This is Part Seven (Mental Health) in a seven-part series that addresses the essential pieces a classical guitarist needs in place in order to build the business side of a music career.
Many would be surprised that I have listed Mental Health as an essential element in building the business side of your music career. I have included Mental Health because YOU are your music business. If you do not take care of you, you have no business and no career. In many respects, your mental health is the foundation for all the other pieces of your music business you need to have in place. In fact, the inclusion of mental health as a major component of your music business is kind of a no-brainer (sorry, I couldn’t resist).
British classical pianist, Stephen Hough wrote that “psychological problems probably account for the vast majority of difficulties or discouragements for a musician at every stage of their careers.” In other words, it is important to learn how to maintain your own mental health and know where and when to seek professional help when life gets a bit tough to deal with on your own.
I doubt the following list is exhaustive but it would be a good starting place. Remember, if your mind is right, your music business will be on solid ground and consequently your career will not only genuinely reflect you and your values and truths, it will be the source of a deeply satisfying and purposeful career.
Knowing how to take care of your own mental health—and who to reach out to when you need help—is one of the most important things you need to know in preparing for a career in music.
✅ You are aware of your mental health and how to maintain it
HelpGuide.org posted a great article on what mental health is and how to boost it. The authors present eight qualities or characteristics that demonstrate good mental health:
There are probably many definitions and understandings of what good mental health is. Regardless of your perspective, your mental health ought to be as important to you as your music.
✅ You know the symptoms of poor mental health BEFORE they happen.
Knowing the early signs that your mental health may be in decline is important because early intervention is better than trying to deal with the aftermath of a crash. The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) has a fairly extensive list of the warning signs and symptoms that should prompt you to pay attention, and seek help in addressing those challenges (https://www.nami.org/About-Mental-Illness/Warning-Signs-and-Symptoms). By knowing these signs, you can learn how to turn a challenging time in your life into something positive before it becomes a negative.
✅ You have a support system you can lean on and willing to seek help when you need it
Community is everything. You don’t need to have a large circle of friends or colleagues (if you do, that’s great!) but you do need to have one or two individuals in your life that you can talk to. Moreover, knowing when and where you can access professional help means you can get an accurate diagnosis and learn strategies that will enable you to handle what is troubling you BEFORE things become debilitating.
It is also good to be there for others when they need a shoulder to lean on and a pair of ears that just listen. That said, I should also point out that friends—as critical as they are—are not professional therapists. It is good to have colleagues that we can talk to—or be that person that someone can confide in—but there comes a point when seeking professional help will be the best decision you can ever make.
✅ You maintain healthy relationships in professional circles and in your personal life (friends, family, and significant other)
You will spend a good portion of your career working with people you hardly know. It isn’t always that easy but it is a skill that is critical in this industry. Being respectful of others, clear communication, knowing how to listen, showing empathy and understanding are all important skills to have when working with others. If you inflict harm on those professional relationships, you career will come to a screeching halt.
Similarly, your relationship with your significant other is probably the most important one in your life: don’t abuse or neglect that connection. Likewise, family and friends are the supporters who have helped us along the way. Remember, if you stand tall, it is because you are standing on the shoulders of others. None of us have done it alone.
✅ Able to prioritize your physical health
Your physical health impacts your mental health. Fitness and exercise can improve your performance in all areas of your life, including your music. Just like playing the guitar, you can’t just play and expect to be fit to play. There are technical exercises and studies that can boost your performance. Similarly, your physical fitness will impact not just your musical activities but also your overall quality of life.
✅ You have and maintain interests outside of music
If music is an expression of life, you need to have a life outside of music. The connections that you make between your outside interests and your music makes your musical activities richer and more satisfying. It is also vital to keep learning and remain curious. It is the desire to explore and experiment that gives our music business new energy and enthusiasm.
✅ Able to schedule enough time for yourself to get things done
When I was a student, I scheduled every minute of every hour. As you have probably already guessed, that didn’t last long. It just wasn’t physically or mentally possible to work 20 hour days and function on four hours sleep for any stretch of time. And when I couldn’t complete a task in the allotted time, my whole routine was thrown out the window.
Giving yourself enough time to get things done regulates your mood, decreases self-inflicted stress and anxiety, boosts concentration and focus, and gives us the strength, patience, and persistence to handle life’s ups and downs.
So, there you have it. Each of the six areas are inter-related and neglecting one area can really undermine your growth as an artist and as a business. If you are feeling overwhelmed by all that you need to be doing, pick one thing and just get it done. If picking the easiest thing to do helps build some momentum and inspires you to tackle that next thing on your list, go for it. Or, if there is something on your “to do” list that scares you and you are avoiding it, that might be a good indication that you should tackle that task first. The point is, it doesn’t matter where you start or what you start working on first, just start taking purposeful action.
Oh, and don’t expect to complete everything on your “to do” list in a week. It will take you a bit of time. Some things can be done fairly quickly while other things will take a bit more time and effort. Remember, give yourself enough time to do the tasks well and don’t put on unreasonable expectations on yourself.
Don’t be surprised if you have to revisit a task more than once in future years. As your career grows and evolves and your business begins to take off, you will need to update or upgrade some items. You never really arrive so don’t sweat it.
And finally, if you need or want some guidance in getting these things done, don’t hesitate to contact me. That’s why I’m here.
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Classical Guitar Career Masterclass 2021