Updated: Sep 2
2020 has been an extraordinary year for some, and an arduous one for others. I belong to the first group. It's given me incredible opportunities to rest, reflect, ruminate over my past - my present - my future, and also given me a chance to reconnect with loved ones. The four 'R's, as I like to call them. There's also a fifth one: re-skill, or re-educate. What's there to complain?
Sure, I've had plenty of concerts cancelled since the pandemic first took its toll on China, then the rest of Asia, thereafter Europe, then North America, and subsequently - South America. One by one, and in quick succession, orchestras everywhere from Beijing to Moscow to Barcelona and Colombia have called to express their sincerest apologies as they all unanimously triggered the 'force majeure' clause in contracts signed at least a year ago.
Far from experiencing feelings of anger or disappointment, I've relished a newfound freedom in not having to travel long distances to meet yet more jaded and disgruntled musicians who love to hate their work. In fact, I've been looking forward to one cancellation after another. Has this year been been a total waste? Not for me, it has taken me on so many personal journeys - more than I can remember. Above all, 2020 and the COVID Pandemic that will forever define this landmark year in modern human history has given me an excuse to discover new things - among them, a deep interest which I never knew I had in Personal Development. I attribute this former insouciance to a built-in distrust and dislike of authority, and authorities on the subject of personal development are often self-styled gurus who tell you all the things you want to hear - a veritable vomit of feelgood mantras - and then try to sell you on an overpriced and often ineffective product.
Sounds familiar? It does to me! That's what conductors do most of the time - some better than others, and some (though very few) actually are genuine musicians whose products at the front-end of the concert experience are equally mind-blowing. The latter are uncommon these days: what's more typical and widespread now are 'gurus' who sport a fake smile, tell you things you want to hear so you'll invite them back, and cannot distinguish a wrong note from a whole row of badly-played ones. Not that they're listening anyways. I digress. But what is Personal Development? There are numerous definitions to this niche, and most of them are correct. Far from being any category of spiritual mumbo-jumbo, Wikipedia deftly defines Personal Development as anything which "... covers activities that improve awareness and identity, develop talents and potential, build human capital and facilitate employability, enhance the quality of life and contribute to the realization of dreams and aspirations."
Having been stuck far too long in the rut of my musical career, COVID-enforced inactivity cornered me into realising that I lacked substantial growth in any of the above underlined activities. And I'd take a chance to also assert that many - if not most - classical musicians are in the same contemptible boat. If anything, this pandemic has exposed our enormous shortcomings and haplessness: with public money at a shortfall, how do we adapt? How do we face an uncertain future? How can concerts resume when current regulations effectively inhibit the act of 'live' concert-giving? Sadly, many of my colleagues choose to just hope and pray this new tide is over quickly so that things can go back to normal.
Things won't go back to normal. They shouldn't. Normal wasn't working.
If you're reading this, and profess similar feelings or grievances, then you'll be happy to know that I aim to take you along on a journey of self-discovery. Why not do it together? Good things always were meant to be shared. If at any point of my blog entry thus far you have found lots to disagree with, it is only because you are at a more advanced level of personal development than I am - and I invite you to share your experience so that I and others may learn.
There are five key areas of growth when one speaks of Personal Development:
Education, Spiritual, Physical, Emotional, and Social.
COVID is a great time to take a good look at any and all of these areas within ourselves - but it's necessary to remember that we should only compare ourselves with who we want to be, and not with others.
In addition, if you’re going to demand growth of yourself, then you'll need a reliable yet uncomplicated way to assess how you’re actually doing through all five of the key growth domains. Before I further explore various avenues related to the above five domains, here are some questions we should aim to habitually ask ourselves:
Do I explore a wide variety of topics/experiences outside my niche?
Do I regularly take time for self-care, meditation, prayer and/or mindfulness?
Can I define my guiding values and defend them to others?
Can others get an accurate sense of who I am, what I believe or what I need through what I do?
Do I accept my imperfections and offer myself grace?
Do I see difficulties or challenges as opportunities?
Am I meeting the standard recommendation for daily exercise?
Do I spend time outdoors?
Do I feel like I have good energy through the day?
Do I get the requisite number of hours of sleep each night?
Am I in a safe environment at home and at work?
Am I able to cope flexibly when I experience a challenging situation?
Do I express my thoughts, needs and ideas in appropriate ways?
Am I able to frame experiences in positive ways?
Do I let go of what’s bad for me and move away from what’s toxic?
Do I respond to criticism well?
Do I have relationships in many communities (e.g., race, location)?
Can I argue the opposing perspective to show I really understand?
Can I identify my biases, and do I strive to control them? (Many thanks to WANDA THIBODEAUX's excellent article for Inc.com)