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The Value of Less

We’re living in a society which constantly wants more from us. Each day, we are able to see everyone living their best lives through social media. We see people practicing, taking vacations, celebrating their wins, etc. But so much of what we don’t see isn’t a highlight. When people can choose how the world sees them it’s only natural we are inclined to share moments we are at our best; when things are going right; when, seemingly, we are unstoppable.

I’ve been venturing down several different paths lately. I’ve been looking into writing, teaching, performing, recital/recording planning, guest engagements, cooking ventures, running, tennis, my summer trombone seminar - the Santa Fe Trombone Summit -, social media posts, etc. I’ve been focussing my mind on many different categories. But is my mind really “focussed” or is it too scattered?

I’m a person who dreams big. From early on, my career dream was to play in the Boston, Chicago, or San Francisco Symphonies. I listened to recordings of these orchestras under Solti, Boulez, Haitink, Bloomstedt, Tilson Thomas, Ozawa, and the list goes on. I dreamt to play in ensembles like these some day and to make music at this caliber; I dreamt to tour the world while doing what I love for a living; I dreamt to perform at the highest level imaginable.

But it’s not only a major symphonic orchestra job I’ve dreamed of. Along the way, I’ve seen different paths open up that pertain to a career as a musician. I’ve seen much joy in teaching and working with others, helping them find and discover their voices and go after their dreams. I’ve seen co-founding a trombone seminar so that others could benefit even more by getting to work together. I’ve seen running an Instagram page now for some time where I try to be transparent with my process - showing that it’s not all sunshine and rainbows in the practice room. I’ve performed recitals, given masterclasses, won 2 jobs, played with top orchestras, and even toured, yet I find myself lost and not as happy as I thought I would be. It makes me wonder if doing more is really the secret to happiness or if that lies somewhere else.

I recently discovered a YouTube channel by Matt D’Avella. A documentary film-maker, his videos focus on productivity, minimalism, and self-awareness. I’ve found several of his videos have made me take a step back and ask myself what I really care about in my life; what it is which I truly value.

Well, to be entirely transparent, that’s part of the reason I’m writing what you’re currently reading - to figure this question out: What is it which I truly value in my life?

Our society is always marketing us consumable items, constantly feeding us the subliminal message of “what you have isn’t the best, anymore.” In a fast-paced world, we’re used to feeling behind if we don’t have the latest iPhone, left out if we’re not always out and about, and invisible if we aren’t on social media. It seems many of us live more of our lives behind a screen (hey, “Black Mirror”) cultivating an image of ourselves for our followers to see more than we are concerned with living our real lives unencumbered by the presence of making our next viral dance video on TikTok.

So much of this is unhealthy. While I love that social media has the power and potential to bring us all closer and keep us in contact with one another - especially through the pandemic we have just endured - I’ve found myself mindlessly scrolling several times to the point Instagram says “You’re all Caught Up.” I feel a mix of sadness and disgust. Sadness because there’s no more content to fill my brain’s desire for dopamine and disgust because it’s clear how much of an addiction social media is. Disgust because I know I could be doing things with my life rather than being behind a screen (ironic that I say that as I type this on my computer) yet I stay glued to the screen.

This is all funny because I’m a relatively quiet person - one who prefers their time alone at home with a book to their time spent going out and socializing. So why is it that there is so much time spent on social media? Perhaps it has to do with the title of this blog. That is, societal cues, metrics, advertisements, and algorithms have discovered what we like and have latched on to constantly feeding us what we want to see.

I like the animal pages on Instagram. Silly cats and kind elephants definitely make me happy and their algorithm and tracking data have clearly figured that out. Think about it this way: if you really liked cheeseburgers and were slowly but steadily given an increase of cheeseburgers each day because someone knew it made you happy, what would happen to you? Unless you have an incredible metabolism, you’d likely become obese but your brain would be happy because of the dopamine. Yet, the more we have the harder it becomes to be happy. That dopamine kick weakens because our brains become used to it and the more we need to feel the same amount of happy. It’s the same with cheeseburgers as it is with social media.

Now, why do I go off on a social media tangent when I started a blog wanting to talk about the value of less? Because I feel it’s social media that has affected and impacted the way we value not only what we like but how we value ourselves.

We can choose to follow anyone we like. We can choose to be a part of anyone’s lives we wish because of the luxury of social media. I follow accounts from silly cats to watches to fashion to trombonists to friends to memes to nature to politics and on. Why have we chosen to follow so many things? What is the impact of following so many things and seeing constant updates from each of these?

I’ve never much been a guy who values always having the latest, greatest, most incredible thing out there. I’m a believer in buying something good quality once and making it last. But seeing so many posts and ads for new this’ and new thats, I’ve fallen prey to marketing tactics (and as a marketer, myself, oh my). But I’ve felt that by seeing so many things I am “behind” or “don’t have what I really want.” Seeing West Elm ads, I feel my couch isn’t good anymore. Seeing many practice videos, I feel I’m slacking off by not practicing that moment. But none of this is true - it’s only a construct of the mind, the ego, continuing on its path to beat you down and keep you from danger (its biological job).

Ok Christopher, where are you going with all of this?

With so much going on and us able to see so much including things we might not even truly care about, it’s important to sit down and determine what is most important to you in life; what it is you truly value and want to focus on; what you truly want to excel at. To be great at 3 things is better than being good at 10 or ok at 25. I’d rather do very few things incredibly well than do several thing mediocrely.

So, what do I value most?

1) Relationships with family, significant other, close friends

2) Health and Wellness

3) Trombone Performance and Teaching

4) Curiosity toward my fascinations (astrophysics, cooking, cognitive psychology)

But why is this on a blog that I thought was about trombone stuffs?

Well, friend, because I hope that if you are someone who is feeling this way like me that this will be of some help to you. I know I’m not the only person feeling this way and only hope that my writing may just possibly help at least one person out there. And if it does, this article has filled its purpose.

Our career path is becoming more and more diversified and that’s a wonderful thing. Yet not every one of us needs to be a trombonist, a blogger, a lecturer, an overdubbing artist, a practice poster, a motivational-quote-squares influencer, a teacher, a traveller, a recitalist, a recording artist, a fashionista, a watch collector, a coffee roaster, a professional chef, a pro-TikTok-er, an elite triathlon athlete, or an amateur couch potato all in one.

No. What we need is to be the few things we enjoy the most; we need the few things that make us excited to wake up every morning to be the cornerstones of our lives; we need to place value on the things we wish to do greatly and let the other things go.

Find what makes you resonate from within. Find what feeds your curiosity. Find what keeps your mind asking to be fed more knowledge about a specific topic. From there, we’re able to focus on what matters, in turn making us truly happy from feeling that joy when we accomplish something we really desire. That sense of interest and accomplishment is what will continually fan our flame over time. Our path is not a severe brush fire of passion that scatters to various interests but is a pilot flame of focussed and devoted curiosity towards few things that burns unrelentingly slowly and fails to extinguish.

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