No shame in anxiety The last few weekends have been Audition Days here in the College of Music, and as always I give a little spiel on the ECM and what we’re about. I like to start these things with an informal survey of the prospective students (and their parents) who are in attendance, so I start out by asking for a show of hands from parents who are experiencing some level of anxiety about their son or daughter attending music school. Usually about half of the hands in the room go up. Then I pose the same question to prospective students, and again about half of them raise their hands. In both cases, there are two things that I find interesting. The first is that more hands don’t go up (sometimes it’s as many as 2/3rds of the hands, but it’s never 100%). I found myself thinking of that scene from Return of the Jedi where Luke tells Yoda that he’s not afraid, and Yoda ominously replies: “You will be. You will be….” Because let’s face it: there are NO guaranteed careers these days, particularly in the arts. Some level of concern about that is reasonable.
The second thing is that I usually get a lot more hands raised once I do a little coaxing of my audience: parents and students alike seem reluctant to admit to any anxiety about pursuing a music career. It’s as if they equate anxiety with a lack of commitment or conviction about pursuing this path.
But here’s the thing: the fact that there are challenges for artists pursuing a professional career is simply a fact. Denying it is not going to help us engage those challenges constructively. So rather than ignoring the elephant in the corner, let’s call it out. Let’s go ahead and identify not just our anxiety, but the source of that anxiety: is it fear of failure? Fear of letting down our parents and loved ones? Embarrassing ourselves? “Wasting” our education? Or simply the fear that we won’t be able to earn enough to build a life for ourselves? Whatever the source of the anxiety, bringing it to light is the first step. The second step is to define the challenges and barriers that exist and devising a plan to overcome them.
But first ya gotta raise your hand.
Jeffrey Nytch, DMA
Director, Entrepreneurship Center for Music
University of Colorado – Boulder
Imig Music Building, N105
Boulder, CO 80309