The courage to grow

I’ve been finding Michelle Bennett’s recent posts on her blog very thought-provoking. She’s been extremely courageous in revealing her inner challenges as a student and a professional singer, and how these have led her to psychotherapy and inner work alongside her musical life. So often musicians, like any professionals, are extremely hesitant to reveal anything less than perfection. Yet, the reality is that we are all dealing with inner challenges every day. And, as Michelle says:

“There is no doubt that the process of facing one?s self is hugely difficult, especially if, like many artists, you have been hurt badly or are very sensitive. I would wager that most people will never do it because of the enormous effort required and pain of the task. It is an odyssey.”


I agree with Michelle. Ten years ago, I was obliged to give up my career as a successful professional pianist owing to an ongoing health challenge, and it has certainly been an odyssey, trying to come to terms with the loss of my ability to play the piano for more than 20-30 minutes. Many friends simply saw it as an opportunity to change career, and were not aware of the huge impact on my whole sense of identity. Playing the piano was not simply something I did as a career. It was part of the very substance of who I was– or so I thought. Disentangling the threads of vocation, personality, and sense of self took much hard work and courage over many years. And skilled assistance.

Michelle was lucky enough to find a good therapist. I also worked with one for a number of years and still have my prized mentors whom I can turn to. Sometimes therapy is definitely the best choice.

However, many of the ongoing themes in Michelle’s life are ones which every music student faces. For example: How do I deal with constant competition, rejection, anxiety, jealousy? Negative self-talk when I’m performing? I’m feeling so stressed out that I’m not sleeping…. I’m not even sure I want to be a professional musician any more. Or, I have a great career, but somehow I feel numb, disenchanted, disillusioned…I’m not sure what my goals are any more.

When I was coaching and advising students at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama in London, often these issues were so present and all-consuming that they were interfering with practice, auditions, exams, professional successes. Yet, many of the students didn’t feel comfortable, for a variety of reasons, with approaching and confiding in their principal study teachers.

I became so concerned about these students, and so inspired to pass on the principles I had been discovering in personal development work that I decided to take a Masters in Psychology. I felt that I needed coaching and counseling skills in addition to my musical ones, in order to truly be able to serve these sensitive and gifted people.

These days, my focus in my life coaching practice is to first of all provide a listening ear, a safe, non-judgmental place for musicians to be able to share their thoughts, feelings and experiences, and secondly a box of tools to assist clients in getting in touch with their deepest values, clarifying their goals, daring to dream, and developing new practices, thought patterns and behaviors which move them where they want to go. It is truly possible to change limiting beliefs, eliminate negative mind chatter, become more self-accepting.

So I’ve moved from being in a state of shock and grief over my ‘lost career’ to a place of experiencing a new and fulfilling one. And Michelle, by her own account, is happier and more focused and motivated than ever and well on her way to a successful career. Thanks, Michelle for inspiring us all!

2 Responses to “The courage to grow”

  1. As musicians, I would say we are often our own worst enemies; as music students, I would say the same is true.

    I’ve be teaching private lessons for well over a decade now, and I find that, in any given lesson, I often spend as much time talking with a student about what’s going on in his/her private life as I do listening to them play. Depending on the age of the student (child, teenager, college student, mid-life, etc), I find his/her concerns could be very different.

    Regardless, any emotional concerns get in the way of solid performance, so I keep a close eye on my students and try to create a very relaxed relationship within the teaching environment.

    Whatever my success rate may be actually teaching people to play an instrument is debatable, but students tend to stay with me for years. I think this is mostly because they enjoy the lesson time – perhaps even more than they enjoy music.

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