I've been thinking a lot about one of the principal tenets of Alexander Technique - doing less. I came to Germany thinking I was going to do a lot - start teaching again, network and find opportunities to perform, make new recordings, follow through on abandoned project ideas... and then the pandemic hit. On top of language barriers and not knowing a lot of people, suddenly everything just felt HARD. In the spring of 2020, when job opportunities vanished and I suddenly found myself with an endless horizon of unstructured time, I did what many people did - I scrambled to make an ambitious list of things I could (and internally felt that I should) now accomplish:
-Record an album
-Get to C1 in German
-Start doing virtual concerts
-Redo my website (which would naturally include new headshots, a revised biography, and new recordings)
-Finish my Alexander Technique certification
-Compile a teaching “resources” page (complete with homemade worksheets and tutorial videos)
-Cook everything in the new Ottolenghi cookbook, “Flavour”
-Do yoga every day
-Launch a Patreon for a new artistic project with a monthly newsletter
After a few weeks of desperately trying to do way too many things at once and feeling like a failure for not knowing more about video editing and not spending an hour on German every day, reality set in: the barrage of terrible news, combined with distance from loved ones and uncertainty about the future, made me feel exhausted all the time. My motivation was sporadic at best and would fizzle every time I saw an article about the economic devastation to the arts industry or calculated how much longer it would be before I saw my partner again. I finally realized, during an extended break from social media, that seeing everyone else’s virtual concerts, albums, new projects, etc etc etc, made it impossible for me to appreciate my own work. I was happy for my colleagues who were finding ways to be creative and forging a path in an otherwise precarious time, but I couldn’t help comparing everyone else’s productivity to my own. I was eating well, practicing yoga regularly, staying connected with loved ones, reading, and sometimes even practicing flute simply because I wanted to - all valuable accomplishments in their own right! But it didn’t feel like enough. I wondered how long it would take for me to feel “normal” again - in other words, to be as productive and inspired as everyone else seemed to be.
Over time, I realized that instead of unattainable and unrealistic goals that made me feel bad, I needed to take a more compassionate approach. I reread F.M. Alexander’s “Use of the Self,” and began to ask a new question: How can I make things easier for myself?
This question shifted my perspective entirely. Suddenly, my ambitions fell into new categories:
Goals I already have the skills to accomplish
Goals I feel excited about and a) already have the skills to accomplish or b) can readily acquire the necessary skills
Goals that I either feel exhausted thinking about and/or that require skill-sets I don’t currently have (and in some cases, also don’t even want to learn)
These categories made it easy for me to be honest with myself about how I was actually going to spend my time (writing a book). It also relieved my guilt about things that simply weren’t going to happen (recording an album). Letting go of my unrealistic expectations and pressures allowed me to pursue the low hanging fruit that gave me a sense of accomplishment, which in turn renewed my motivation. Many days, I found that simply getting started was enough to inspire me to keep working and exceed the expectations I’d set for myself. Keeping the bar low turned out to be critical for re-establishing habits.
I don’t have a miracle cure or a “hack” to restore your productivity, and I know that I am incredibly privileged to have said, “You know, this just isn’t going to get done today,” as many times as I did. But I also know that motivation and self-worth are cyclical. "Work begets work," and all that. The key to moving forward is as simple as putting one foot in front of the other. It’s not always glamorous or rewarding or productive in the ways you think it will be, nor do you always know where the path will lead, but it’s easy, which is sometimes all that matters.