The days I spent as a music major at VCU feel like another lifetime ago. There are only a handful of memories that I can recall in vivid detail, buried somewhere in the haze of juries, drop-the-needle tests, parking tickets, and the smell of the musty practice rooms. Among those that stand out was my Junior Recital, of course, and a few other random performances. But one of the memories that stands out most to me, ironically, was a few words, scribbled furiously (I inferred) in red ink at the bottom of a test. They were penned by one of my favorite and most-revered professors, which is probably why it momentarily knocked the air out of my lungs. She stopped me in the hall in between my classes to hand me that test- mine was one of two that she hadn't been able to find while she was passing them back earlier that morning in class. (I now wonder if that was really the case). I felt her eyes on me for a few seconds as I took note of the grade and then scanned the personal note at the bottom, but I didn't dare make eye contact.
"What would happen if you actually pushed yourself, instead of relying on your talent? Do better."
If I could have evaporated into thin air on the spot, I would have. And here's the thing: the grade was a B-. It was far from a failing grade. But she knew I was settling and she was calling me on it. This is both the blessing and the curse of belonging to a small music school: if you like having that cozy, everyone-is-familiar-feel, you better also like having your feet held to the fire. You're not getting the first without the second. (I later realized that there was a word for this: accountability).
But she was right. As far as music was concerned, I had been fortunate enough that my talent made up (mostly) for the blaring inconsistencies in my focus and drive. I often did enough to get a decent grade. My performances were good-not-great. I had ultimately convinced myself that since there was no way I could ever be the best (as decided by someone else), then there was no reason to push myself to my own personal limits. And of course, her note- along with my corresponding self-discovery- followed me out of music school and inevitably seeped its way into other ares of my life- in particular, any other artistic endeavors.
When I began to write out my intentions for this year, I realized that nearly every one of them could ultimately be categorized in one word: P U S H. Well before the ball dropped on NYE, I had the feeling that 2018 was going to be my year to push- push back against my own excuses, push into the what-ifs, push away the proverbial safety-net that I've worked to maintain. There's an unmistakeable, almost-palpable, urgency in recent weeks and months. Almost as if someone scribbled a furious, red note at the bottom of my 2017. At least, that's how I'm choosing to look at it. PUSH. DO BETTER.