I just completely a month-long lecture and performing tour. The first week was the heaviest, with two lectures I'd never given before and a residency with a major performance. After that, I had some down time over the weekend, but I had to complete a grant application that was due in the coming weeks. Yes, my body was stressed by travel and the upending of my routine, but I felt in charge of the situation.
The next leg of tour is where things went wrong. I had scheduled three lectures back-to-back at two different institutions on the same day I traveled to the area. Traveling to work is not ideal, I realized on this tour, but my critical mistake was not allowing time for dinner. By eight o-clock that evening, I was exhausted and starving, not an ideal situation for an already-stressed body.
The next couple of days were rough. I felt like I was barely hanging on, unable to anticipate problems or plan for the next gig. At some point, I made a decision to stop feeling badly about that and let go, let go of the internal pressure, let go of the need to feel in charge, let go of the need to manage potential problems. That meant I had to start trusting more.
I trusted the Universe and the people in it to keep me from harm, my car to not break down (and if it did, that I had structures in place to manage that), my colleagues and friends to be gracious and forgiving, and for all the preparation and planning I'd done ahead of time to be good enough. Essentially, I'd decided not only to live day-to-day, but minute-to-minute. The choice seemed clear: let go or break.
That's where the magic happened. I might not have felt physically or mentally at my best (far from it, actually), but I was more open to the experiences being placed in front of me, not the ones I had created or expected. (I'd had to let go of expectations as well.) I gave myself extra time to get to venues, not trusting my ability to navigate at this point, and got everywhere right on time. Nothing was perfect, but all was as it should be. Ultimately, I prioritized self-care over everything, not in a selfish or demanding way, but as a means for survival. I still had plenty of performing and lectures to do, but I discovered that me at 50% was still achieving the essentials. I noticed that my colleagues all had their own struggles, and that this semester was pretty rough for every musician. We all needed grace and compassion.
Most of that time is a blur now. I proved to myself that I could go on an extended tour, physically and mentally. My biggest takeaway was an ego-adjustment on my part. Most people outside of the lecture hall wanted to be heard, not hear from me. I had to remember how important it was to really listen to people (even when I'm not coaching!) without an agenda. I no longer needed to prove anything to myself. I was enough. Tour was overall really hard, but there were some absolutely brilliant moments which I will hold dear forever. (More on that later.)
My advice to you if you want it is to do the hard stuff. Stop thinking so much. Accept that you can't anticipate every problem or outcome and that that's the beauty of it. Let go and get out there! And then practice radical self-care. You are your biggest and best investment!
Dr. Nancy Williams is a musician, educator, and leadership coach who specializes in helping creatives overcome overwhelm and imposter syndrome to build an empowered and joyful life and career.