Like a lot of driven people, I suffer from bouts of anxiety. Not when I’m performing or teaching….those things are actually like a strange tonic that singularly calms my nerves. No, it’s when I have allegedly “free” time that I can reflect upon the mountain of loose ends, imperfect social interactions, and the dreaded Things That Are Out Of My Control. It’s funny: I never suffered from anything more than a case of the teenage blues for a few months in high school. Then, just after college, I began having trouble sleeping. For a while, I thought I was just motivated or ambitious. I had all of these thoughts racing through my head and a seemingly endless list of things I could do to make my life better. After the 6th month of rough sleep and the “ambition” following me through the sunrise into my daytime life, I realized that this was not a benign occurance. In a conversation I had this week, I came to realize what changed that summer after school ended. Somehow, I had stopped listening to myself and began looking to other people to guide me. After college, you’re supposed to be more competent at living, yet that’s when the people close to you really let the doubts and negativity fly. Counseled by various people that I “didn’t want to make the errors of youthful hubris”, I came to depend on them for input into nearly every situation I happened upon. So I became great at ignoring my own instincts that had previously led me through an absolutely charmed life, and supplanted these instincts with some of the most caustic baggage the people around me had to offer.

Well, that’s lame.

I think I didn’t ever develop cello anxiety because it has always been mine. I am greedy, and have only permitted my teachers and perhaps those I play chamber music with to have any say in my playing. And those people tend to be good at fostering instincts, not demolishing them. So cello teaching saves the day again. This time, I am applying the rules I ingrain in my students to my own life. True of the cello, and of life, are the following:

1) if it hurts, you’re doing it wrong

2) being relaxed isn’t something that happens because you get good, it’s the reason you get good

3) laugh at your mistakes

4) breathe

5) along with love, music is the most sincere offering available to humanity. do both, frequently, and never be embarrassed.

Anxiety is like the random path of a tornado. There is stress to be had in every moment. If you can’t avoid it, the way to make sure it doesn’t wreck you is to make sure your foundation is strong. You’re the only one who can build it, and it’s risky to trust yourself with such a big task. But it feels really good to know what you’re made of.