Why do you practice?
To move up in your section? To reach higher than your personal best? To increase your ability to connect with an audience?
Up means improvement and success. Just take a look at my Google image search for "success":
Sure, the "down" moments sting, but it's the prolonged periods of parallel motion that are truly devastating. It hurts to work and feel no progress, it hurts when dedication doesn't seem to matter, and it hurts to watch others improve while you're stuck on cruise control. Plateaus are the worst.
So now I offer you three "UP"s as options to take until you reach your next "up".
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This is the one we hear most often.
Suck it up. Shake it off. Power through. Rub some dirt on it.
As you and I both know, however, this is far more easily said than done. If you are struggling to maintain that drive, try some of these:
Calm down. I'm not telling you to quit.
What I am doing is to ask yourself if your time, mental and physical health, and effort are worth your goal. Is it a fair trade to stop sleeping, eat nothing but fast food, and never call your mother to memorize a concerto? What about passing up on a party to score study for an audition?
If the answer is no, maybe consider altering your goals. Some things are just too expensive.
Feeling trapped and angry can be embarrassing. Particularly in groups of extremely high skill level, there is a tragic culture of shame surrounding what are very natural human reactions. We are trained from early on to be robotic, to divorce our emotional state from our work ethic.
The irony is that EVERYONE FEELS THIS. Everyone. Your teacher is frustrated when he feels like your plateau is his fault. Your conductor gets frustrated when he feels the orchestra's continued lack of inspiration. That doctoral student in your studio is frustrated when she still can't seem to master the fundamentals that she is teaching to her middle school students.
Even this guy feels it:
So speak up about it. Break through the wall of shame and talk to a friend (or write a blog post...) It helps you and it helps them.
Hi, my name is Cayla, and I am frustrated with my plateau.
Whew, that felt nice.
To conclude: I had a teacher once who equated the process of practicing and improving over the long-term to climbing a mountain - it is only at the end of your climb that you realize how high you've reached.
In the meantime, though, remind yourself what you can do. Tell yourself you're awesome, because you are to someone (even if not yourself).
Some plateaus can be just plain beautiful.