January 25, 2010

On the issue of self-esteem

Well, I'm home - the trip to New York was short and bittersweet (in on Tuesday, out on Thursday). It was a good trip in many ways, the most significant being that I was able to see my dear friend Philip Payton, with whom I played in the New World Symphony. Playing in the memorial service was quite an experience as well - profound, as it was my first time playing in such a service for a friend. Steven Hall and the organizers truly did a fantastic job putting this together and honoring the life of our friend Gilbert.

Needless to say, however, we all deal with loss in different ways, and I am finding myself not only feeling a profound sense of loss at times, but also looking at a much deeper personal issue, that being self-esteem. Oddly, this is stemming from a writeup that appeared in Blackbook Magazine about the memorial that was beautiful, humbling, and enlightening.

In his book The Seat of the Soul, Gary Zukav says that "when the energy of the soul is recognized, acknowledged, and valued, it begins to infuse the life of the personality. When the personality comes fully to serve the energy of its soul, that is authentic empowerment."

In a later chapter he speaks of the characteristics of a humble spirit and in relation to competition and self-worth: "If the something you aim for is prestige or notice or a gold medal instead of a tin metal, it is your personality that is motivating the competition....By striving for this award and that award you ask the world to assess and acknowledge your value before you value yourself. You put your sense of self-worth in the hands of others. You have no power even if you win every gold medal the world can produce."

Violinist Soovin Kim, whom I had the pleasure to meet and hear last year in New York, in a February 2006 interview speaks of his winning the Paganini Competition and how he made the adjustment. After winning, he had the great fortune to speak with Jamie Laredo, his teacher, who advised him not to enter the next competition. In the conversation that followed, Mr. Laredo gave Mr. Kim some very valuable advice about this life change: "He said that winning the competition would lead to some performances and, little by little, it's going to open up into your life and your career," Kim said. "And I walked out that door feeling a lot better."

Now how does this apply to me?

Well...in the write-up of Gilbert's memorial, Steve Lewis wrote that "After violinists Samuel Thompson and Philip Payton ferried us to a place of calm and beauty....". This came during a week of "the energy of my soul being recognized, acknowledged, and valued." Why do I find it strange that someone would write about my violin playing? Thinking about Mr. Kim's interview and many things that have been said about career building, I now wonder why we sometimes go from one thing to the next, always striving for "something better", to "win", to "be the best" and be recognized. Are our motivations always in the right place?

I do, however, know that my motivation for playing the Rozsa sonata at this memorial was not for recognition - so yes, it is refreshing to know that my intentions were in the right place and this commentary, for which I am grateful, was simply a reward not sought for. Nevertheless, I'm finding myself now in a place of self-examination, looking back at the many times that I have, like many, bulldozed ahead, going from one thing to the other without being sure of my motivations.

All of this is not to say that we should not strive, work hard, and test ourselves - the question, however, is simply this: Where is the line between enjoying the work and the craft and launching into a seemingly endless quest for outside validation?


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