The View from the Other Side

It’s hard to be the regular person.  

We fear change.  From an evolutionary standpoint, we’ve inherited the notion that change opens the door to the unknown and thus is synonymous with danger.  At the starting point, we long for the moment when the new normal becomes comfortable—when we know what to expect and have faith that we can fully deliver what is expected of us.  We long to be the regular person.  

It’s hard to be the regular person.  

As time passes, the technical challenges we deal with on the daily become easier to navigate.  With more experience comes more tools at our disposal to put out the proverbial fires.  We feel thankful that we are seemingly over the hump, that we’ve been able to settle into our new routine.  For a moment, it feels as if this feeling will continue indefinitely…that nothing stands in our way.  Comfort sets in.

It’s hard to be the regular person. 

After a critical point, the collective comfort starts to destabilize for any number of reasons.  Either the physical, mental, or emotional demands of the new normal wear us out over time; or as the technical problems diminish in difficulty, our minds create their own problems to occupy our time instead; or collectively we settle so much into our routines that our jobs become peripheral.

It’s hard to be the regular person.

As soon as we feel comfortable, the everyday things lose their immediacy.  We long for vacation—either in the literal sense of us going individually or the figurative sense of just longing for something different than what we already have.  I used to always think being the sub was infinitely harder than being the regular person, but it’s really just a different race altogether: being a sub is a sprint while being the regular person is a marathon.  The biggest difference?  I would argue that a sub is a welcome, albeit temporary, change to a system—a departure from the ordinary, a vacation from the normal.  The regulars are predisposed to welcome a sub with open arms.  

It’s hard to be the regular person.

There comes a point where you just stop trying or caring about what everyone else thinks.  In the beginning, you’re focused on doing a good job and trying to compound on what is being put out by others…but with added comfort comes the ebbing of extrinsic motivation.

It’s hard to be the regular person.

Two years ago, I walked into a rehearsal in Seattle with 10 other bandmates whom I had never met.  Save for a couple audition tapes, I was an untested professional musician thrust into a leadership role—but this was definitely not the first time I had gotten an amazing opportunity that led me to question my qualifications.  Now that I reflect on my relatively short transition from student to professional, I realize that one particular experience informed my preparation and approach more than any other.

Years ago, a 17-year-old me spent a summer at a prestigious music festival and was placed in a string quintet with a bunch of name-brand conservatory students.  It was quite a stretch for me, and though I tried my best to deliver as violin 1 I was out of my league.  Needless to say, this placement didn’t last more than a week before I found myself in another, more “suitable” group.  

This quick leap and fall from grace made me wary in each subsequent scenario that felt similar, and landing Hamilton fit that bill perfectly.  So, in my months leading up to the first rehearsal, in my countless hours of preparation, in the wee hours of the morning before I fell asleep, and in the final days as I tried to find inner peace with the looming unknown in front of me, my mantra was simple: DON’T SCREW UP.  I even wrote a blog about this at the time “Be Prepared.”  And while I feel like I did very well individually in rehearsals (and subsequently in shows), I was not actively thinking like a section leader—I was satisfied with “leading by example” and being as solid as possible for our quartet while patiently waiting to see what specific things I could do as concertmaster to be most helpful.  

It’s hard to be the regular person.

I recognize now that in the beginning I was so inwardly consumed with my own part that I was hardly listening beyond.  Fortunately for me, I was working with some incredible players that all had experience playing shows and touring, we somehow gelled as a quartet from day one, and we all hit it off super well socially.  I cannot stress enough how fortunate I was to work with this particular group: if anything negative had come up in rehearsals or the first month of shows, I probably would have been ill-equipped to handle the situation adequately as a leader.  But this quartet and band bought me time to truly learn on the job…And for a moment, it was easy to be the regular person.

But it’s hard to be the regular person.

I have learned so much in my time on tour about myself, about how to succeed as a professional musician, and about how to be a good leader.  But the most important lesson that I’m still experimenting with is how to lead with calm, expertise, and confidence regardless of the circumstances: ideal or not.  It’s a careful balance of inspiring intrinsic motivation to go the extra mile in every facet; having a fully-formed concept of how things should be while remaining open to (and in some cases pushing) individual creativity; building a predictable and genuine workplace environment where feedback is regular and expected; being a positive influence on the group, even when issues arise at work or at home; and, above all else, being present with the group and getting my eyes and ears outside of my individual part.  THIS is where my inexperience reared its head in the beginning, and now, two years later, this is the part that I wish I could go back and change—who knows how those changes would have propagated after two years with the same group…

It’s hard to be the regular person.

So, just celebrating our two year anniversary of the Philip Tour and being over 800 shows in, we find ourselves in Toronto, Ontario for fourteen weeks with a quartet of local musicians.  It is a new beginning in many ways—a chance to try again from scratch while being informed by the experiences I’ve had the last two years.  From the rehearsal process to the first week of shows, I’ve made a conscious effort to focus outward and to be mindful of the group rather than being consumed by my individual part and trying to impress.  It’s not the same as “not caring” about my part, rather it is realizing (and hoping) that elevating the group does much more for the whole than focusing on elevating myself.  It’s this small, fundamental change in perspective that I believe will serve myself, the group, and the whole well for our long time here.  And from this experience I’ll be able to further refine my approach for our extended time in Washington, DC later this year with a fresh quartet of local musicians.

Gratitude

Sit back comfortably in your chair and close your eyes.

Turn your attention to your breathing.

As you inhale, imagine the air filling up your heart; exhale and feel the static tension leave your body.

After a few breaths focusing on your heart, turn your attention to your emotional state.

I want you to feel gratitude.

Meditate on what that emotion feels like, or a time in your life that you felt it strongly.

If you had to graph it on a chart, where would it show up?

If you find yourself drifting down a tangent, bring yourself back to center—back to your breathing.

Then, try again.


I’ve been seeing a Life Coach since May.  The above is an excerpt from one of our first sessions, back when she was beginning to teach me the art of emotional regulation.  We had previously done this same exercise, but we focused on the emotion of love—one that comes far more naturally to me for some reason.  How do I know this?  Because the point of these meditations is not to feel these emotions; rather, it is to regulate your heart and breathing, to refill your emotional energy tank, and to regain control of the internal things you can control while simultaneously disposing your worry for the external things you cannot control—and when it came to meditating on gratitude, I could not achieve this as I could with love.  Much to my dismay, I honestly struggled to pinpoint what gratitude felt like in this moment…

It’s easy to feel thankful for anything in the first mile—a new opportunity, a new job, a new relationship.  As long as something feels fresh, gratitude effortlessly flows from within.  But over time, the spring dries up and what was once fresh and exciting becomes the new normal, a progression seemingly written into the laws of nature.  Every time we go into something new saying “this time will be different,” and invariably we find ourselves weeks, months, or years later fantasizing about our next move and how fresh it will feel in comparison.  

So what changes?  

When something is new there is no expectation attached to it, save for our desire to feel like what we’re doing now is different than what we were doing before.  

After two years on the road and moving to a new city every couple weeks, I’ve been through an endless cycle of boom and bust within each stop along the way as the newness of each city is exchanged for (usually) a desire to get as far away as possible by the end.  These smaller cycles have also seen an overarching battle between the romanticism of exploration and the stresses of constant motion—with only a matter of time until the latter wins the war.  

So is this progression universal law in the same way that we’re slave to gravity and the spontaneous pull from order to disorder?  Is there an antidote to the “comfortable” phase?  Some argue that it’s simply to keep searching for something that makes what you’re already doing feel fresh again: to spice it up, to fall back in love, to get creative.  I think it’s more fundamental than that…

Simply, don’t lose your gratitude for what you already have.  

Don’t forget about the opportunities that have been bestowed upon you, the people that have been placed along the way, and the things that make you who you are.  Instead of fantasizing incessantly on where you used to be or where you want to be, use the past as a means to refresh your gratitude and excitement to how you felt when you began, and use the future to reframe your trajectory—ever grateful for this rung in the ladder.  It’s easy to make an impulse decision to pursue something else in the name of a fading flame, but without gratitude you will be slave to the same boom and bust cycles as before.  

Let us never lose sight of our gratitude.  For when we let the comfortable phase in, expectations come in too.  Like a revolving door: as gratitude leaves, entitlement comes in to fill the negative space.  Gratitude is the antidote to the comfortable, to the normal, to the monotony.  It is the spice that keeps everything fresh, the lens that brings clarity to the haze of going through the motions, and the oil that feeds the eternal flame of passion.  

Static Friction

Why is New Years always such a let down to so many people, myself included?  Maybe it’s because we couldn’t spend the day with the people we loved the most, or perhaps as we think about our hopes for the coming year we are constantly reminded of our shortcomings and missed goals from last one.  While I had some big aspirations for this year (and made some serious headway achieving those things), 2019 was largely a year of building foundations and finding the groove.  Already a year into touring with Hamilton, I felt that I was still very much learning how to fully function in a constantly changing environment.  

When I look back on my year, there is a clear divide between the goals I concretely pursued and the ones that largely fell by the wayside—a story of a hidden force.  I don’t remember much from High School Physics, but after learning about Newton’s Laws of Motion in an idealized, abstract world, you’re introduced to one of the “catch-all” forces that brings them into real life: Friction.  The interesting thing about Friction is that there are two types, Static Friction and Kinetic Friction, and while both resist motion, Static Friction is always greater than Kinetic Friction.  Simply, It takes more force to move a stationary object than it does to keep one moving, and this parallel is visible in everything from the process of developing good habits to the reason (I think) why big cities overflow with productive energy when compared to small towns.  

In 2019, I lived in 16 different cities for mostly three week stints, played just shy of 400 shows, reconnected with many friends along the way and lost a very dear one…and I only wrote three times.  Amidst the rollercoaster of emotions and myriad of experiences from this year, I found it extremely difficult to both set aside time for writing as well as collect my thoughts and channel them into something cohesive and meaningful.  And it shows: while I am an introverted person, I’ve found myself dipping into becoming even more of a hermit with very little to say—and the static friction persists.  

How does it manifest?  

For me, it involves an endless cycle of idealizing how things should play out, putting on the persona of having everything together and contributing only when I’m 100% sure of things, finding myself frustrated and flustered when things don’t crystallize physically as they do mentally, and then going back to the drawing board to try again with the weight of past shortcomings ever present in my mind.  

And how to overcome it?  

Overcoming this, however, is simple in theory: I merely need to ditch the persona of having everything together—this opens the door for things to play out differently and for me to remain flexible instead of triggering my perfectionist mindset.  

Why is it then so hard to do this?  

Sunk Costs.  After years of being raised in an environment that rewards and accredits those that have the answers and ignores those that don’t, I’ve subconsciously accepted this mindset as I’ve transitioned to the professional world—and with those years living by this philosophy comes the inevitable sunk costs of admitting it is flawed and starting over.  But it is necessary—and now, six paragraphs later, I realize that change is the only way to break through the static. 

So what is my New Years Resolution for 2020?  Simple: to overcome Static Friction.  To Reset in order to recognize the hurdles I’ve built.  To Reframe the narrative in order to eliminate the force keeping me stationary.  And then, to try again.  

Reset. Reframe. Retry. 

Happy 2020.

What Is Success?

Success does not require formal training.

Success does not equate to following the rules.

Success is not measured by recognition.

But this does not mean success is easy to achieve.

The problem with success is that we let others define what it means.  

We grow up constantly being compared to our classmates, our friends, and our family.

We watch as those who exhibit the most skill within the confines of any “test” are recognized.

We learn to aspire to the spotlight and to fear leaving without a legacy.

We are taught to blend in when the only sensible route for differentiation is to stand out.

We are rewarded for playing it safe only to learn later in life that those “rules” don’t matter.

This leaves us feeling betrayed by a system into which we put so much energy and trust.

But education is designed to teach us how to succeed in educational systems—it is self-serving.

And to let it (or anyone else) define what “success” means is silly.

This does not mean to disregard ideas from your trusted teachers, friends, and family.

This does not mean to do whatever you want, whenever you want.  

This does not mean to blindly follow your own path.

After all, success absolutely requires you to work hard—as hard as you possibly can.

Because achieving success is very difficult.

And the odds are not in your favor…But not for the reasons you might think…

You see, the reason success is scarce is because we get hung up on everything above.

We spend a lifetime of blood, sweat, and tears chasing after something that will not fulfill us.

Clawing for recognition at all costs, and silently pained when it comes to others over us.  

Because we are rarely taught the truth:

Success in a career is simply earning a living doing something you love.  

Remember that: what YOU love, not what someone else defines as “successful.”

And while we’re at it, let’s discard the myth that more money or fame equals more success.

Doing the thing is hard enough, and it is worth celebrating when you get there.

Any recognition that comes along with it is simply a bonus, but it is not required or guaranteed.

And if you do happen to earn that living doing what you love, don’t stop there…

For success is not a static entity—you must constantly improve and differentiate yourself.

And you must reevaluate if the living you are earning is sufficient both for today and for tomorrow.

Take faith in yourself and the race you are running.

And don’t trouble your mind comparing yourself to others—instead learn from them along the way.

Appreciate their struggle and celebrate in their success as you would want them to celebrate in yours.  

Let’s redefine what it means to be successful in any career, one person at a time.

20 Things I’ve Learned on Tour

Reflections on 1 year on tour with Hamilton

 20 things I learned about work, life, and myself.

  1. It is absolutely vital for your well-being and happiness to have friends at work.
  2. If it feels scary, then it’s probably the right thing.  
  3. Walkable cities with reliable and diverse public transportation systems are the best.
  4. Getting to watch shows instead of playing in them is a blessing.  
  5. When your environment is constantly changing and you strip away the people and things that make you feel “home,” then you begin to discover who you truly are and what you truly want. 
  6. Even introverts have a limit to how much time they can spend alone.  
  7. Four weeks in Vegas is too much.
  8. Sprinting is based on talent, Distance Running is based on character.  
  9. AirBnBs are better than Hotels.
  10. The people around you are incredible resources-listen to them, learn from them, and collaborate with them.  
  11. There’s nothing wrong with doing nothing on a day off. 
  12. If you don’t practice, you won’t get any better.  
  13. Never forget to take care of yourself, because no one else will.
  14. Vacations are just as much for you as they are for your coworkers. 
  15. Hold on tight to the people that know the real you and love you all the more for it.  
  16. If you aren’t a voice to make things better, then you are inviting complacency.  
  17. Nothing beats a home-cooked meal and sleeping in your own bed.  
  18. Despite the day to day ups and downs of life, make every effort to enjoy the ride-because you never know when it will end.  
  19. “You can’t go back and change the beginning, but you can start where you are and change the ending.” -C. S. Lewis
  20. Give 100% of yourself to everything you do, otherwise you are wasting both yours and everyone else’s time.  

P.S. I love my job, and I love you guys.

I’m Thankful…

For my Parents

For their authoritative yet understanding demeanor; for their unyielding support of my passions; for knowing when to save me and when to let me fall; for encouraging me to be myself; for always making time for me and always being there when I perform; for demonstrating the power of actions over words; for teaching me how to lead by example.

For my Brothers 

For picking up where my Parents left off; for teaching me how to be cool; for showing me how it feels to be accepted for who I am; for the never ending advice and encouragement at a moment’s notice; for sharing with me: time, energy, experiences, love.

For my Family

For always giving me love, no matter how much or little we see each other…even if we barely know each other; for always showing genuine interest in my life; for welcoming me with open arms; for being patient with me as I learn what it means to love unconditionally, as I grow older and understand the true value of family.

For my Friends

For accepting me for who I am and how I am: at my best and at my worst; for giving me their time and energy; for being inclusive; for being honest, even when it’s hard; for being equally supportive in my successes and failures; for teaching me what it means to be a good friend.

For my Teachers

For having the courage to teach me how to teach myself; for being patient when I don’t understand or work hard enough; for teaching me to love the journey more than the destination; for pulling me off the floor after failure and pulling my head out of the clouds after success; for showing me that there is always more to learn.

For my Job

For giving me the opportunity to perform for so many people; for teaching me consistency; for showing me just how amazing work can be; for allowing me to do what I love every day; for connecting me to people that teach me and push me to be better; for proving to me that I can do it.

For Music

For giving me a language far more expressive and personal than words; for being the soundtrack to my life; for comforting me in hard times and exciting me in happy ones; for bringing people together; for providing an artistic channel in which to process raw emotion into something more; for giving a voice to my creative energy.

For the Naysayers

For pushing me to realize my full potential; for helping me to understand what I truly want in life; for teaching me that I cannot please everyone; for keeping me unsatisfied, ever reaching higher.

Position is Key

There is a disconnect between the short term and the long term: we live day to day with different moods, roadblocks, and routines, yet our minds dream big with distant goals pushing us forward and giving us a reason to applaud or admonish ourselves each day.  How can we overcome unpredictability of the short term in order to realize our dreams in the long term?

I watched a video the other day on the Galton Board and was taken by the random, unpredictable paths of the balls producing the same predictable shape every time (in order to understand how it works, you only need to watch up to 2:30 on the video).  While it is practically impossible to predict the path of any one of the balls, bounces to the left and bounces to the right are equally likely-so most of them will fall directly below where they start.

This experimentally proven result is a metaphor for the seemingly random journey to achieving our goals.  While it is easy to obsess over each day hoping for a favorable bounce, it is far more beneficial to put time and effort into positioning ourselves to accomplish what we want and letting the inconsistencies and randomness of the day to day work themselves out in the long run.  Instead of worrying about what we cannot control, we should instead have faith that there are many possible paths to realize our goals (often paths we are consciously unaware of), despite any day to day setbacks we may encounter.

I did not have a clear path to success when I moved to New York last October, just some skills, some connections, and an audition.  While I still cannot fully comprehend how quickly things fell into place to lead me to Hamilton, I firmly believe moving to The City, taking every opportunity I could throughout my life to build a unique skill set, and making friends along the way put me in the position directly above where I wanted to be.  Even if things had not worked out, chances are I would have landed close to where I wanted to be, on a similar path to realizing my personal goals.

The next time you have a rough day and your personal frustration is building, I challenge you instead to take a moment, reaffirm what your long term goal is, and ask yourself “am I in the best possible position within my control to achieve this?” If the answer is no, then adjust your position accordingly to increase your odds; and if the answer is yes, take a deep breath and do not worry about setbacks of today knowing that the odds are in your favor.