Soundfly

Home for the Curious Musician

In Celebration of Small Victories

The following post is part of our new column, Poorly-Guarded Secrets from the Soundfly Mentors’ Guide. Written by mentor and VP of Learning & Curriculum Development Mahea Lee, this series is intended to assist, inspire, and offer a peek into the types of discussions we have behind-the-scenes here at Soundfly. 

Raise your hand if you’ve felt a little exhausted and existential lately.

I’ll assume none of you actually raised your hands, but I’m sure many of you felt the notion resonate. Some of you are now thinking “0 for 2,” while others are stunned by how much I suddenly seem to get you.

On some level, maybe I do get you. I might have a sense of who you are, what you’re dealing with, and how you’re dealing with it. But try as I might, I will never be able to fully understand you. In fact, though I’m likely the world’s foremost expert on the topic, I won’t ever fully understand me either.

For each of us, the answer to the question “who are you?” is vast and ever-expanding. The extent of “who you are” has no limits. Every moment of your existence buzzes with unfathomable potential.

In a single day, you make hundreds of decisions. You decide where to sit and when to stand. You pick what to eat and which twenty-second song to hum while washing your hands. You choose to stretch your arms or crack your knuckles, drag your heels or tip toe, hang your shirts or fold them.

… And that’s just the easy stuff. No wonder you’re exhausted. You’re capable of just about anything, but that doesn’t mean you’re obligated to do everything.

Don’t Let Regret Keep You Up at Night

We’re constantly creating gigantic goals for ourselves. We develop extraordinary ambitions, decide there’s no reason they won’t work out, and then doubt the value of any day that passes without reaching some sort of massive milestone. Then, we lay in bed at night, frustrated and confused:

If I didn’t have the time, I should have made it.

If I couldn’t find the energy, I don’t have what it takes.

If I forgot to do it, it must not matter to me.

It’s okay if you sometimes have those thoughts. I do too. In fact, I write many of these messages knowing full-well how much hypocrisy I’m weaving into my words.

It happens when working with students too. My advice is often riddled with “take this with a grain of salt” or “do as I say, not as I do.” I help them troubleshoot their practice sessions, while my own instruments collect dust.

Then, I lay awake at night, frustrated that my technique has decayed, that it’s been years since I wrote an orchestral piece, that I’ve been sitting on a finished EP with no plans to release it. I wonder where I went wrong, what I’m afraid of, or why I stopped caring. I assume something did go wrong, that I’m afraid, and that I stopped caring.

In those moments, my self-perception changes. I weigh my worth against the things I didn’t do, rather than considering the progress I’ve made in other areas of my life.

We tend to base our value on exterior forms of validation or how we stack up against someone else’s metrics of success. We’re often unpracticed when it comes to acknowledging our own worth. Maybe we’re afraid it could lead to complacency or that we’ll start to blur the line between confidence and arrogance.

Whatever the reason, instead of drifting off to sleep while happily counting the hundreds of decisions made and victories earned that day, we lay awake, disappointed that we didn’t slay a giant.

Acknowledge Progress (Even When It’s Hard to Spot)

Even on the days when your biggest goals go untouched, you accomplish countless other things. At times, you may feel stuck, but you are never stagnant. Besides, “forward” isn’t always a clear direction, and some of your tiny achievements may have an impact on larger things you thought you ignored.

This week, I ask that you give yourself and your students permission to celebrate small victories.

Your student only finished part of the assignment. So what? Make sure they see what they did accomplish.

Point out the progress they made in spite of something being incomplete.

And when they recognize the work they did and feel validated by your words, acknowledge the fact that you made that happen. Then, brag about it to me so I can celebrate that because of this message, in some small way, I might just have helped you make that happen.

Ready for a coaching session of your own?

Soundfly’s community of mentors can help you set the right goals, pave the right path toward success, and stick to schedules and routines that you develop together, so you improve every step of the way. Tell us what you’re working on, and we’ll find the right mentor for you! 

Sign up here for Soundfly’s weekly newsletter.

Mahea Lee

Mahea Lee is a classically trained pianist and composer who has a degree from a jazz school and leads an electro-pop band. Her greatest musical passion is lyrical songwriting, but she's been known to write the occasional fugue. She graduated from Berklee College of Music, where she majored in Contemporary Writing and Production and minored in Music Theory. For more Mahea, check out Soundlfly's course, The Improviser's Toolkit.