. However, if you allow yourself to dig deep into the question “do I really enjoy this?” you’ll find many answers about what is actually important to you and feeds your soul.
As you navigate your own trials and tribulations navigating the big questions, “What do I do with my life? What makes me happy?” I hope these musings will serve as a guide. As for me, I may always be indecisive about this journey, and I’m definitely still treading lightly in two pools of water. There are times I still feel overwhelmed, exhausted, or overworked. That being said, I feel grateful that I have found success and a home in two seemingly opposing worlds that I love equally, and for different reasons.
Playing music makes me feel alive; teaching music nourishes my heart. Every mistake and success I have shows me that I still have things I need to learn about myself, what I want, where to go from here. The longer I chisel away at how I want to live my life as a teacher or a musician, the more I’m able to blend them harmoniously and thoughtfully contribute to my sense of purpose and wholeness. That, to me, is balance.
Wow. Thank you for sharing all this!
Dana, you are an inspiration to us all. Every teacher should read this, we all suffer from this extreme level of indecisiveness, guilt and self-shaming. Thank you for sharing your emotions and your heart.