Last night as my student performed a terrific degree recital, she gave a speech in which she thanked her friends, her parents, her teachers, her mentors. It was beautiful. She mentioned me, very sweetly, and then blew my mind when she cited my upcoming resignation from her school as an inspiration. I had been feeling much more guilty than inspiring.
I am about three weeks out from graduating all of my private students away. I’m leaving one of my several adjunct teaching positions, and I am not going to be teaching weekly oboe lessons in my home anymore. My teaching time next year will be more than cut in half. I am reclaiming – no, claiming – some work-life balance.
It’s not, objectively, that huge a deal. Most of the students leaving me really are graduating from school and moving on. The actual number of young oboists I’m orphaning is only three, and I’ve directed them to other good teachers.
But at the same time, this decision feels ENORMOUS for me. I’m choosing to leave money on the table, I’m choosing to say no to something I love to do, and I’m choosing to add more white space to my days in the absence of real concrete plans – JUST because I can.
Who do I think I am? How dare I clear out space just so I can be with my daughter in the afternoons and not have to stress about how to get her to her activities and help with her homework? How dare I leave young oboists untaught just so I can enjoy a daytime nap and still get my reed business work done? Who gets to relax before their evening rehearsal and actually maybe cook dinner and eat calmly before leaving? Why do I think I’m special enough to have this life that I want?
I feel that I have never seen anyone consciously make a choice to work less, or work differently. We have a culture of hustle, and I’m surrounded by musicians working their tails off to be part of 21st century America. I’ve seen people win bigger jobs, or accept promotions and work more, but never really watched anyone choose to back away.
I probably should have stayed with my few students for the few more years it would take to get through high school. I love these kids. I’ve been working with them for years.
But this is the time. It’s clear to me that this is the time.
Recently I’ve looked at my life – at my messy, glorious conglomeration of jobs and people and activities and oboes – and I’ve realized that what it needs is more flexibility. I want to have the room to travel if I happen to be free on a given weekend. I want to be able to dig into a creative project when it strikes me, not the next day for 45 minutes between other things. I want to not be stressed about scheduling and rescheduling students into all of the nooks and crannies of a busy week. I want to have the time and space to see Zoe grow up. I want to use her school hours to focus on performing and on my reed business and on helping MORE people by way of reed classes, boot camps, and masterclasses. Having a million small appointments on my calendar all the time takes away from this. I am choosing to go a different way.
And I’m proud that this is a choice I can make, and that this is a choice I can show my students and my daughter. A 20-year old musician DOES have to hustle. A 30 year old freelancer is NOT necessarily free to opt out. But – and thirty-year-old me would NEVER have understood this – family IS important. Freedom IS important. Flexibility IS worth striving for. I’m not a person who embraces leisure – I’ll always be working (I’ll let you know about my new projects soon!) and inevitably there will be more students in my life at some later time. The right amount of teaching for me is not zero. But right now, this second, I can prioritize my growing child over a few students who do not need me as much as she does.
I love my life. I can do this. It scares me but I can do it.