Playing a string instrument well is the work of a lifetime.  Making a great instrument is the work of a lifetime.  Doing anything with passion and excellence usually takes a considerable amount of time and energy spread over many years.

How do you maintain enthusiasm for a pursuit through the ups and downs, peaks and valleys?  I’ve been doing a great deal of thinking about this as I enter the tenth year of managing Encore Orchestral Strings…and roughly the 25th year of playing the cello.  This post is not meant to be exhaustive or definitive…just a few thoughts that have been floating around between my ears.

  1. Don’t be afraid to set goals.  Having both long-term and short-term goals allow you to measure yourself relative to what you want to accomplish.  This adds an element of accountability and enables you to measure progress.
  2. Allow yourself to relax in the ups and downs.  When I’m healthy, I don’t think much about the possibility of getting sick.  When I’m sick, it doesn’t seem like I’ll ever feel healthy again.  When we accomplish a great deal in our pursuit it’s easy to feel like the good times will never end.  When things aren’t going well, it’s easy to forget the good times and give up entirely.  Realize that life is defined by the law of undulation and that there are times we just have to go along for the ride.
  3. Give yourself a pep talk.  I remember working on difficult music when I was studying the cello and I’d be so wrapped up in a few measures of music that I’d forget the reasons I started playing the cello in the first place.  Make a list of all the things you love about what you do and go over it with yourself.  There’s a video of Yo-Yo Ma playing Dvorak’s “Silent Woods” with the Boston Symphony Orchestra.  At the end, he slides down to a d-flat on the lowest string of the cello…it’s just an incredibly beautiful note, deep down in the cello’s lowest register.  Whenever I get frustrated trying to play the cello, I’ll slide down to that same note and try to make it sound just as good as Yo-Yo.  The sound of the note, the feel of the cello vibrating, the pressure of the bow – all of these things remind me of why I love the cello.
  4. Build community.  If you develop friendships with people who are trying to achieve the same thing, you can create a support network that will allow you to encourage others and be encouraged.  I have a co-worker that started learning the cello and the conversations we have are incredibly encouraging.  Watching his triumphs and failures remind me of the joy and struggles we all experience in any worthwhile pursuit.

What are some of the ways you maintain enthusiasm in your pursuits?