The Daily Juggling Act

This is something many of us struggle with. The feeling that there simply aren’t enough minutes in the day to accomplish what we need to accomplish, let alone have some time to ourselves. In a typical day for me, I have a lot of different roles to play – student, worker, (dog) parent, spouse, homemaker, musician. It’s really difficult to keep it all in balance sometimes.
On a typical weekday, I wake up early and knock out a few things before work – I might practice cello for 30 minutes, or do a little bit of reading for class. During my workday, I try to make the most of the energy I have. For instance, I know that my energy is best in the mornings, so I try to schedule my most challenging tasks (the ones that require the most concentration) for the morning hours, and leave easier tasks, like data entry, for the afternoons.
I’ve learned that I’m a person who needs a good amount of exercise to help me stay calm and focused, so I usually do something during my lunch hour – some days I take a walk. Other days I take a swim. This helps me keep my energy up through the afternoon.
After work, I usually take my dogs for a walk. Then I work on preparing dinner for my husband and me. After dinner, I try to spend one more hour being ‘productive’ before I allow myself some downtime.
Weekends are often spent working as well. I teach four cello students on Saturdays and often have gigs to play – weddings or concerts. Then there’s always house-cleaning and maintenance that needs to be done. I try to make sure that I have one day a week completely ‘off’ meaning no gigs, no teaching, and plenty of ‘me’ time.
I’m fortunate to be a person who naturally has a lot of energy, but sometimes I have a difficult time turning this off and just relaxing. This is something I’m trying to get better at – just relaxing.
What does your juggling act look like?
by Ellen

Choosing a Major

For me, choosing a major was both an easy and a difficult decision. I had been playing the cello since I was ten years old, and music was my favorite thing. I played in school orchestra, I started several bands throughout middle school and high school, and music was generally a big part of my life. I also had a lot of other things going on. I had an after school job at a floral shop, that I loved. I was into visual art – painting, drawing, ceramics, and photography, as well as literature and poetry.
During my junior year of high school, I had to decide whether I would audition for college music schools. The audition process happens senior year of high school, for admission to music programs. I remember it being a difficult decision – I knew I loved music, but I also had other interests. I knew that if I decided to pursue music school, I would have to really focus on that goal, meaning increasing my practice time, and having less time for other things. I decided to go for it, because I had a deep love for music, and was intrigued by the idea of entering a college program that would allow me to pursue that love in a very focused way.
I got a new (and more serious) cello teacher. She was a substitute cellist with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, and she helped me prepare for college auditions. With my parents’ support, I quit my job at the floral shop, and I focused my efforts on preparing for college auditions. Until this point, I had never practiced so many hours, or so intensely, and as a result I ended up getting tendonitis, and having to wear a wrist brace for much of my senior year. All of this – the long hours, the intensity, the injury concerns – was, as it turned out, a glimpse into what life in music school, and ultimately, life as a freelance musician, would be.
I ended up being accepted to the DePaul University School of Music in Chicago, as a cello performance major. I was also accepted to University of Illinois at Urbana/Champaign, but I chose DePaul because I really wanted to live in a city. The program was “conservatory style,” meaning my schedule was heavy on music classes and light on liberal arts classes. I sometimes wonder if I might have made a different decision if I had been able to choose a major after starting college, rather than before. But these decisions are never easy, no matter when we make them.
How are you going about choosing your major?
by Ellen

Reframing My Career

For many years, I identified as a musician. I went to music school at DePaul University, earning a Bachelor of Music Degree in Cello Performance. I spent the next 12 years pursuing a career in music – teaching cello lessons, performing in orchestras and small ensembles, playing countless wedding gigs, touring, performing on cruise ships.. the list goes on. This life as a freelance musician was often exciting. It was full of variety and challenges. I often found myself traveling to new places for gigs, whether to a new wedding venue for a string quartet job, or to a new continent as part of a touring band. But it was really challenging as well – I rarely knew how much money I would be making next week or next month, let alone next year. I often struggled to feel challenged by what I was doing, and lacked creativity in my work. I came to view the cello more as a money-maker, and less as a tool for artistic expression.
The goal I had set out to achieve when I was in music school – to win a (salaried) job with a professional orchestra – had not yet happened, despite my best efforts. In the years since I graduated from music school, I maintained an intense daily practice schedule, took countless auditions, and continued to push myself, rarely taking a day off. I found myself at a breaking point, physically and emotionally, struggling with repetitive stress issues like tendonitis, as well as depression. I knew that I needed a change, but I felt stuck because my skill-set (as I understood it) was so specific. Nevertheless, I decided to begin applying for jobs that I thought I would be capable of. I had some retail and office experience from previous day-jobs, so I applied for several jobs at KU with similar requirements.
I was fortunate to get hired at the University Career Center at KU as a communications assistant. It started as a part-time job, which allowed me to keep my teaching studio, and my practice and performance schedules relatively unchanged. After being at the job for a very short period of time, I felt an immediate change in my outlook on life. For the first time in many years, I felt excited about work and the possibilities for me to take on new challenges. I loved working in an office, around other people – I had spent many years in fairly solitary working conditions, which I now realized, had not aligned with my personality very well. I loved learning new things, being in a new environment, and feeling valued.
Over time, my job went from part-time to full-time, and I took on new responsibilities in the office. I now no longer think of myself only as ‘a cellist’ but rather I consider performing and teaching cello to be just one portion of my overall skillset. I still teach lessons and play gigs on weekends, and maintain a daily practice schedule. Since reframing my career, I enjoy playing and teaching the cello much more than I did when it was my sole income generator. For me, trying to do the thing I loved most for a living (music) made it into something I didn’t have much love for. My current job allows me the flexibility to have music be a portion of my life, rather than it’s sole focus.
Reframing my career has made me think a lot about the idea of pursuing one’s passion, and the ways in which we do that. It’s made me realize that there are countless ways to find fulfillment in work – it’s all about trying new things, and having new experiences, to see what fits best for you.