Bust Your Student Mindset!
Tiffany here. And in case you didn’t know, I love school. Ha!
Of course there were rough patches, but generally, I loved being a student. School has always felt like a place of possibility for me, and I think that’s one reason I love teaching. Even from a young age, before I knew what a clarinet was, I knew I wanted to teach. Fun story - I’d force my younger sister to come into my “school” during the summer so I could teach her long division and geography. She LOVED that, let me tell you.
Anyway, good thing I loved school because I was in college for 10 years. That was a lot of years to think of myself as a student… and when I started applying to jobs, I had to shake myself out of this ever-present mindset that I was just, a student, full stop.And when I said I had to shake myself out of it, believe me, there was some looking in the mirror and saying “Tiffany, you ARE READY ENOUGH.” Key word: enough.
Being a student gets you into a particular mindset, and if you stay there, it can be hard to proclaim your own philosophies, develop your own opinions, and stop seeking validation from outside sources.
Here’s the good news - you don’t have to wait until you’re out of school to get into the “I am a professional” mindset! Let’s be clear - I’m not saying you should assume you know everything. That’s terrible and please never do that. This is about beginning to get used to standing on your own two feet, having confidence in your ideas, and beginning to form your own opinions!
Because we love lists around here, may I present to you 6 ways you should begin to drop the student mindset and embrace your non-student self!
#1: Begin to form your own opinions
- What do YOU want to do with that phrase? What do YOU think would be a good recital program? What do YOU think would be an effective way to help a friend with an excerpt problem they’re having? The sooner you try to come up with answers, the sooner you’ll either know they’re wrong or why they’re on the right track. You’ll build opinions on everything you’ve learned, of course, which is why it’s important to explore new ones. But, we’ll get to that later.
#2: Don’t ask what they want - ask what you want
- Sure, it’s great to know what other people think you’d be good at, or what the industry defines as success. But here’s the thing people… do NOT forget to ask what YOU want! And really, truly ask and listen to your answer - often. It is very easy to start assuming you want what everyone around you wants. But once you leave school, you’re going to be mighty lost if you’ve never asked yourself what YOU really want! What do you want your life to look like? Sit with that question. It’s good for you!
#3: Play like you’re getting paid
- You know, this one is sort of cliche but… I had to put it on the list. Take your playing seriously, and not only in the practice room. In every single scenario you find yourself in, PRACTICE! Practice playing in tune if you’re playing 3rd clarinet in wind ensemble. Practice trying to concentrate on listening when you’re bored as ever while the conductor works with the strings for 25 minutes in Tchaikovsky. Adopt a mindset that you can have things to learn AND play in a commanding, confident way. Don’t play apologetically. Ever!
#4: Explore and ask questions
- We have heard from about every single guest we’ve had in Music360/DCA (which is over 100 at this point) that one of the most important attributes a musician can have is curiosity. This manifests in so many ways, but one practical one is that even as a student, you have to seek answers yourself! Explore topics. Look up history. Explore books at the library. Watch YouTube videos. It will get you so far if you don’t wait until you really need to learn something to learn it.
#5: Stop saying “I’m not ready”
- When you get the job, you aren’t gonna be able to say that! But guess what… you won’t feel ready all the time then, either! So, just get used to the fact that you’ll rarely feel 100%, and that’s okay. You’ll do it anyway!
#6: Answer your freakin’ emails
- We don’t have time to get into the rights and wrongs of email culture… but we will say, it is still generally appreciated if you respond to emails as promptly as you can. Usually within 24 hours in a professional situation if it's at all possible. So, build the habit now!
Here’s to a week of seeking out and standing confidently in your own ideas! Oh - and don’t forget to ask that question… what do I want my life to look like?