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  • Writer's pictureQueen Reed

Are You Getting Burned Out? Find Out How Passion Fuels Our Fire Or Burns Us Out.

Ah, the World of Clarinet - filled with things like clarinet music, teachers, students, auditions, practicing, reeds, concerts, lessons, clarinet jobs, clarinet videos, blogs, and more. Those are the things we clarinetists are passionate about.

And that’s great, because having Passion for something is part of what makes our lives worth living. That wild, driving, motivating, extremely joyful feeling is probably the very reason you’ve kept on playing clarinet all this time. Maybe your passion for clarinet grew slowly or hit you like a sack of bricks, but it has brought you to the place you are now - not just a person who happens to play clarinet, but a Clarinetist.

But why is passion so important in music? Well, passion is considered one of the underlying forces that might be necessary for us to engage in the type of long-term, deliberate practice required for achieving high levels of performance and engagement. Your passion is one of your greatest assets along your journey to clarinet-amazingness. Your passion is your fuel.

Hopefully, your clarinet passion is a good thing, it’s Harmonious Passion. But what if what used to be wonderful doesn’t feel so wonderful anymore? Maybe you are at the point where you don’t even want to look at your clarinet case. The mere thought of practicing makes you feel horrible. Yet you can’t stop thinking about it. Do you constantly compare yourself to others - feeling jealous, superior and inadequate all at once every time someone posts a slick multi-track video or announces their new, amazing, #blessed#grateful, I’m-living-the-dream! accomplishment? How do you feel when you receive criticism (even your own) - do you take it with a nod of deep consideration, or do you lose all sense of self and end up in the fetal position on the bathroom floor? This is the dark side of passion, and it’s called Obsessive Passion. Instead of being your fuel, this passion is your fire and it can lead to a painful burnout.

Harmonious & Obsessive Passion: What’s the difference?*

If you have Harmonious Passion for clarinet:

  • You freely engage with it, you don’t feel like anyone is making you (remember the piano lessons your parents made you take when you were 10?).

  • You feel that playing and practicing have joyful and meaningful value in your life without any additional contingencies - you would play even if you didn’t win any competitions, awards, or recognition.

  • It feels important for its own sake, not because you’re trying to impress your teacher, or give your uncle something to brag about, or to keep your wallet fat (let’s be real, more like lean-to-modest).

  • You’ll have positive emotions while playing (just as with Obsessive Passion), but with Harmonious Passion you still feel great about clarinet after playing, and even when you aren’t playing or can’t play (you are injured, or perhaps a massive worldwide pandemic wiped out your entire schedule of clarineting).

  • Your goals for getting better are focused around your own growth, improvement, learning, and enjoyment.

  • You will persist at your goals until the outcomes are bad, and then you’ll simply stop, and try again later.

  • You’ll be able to disengage from clarinet when it’s clear that you need a break, the doggo needs a walk, your friends need some time with their favorite chum, you haven’t called your parents in weeks, you’re out of groceries, or you have pressing matters of education, work, or finances that require your attention.

If you have Obsessive Passion for clarinet:

  • You are engaging with it because of “contingencies.” And these contingencies can be very powerful.

  • You feel compelled to participate in order to build your self-esteem, be socially accepted, build credibility with others, to gain accolades, compliments, awards, to get that special Gold Star of approval.

  • Playing still feels good when you’re doing it, but after you’re done playing, you feel conflict from your compulsion to practice because it makes you exclude other important activities.

  • You feel you must practice because if you don’t, everyone else will be getting better than you. You ignore the fact that you ran out of milk and toilet paper two weeks ago, there are 15 voicemails from grandma on your phone, and you can’t remember if your best friend said she was eloping this weekend or not.

  • When you can’t practice, you can’t stop thinking about it, usually with feelings of urgency and guilt.

  • You might be unable to enjoy doing other things when you’re not practicing. Your goals are focused on things like avoiding guilt, avoiding (public) humiliation, being better than someone else.

  • You will keep working at it even if you let other responsibilities slide, lose friends, push away family, lose sleep, fail a class, or go broke.

  • You will persist regardless of the bad outcomes to your health, happiness, and financial stability.

And can anyone sustain that for very long? Nope-nope-nopity-nope. Hence, Burnout (you fervently trying, to the exclusion of the good things in your life, to meet goals that can never be met by playing a clarinet, and rightfully, getting sick and tired of it). That is Obsessive Passion.

If you fall into the mostly Harmonious camp, congratulate yourself on a very well-rounded passion and sense of life balance! Many of us are not firmly centered in either Harmonious or Obsessive Passion - we slide between the two in varying degrees depending on life circumstances. Perhaps a big audition, competition, jury, final exam, performance is coming up? This can swing a lot of us over into the Obsessive camp. We find ourselves madly practicing hours and hours a day, regardless of the empty fridge and ignoring loved ones, because we want our performance to be perfect so the world will know what we are capable of, or at least to avoid public humiliation. If you recognized yourself a little more than you wanted to in the Obsessive Passion description, and you want to do something to change that, then read this: 3 Questions That Will Help You Fix Your Own Burn Out.

*For more about Harmonious and Obsessive Passion, see the writings of Robert J. Vallerand and colleagues.

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