On Being Patient.

I am famously impatient. This is a tendency I’ve had since I was born almost 2 months early, and it hasn’t gotten any better with adulthood. Sometimes I think it’s gotten worse, since I can’t just express my impatience as loudly as I’d like at any opportunity. That’s not to say that people close to me don’t get an earful of my expressions of frustration when all of my best efforts seem stalled, and for those patient people I am infinitely grateful, especially for the ones who manage to talk some sense into me when I’m directing all of my frustration inward.

It has been a challenging semester. It started off a little rocky, with some big disappointments up front, but I thought I’d bounced back pretty well… only to get knocked flat by illness that lingered around for some weeks. I dragged myself through that, too, missing only one full day of school plus one class period during which I was actually at a doctor’s appointment. I went to all of my voice lessons, even though I couldn’t really sing with my full voice. I kept up with my obligations even though a lot of days I felt, looked, and sounded terrible. I did all of my homework. And… honestly? It wasn’t enough.

My midterm grades suffered hugely. My voice isn’t back to where it was at the beginning of the semester, though during my first or second week of lessons I’d made a big leap in my progress. (Some of that has stuck around, and I’m confident the rest will return now that I’ve got a chance to rest, but it’s not there yet.) And I’ve spent the first two months of the semester feeling disconnected and never really fully present, just bouncing from one activity to the next without time to stop and breathe. Yes, it’s because I took on too much, but more than that, I honestly think it’s because I’ve been impatient with myself.

When I started really getting serious about my study of music and my voice lessons, I had to accept that some things take more actual, physical time than I’d been used to putting into learning things. I’m normally a very quick study, and when I’m not, I tend to assume I’m bad at that thing and put it aside. Music isn’t like that; even very talented people have to put in a lot of physical hours to really be good. Even knowing that, I get impatient with myself when I don’t feel my progress is as quick as that of my peers. I know comparing myself is counterproductive and breeds resentment, but it’s a difficult habit to break when you’ve got a decent competitive streak.

Still, I think the impatience I really need to conquer is my belief that I need to “catch up.” That because I’m older than most of the students in my program, that because most people my age have a career figured out and have accomplished more things than I have, I need to work five times as hard as anybody else to get where I should have been. I can’t quite convince myself that it’s okay to have taken as long as I have to figure out what to do with myself. I can’t quite convince myself that mistakes I made in the past don’t require some kind of atonement in the form of overworking myself until I have a decent list of things to show for myself. People make assumptions about me that I feel a need to live up to, because the alternative is confessing that I haven’t always been perfectly together, that I made a lot of mistakes and used my time badly and floundered for most of my 20s. I would never hold anyone else to these impossible standards, but I can’t talk myself out of them for me.

And so life has to step in and teach me a lesson. I’d promised myself I would find more balance in my life this semester, and then proceeded to interpret this as “DO EVERYTHING, ALL OF THE TIME!” People around me have been telling me to be patient for the entire time I’ve been a part of this program, and nothing at all could make me listen until I was forced to.  Even then, it took a bit of a scare; I’ve actually been worried that my voice won’t come back, that I’ll have to drop my voice classes and my ensemble and the show I’m in, that this will be even more of a setback. That’s not actually likely, but every day my voice didn’t want to function fully was another day of worry.

So, am I disappointed in myself? Yes, but I’m willing to concede that maybe the things that are my fault weren’t really the grades. My mistake was pushing myself relentlessly and being completely unwilling to consider patience as an option. I’ve never listened to anyone who’s told me that I don’t need to work harder, because I’ve been worried that the part of me that is inherently lazy will win out over my desire to have a career in music. Maybe it’s time I accept that I’m not lazy, and that wanting this badly doesn’t mean that I need to run myself into the ground in order to have it, and that doing so is in fact counterproductive to my end goals.

It’s a theory, anyway.

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