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I love what I do, and annoyingly so. And while full-time high school classroom music teaching is bad-assery at its finest, it is also all-consuming. Too easily, music teachers can get onto the endless treadmill of ideas, classroom preparation, paperwork, or even the very positive aspects such as dreaming up large-scale, creative, artistic ventures which completely swallow them up, mind, body, and soul.
Of all the breeds of teachers, performing arts teachers unequivocally SUCK THE MOST at having any sort of balance in their lives. A performing arts teacher who has a healthy work-life balance absolutely all the time is not a true-blooded performing arts teacher, or is delusional.
So now, in this pocket of calm and rest while I have the attention span and energy, I am taking a closer look at the undercurrents of new ideas and change bubbling away below the surface. I know that right now, I am totally in the right place of life and work, happy to invest of my ideas and skills, building a foundation of music education in my school.
But I don’t want to wake up at 50 having merrily gone along with this life without consciously choosing it for myself. I’d like to know that if I hit 50 and I’m still in full-time teaching, it’s because I chose it for myself in a wholehearted and considered manner. The unusual caveat for me is that I genuinely love what I am doing. It is gruelling, soul-immersing, all-consuming, unforgiving work, where you experience such extraordinary positives, but also feel like you’ve sold your spleen in a jar. But I don’t want to blithely arrive at 50, 60, or retirement age by accident, even if I am happy as Larry.
So, thinking ahead…
Love what I do, but look up. It’s okay that I’m completely, sickeningly in love with music teaching right now, but it’s not okay that I allow it to consume me. When I prioritise one extra lesson plan or choral commission over my friends or family, even if the latter can be considerably more work (yes, I said it!), I am being swallowed up. I need to remember I am so many different facets and attributes as a person, and it would be heartbreaking to arrive at the end of my life and all that people could say was that I was good teacher, even if I was. I want to be so much more than that. Even if it frustrates the crap out of my sometimes, and I can’t Sibelius-it down, or put it in tidy little learning plan or Excel spreadsheet. I need a whole other life outside of my work. Refreshingly, life seems to assert itself and remind me of this in no uncertain terms.
Let the edges blur. Over the last year, I have been making a conscious effort to consider things which I think are on the edge of my expertise. These can be leading workshops which are outside of my main areas of choral + composition, going on excursions which having nothing to do with performing arts, saying yes to my god-girlies when they ask me to do something which isn’t my usual “thing”, and saying yes to interesting + engaging events, social opportunities, family gatherings, outings, and adventures. In getting out of my comfort zone and allowing the edges to blur on what I think is an appropriate way for me to use my time, especially when there is very little of it during a school term, I am testing out new personas and ideals which might lead me to new understandings and experiences. In allowing the edges to blur, I am exercising the ability to engage with something which I’m not fully confident in, learn to adapt, and tap into my curiosity in a safe and playful way. Most importantly, I am taking down the walls of my little pigeonhole where I have comfortably placed myself, and where it is so easy to live from on a day-to-day basis. It takes so much more energy to engage with new things, but I owe it to myself not to cover myself with defining labels. I get so indignant when others pigeonhole me…and yet, what am I doing on a daily basis to stretch their understanding of who I am, personally and professionally? It’s my responsibility too.
Wonder and question. There is such an immediacy and excitement to asking questions in a field where you know very little. Whether it’s cooking or car-maintenance, large-scale or seemingly trivial, engaging with others and their passions and strengths is an untold joy, rich with personal learning. The thing is, sometimes I am so consumed by my own deadlines and activities that I forget to engage. I’d like to remind myself that no-one, not even the most self-sufficient person, can fully engage and inspire themselves. As a human, our minds and hearts are made for connection, laughter, curiosity, learning, and love. So let me take the extra few minutes to engage with something or someone that I know very little about, and might spark a new course of thinking.
Stomach-flips and uncertainty. Yes, my teaching life is comfortable. Exhausting, interesting, but totally comfortable. Yet I look back to all the times I have grown significantly in confidence, leadership, or grit, or produced a work of significant creative light or merit, and it has ALWAYS been through adversity and struggle. It’s because when we’re comfortable, we do the same thing, because it works. When we are in struggle and facing uncertainty, we know that we need to adapt and grow to fit the changing requirements. Does it feel good? Hell no! It sucks. NOBODY ever looked at a period of personal, financial, creative, or professional struggle and said at the time, “Oh, GOODY! A struggle! AWESOME!” But whenever I look at the significant growth milestones, they are always centred around those times where I have been forced to create new understandings. So why on earth would I wait for adversity to learn something so vital? Why not look for opportunities to take those stomach-flipping leaps of faith while I am healthy and settled?
Catch the keystones. In being happily ensconced in my work, I have very little motivation to question the path I’m on. But I’d like to ask myself to notice the moments when I am doing something new and I find myself totally in the zone, totally “in flow”, the doing something which is the perfect balance of challenging, interesting, engaging, and allowing me to create gritty forward momentum. And then catch that keystone and don’t let go. Make the unexpected connections, say yes to the slightly left-of-the-middle ideas, consider things I wouldn’t normally consider, engage in the interesting conversations, and keep asking myself questions. What else could I possibly imagine myself doing, or want the responsibility of doing, and when? Once I catch these ideas, then it’s much easier to create a timeline to build up momentum for when I would like to make a change.
Side hustle. Mine is so accidental, it’s laughable, but my side hustle has always been writing and composing. I am the definition of a reluctant composer. I write because I love writing, and people like what I write so they keep asking me for more. Have I EVER put the right amount of weight, attention and time on this side-gig? My God, no. Embarrassingly so. And yet, choral directors and choirs from all around the world hunt me down and ask me for my music. For this, I have to do a shout-out to all the incredible people I have worked with in Sydney Children’s Choir, Gondwana Voices, Birralee Voices, and Young Adelaide Voices for fuelling the fire and sharing my music, and my work, so warmly and openly. To each of these extraordinary people, I am indebted. But I take care of my composing as well as I take care of a cactus. And I’ve killed a cactus before…! So let me take this honour of being able to compose and write, and my absolute love of choral composition for children’s and youth choirs, and hold it with greater love and responsibility. Look into taking care of it as I would an extra part of myself, a thread and possible next pathway in my life, rather than just a hobby. While I love the freedom of writing and composing purely as a creative outlet, it’s a conversation with myself I’d like to engage in more, and in a more supported and responsible way. Choral directors + choristers have entrusted me with their ideals, let me practise my voice in composing more regularly.
So there it is. Tiny signposts, significant value. Let me begin imagining a future with purpose and consideration, whilst fully engaging with all that I have right now.