Five seems to be the magic number for me. As of now, I’ve narrowed my professional focus to five areas: gigs, ensembles, lessons, courses, and blogging. On the one hand, I’ve been unwittingly honing my focus in performance and teaching to almost exclusively jazz (a process that deserves its own post, being as I all but abandoned this career path almost a decade ago). On the other hand, I’ve been thinking about how to expand the focus of my writing to encompass many different forms of practice.
To that end, I have identified five basic levels of practice. To a certain extent, each of these levels builds on the previous. I’ve arranged them from most fundamental to most complex. Obviously, many activities encompass multiple levels of practice.
Self-Care To me, this is the most crucial level of practice. I’ve seen various types of folks – academics, caretakers, musicians, etc. – all but ignore this level. In flight safety demonstrations, they always say, “Put on your own oxygen mask before helping others.” That’s what this level is about. It’s about finding the routines, habits, and practices that allow you to survive, thrive, and recover. My self-care practices include yoga, walking, and other forms of health management.
Learning Once you are practicing good self-care, the next step is to have regular learning practices. These may be encouraged (or enforced) in school, but at some point they become our own responsibilities. While learning should be done for its own sake, it can also be good to engage in learning that facilitates competency and creativity (see below). My learning practices include reading (blogs, books, etc.) and listening (music, podcasts, etc.)
Competency Whether for paid or unpaid work, there is always a need for skillful execution of certain tasks. Competency works best as an outcome of successful learning (see above) and as a precursor to creativity (see below). For my own professional competencies, I have to consistently practice bass, as well as to continually seek out teaching and writing opportunities.
Creativity It’s not enough to acquire knowledge and skill. Both elements should be used to create things of personal value – whether music, writing, visual art, research, or a well-designed product. As I’ve written about before, it’s important to create slightly more than your consume. My primary outlets for creativity are writing and design (including instructional design, cross-stitch, and comics) – not to mention more ephemeral forms of creativity like musical improvisation.
Life The demands of everyday life can both enhance and distract from the previous four forms of practice. The levels from self-care to creativity are primarily focused on the self, while life practices are often focused on others. Whether attending to friends, family, or community, it is important for us to be efficient, yet mindful. My life practices include management (of both home and business – which often overlap in freelancing) and cultivating healthy relationships in various aspects of my life.