Yesterday I called my childhood best friend for her birthday. It had been months since our last chat, but the peals of laughter started immediately. Just for context, this is how close we were:
At lunchtime, I would give her half of my turkey sandwich. And some of my Goldfish. She’d bring me mochas before 7 AM Spanish. We would stay up late on the phone studying for that 2nd-period calculus exam neither of us fully understood, and I was always her counter for the 500-yd Freestyle. I was also the only friend her parents ever approved to host her for a sleepover-- all I had to do was listen to one of her dad’s 30-min life speeches, and then we could make like bananas to split a George’s Special on Saturday night.
“It’ll be just 5 minutes,” I said.
For a friendship of 20 years, what was I thinking?
Pfft… 5 minutes.
Inadvertently I found myself asking her “Birthday Questions.” This is her annual ritual where the friends celebrating with her provide probing prompts about her self impressions over the last year. I don’t know if it’s because she’s simply sentimental or the fact that her birthday is closely aligned with New Year’s celebrations, but in all fairness, taking an auto-inventory of your year is a practical, purifying thing to do.
So, I share with you the 6 favorite questions I’ve asked myself & my students this year:
What is the most valuable life lesson I learned this year? How can I apply this to my practice?
2. What improvement on the instrument am I most proud of this year? How can I
continue to build on that success?
3. What do I feel are my current strengths as a player?
4. Is there anything in my practice that, deep down, I don’t approve of?
5. What is one small tweak I can make to improve my efficiency next year? What is the smallest action I can use to engrain this new habit?
6. What area of my performance or technique would I like to make my focus next week
the next month? the next 3 months? the next year?
I only had time to ask her one question:
What is the most valuable life lesson you learned this year?
“That wherever you are, it’s okay-- whether something is hard or you’re just not feeling well-- it’s okay to feel that.”
We all want to leave the challenges of 2020 behind us. But if you observe, dear clarinetist, most of my questions have to do with what you’ve gained through your experience. These questions are not about castigating you for weaknesses or what you lack. It’s about cultivating the awareness for what works, even in times where some things clearly aren’t working.