Let's flash back in time. I'm a freshman. It's Fall 2014. The future looks endless as I watch the upperclassmen and graduate students in my School of Music excel at everything. I would later realize that it was all pretense but that's not the point. I quickly began to worry that I was not improving enough. How do I find the time in my day to work even more at being better, not so I can compete with them, but so I can look at myself in the mirror and feel proud?
I was not the only one in the beginning of my studies who felt this way. A lot of us had the same bright idea: We're going to sacrifice sleep and food so that every spare hour of our day can be spent being productive. Here's why it's a completely stupid idea.
I thought that by skipping my free hour, usually used to get food, to practice, I would somehow show that I was one of the most dedicated musicians ever and that my determination would be awe-inspiring. The reality is that I only made myself sick. My body lacked energy because I was only getting about 4 hours of sleep a night. I was used to feeling lightheaded from lack of food. I didn't realize that this was a serious problem until a random conversation with a friend's mom.
It had to be about 9pm at night and I had just got out of class. I found my friend outside chatting with his mom on the phone so I said hello. In typical mom fashion, she asked me all of the usual questions like did I eat today? And when I tried to answer I froze because I realized that it was 9pm that night, and I had not eaten a thing. And my body didn't even give me physical signs that I was hungry anymore. At that point I decided to go see one of my school's counselors who was specifically recommended to performing arts majors because believe it or not, I didn't want to waste away, I just wanted to be the best I could be.
Through a few months of counseling, I learned that I'll never be the best that I can be if I don't start with a solid foundation of taking care of myself. Now I was (and still am) very much attached to my personal planner. I write down everything I need to do in every day. So my counselor met me there. She made me write down my 3 meals in my planner as if they were also assignments that I needed to complete. She made me write down a sleep requirement as if it was a to-do list. And I followed that style until it became second nature to me as it always should have been.
I say this because it is actually pretty common to find music students trying to get better as fast as they can because it's a highly competitive world and if there's a moment that we're not practicing, someone else is. But even with all the competition, it's most important to take care of yourself. There is no way that you'll improve unless you make sure that you're completely alright first. This includes physical, emotional, and mental wellness. Sure it's competitive, but you have time. And every professor I've ever had has stressed, that part of the preparation for any audition, competition, performance, or presentation is taking care of yourself first.