I Draw The Line: Why I Hoard My (Studio) Time

1. Let me start this post off by saying one thing: I am selfish…

…with my time, that is.

2. This post began something like How to Be Selfish With Your Time…and Still Have a Full Teaching Schedule.” That was before I launched into a thousand-word deliberation on why I’m selfish with my time. So I decided on a series that will look like this:

How To Be Selfish With Your Time…And Still Have a Full Teaching Schedule.
Prelude: Why You Need To Be Selfish With Your Time.
mvmt I: How to Book Your Studio…and still be a little selfish with your time
mvmt II: break for food. Always.

Last summer, I attended my ten-year class reunion (I’m old…what of it?) I ran into a girl I hadn’t seen in a long while who said she worked “in the film industry” out in L.A. I tried not to judge when she failed to specify exactly what that meant. Coffee gopher? Porn star? I never found out exactly, but I did avidly listen to her describe some of her job “necessities,” such as being ready for meetings at the drop of a hat. By “meetings,” she meant loosely-organized, yet required “networking” opportunities at martini bars. She paid an inordinate amount of money (fifteen bucks for a drink is standard, apparently) and time to be a part of these “meetings” with high-level executives and industry figures. Maybe those chances will pay off for her, and I hope they do, but I couldn’t help but politely-yet-sassily offer up the novel idea that she only ever make herself available when she wants to. As in, “I’m sorry, I can’t (insert verb here) then because I’m unavailable to (verb).” No explanation necessary – that’s just how its gon’ be.

She was floored. Like, genuinely had never considered the matter. I explained to her that it’s irrelevant if “unavailable” means teaching, rehearsing, building a lego palace, or hanging out in your underwear eating malted milk balls. The point is, I try to set my line and only cross it when I need to…and I usually only play Red Rover: Boundaries Edition during the the mad dash to finals, juries, and recitals. There’s an inevitable few weeks at the end of each semester when I’ll shelve the candy, put on pants, and give an extra lesson or eight to people who need it.

Because I know when to give my time. That precious thing you cannot get back, no matter how hard you wish you had spent it otherwise. I do not give makeup lessons, nor do I teach after 7:00 because I like to eat dinner with my husband. Drawing the line ups your value because you respect yourself enough to know when things are worth your time. I once made some serious moolah when I explained my “time-hoarding” policy to a studio parent that desperately wanted some last-minute contest preparation for another sibling in their family. He offered to pay me double my rate. So I did take that one opportunity to throw my morals to the wind and sell myself for money. But 99.9 percent of the time, nobody messes with my morning cup of joe or my dedicated exercise hour. I’m sure all the mothers in the house are reading this and laughing, waiting for me to have kids….

a glimpse of spring semester...but who isn't busy??
a glimpse of spring semester…where my birthday present to myself was a day off…look familiar, music teachers?

My propensity for time-hoarding stems from a long history of fulfilling the role of “neighborhood workhorse,” and that’s putting it somewhat lightly (a different, more derogatory term does come to mind). When I was in college, I didn’t really know how to say no to anything (get your mind out of the gutter…I mean music things). I was involved in a lot. If someone needed me to magically whip up concert program notes in less than a day, I acquiesced and died a little inside. When that random niche ensemble that performed obscure early choral music needed a soprano, I was the go-to girl…while I silently lamented my broken dreams. As if there were ever a shortage of sopranos…jeez. I even once took on thirteen private students (that’s uh-forty-three-percent of my current home-based load today!) because I was the only one around to take them…which wouldn’t have been a problem if I weren’t also wiping noses and changing stanky diapers full-time at a nannying gig. In six years of education, I maintained a calendar that looked like roadkill had exploded all over that. My “free” time were glorious, sacred, teensy blips on the radar of my soul-sucking schedule, and usually disappeared faster than doughnuts at a Jenny Craig meeting because I wanted to please people.

It wasn’t all for naught – usually working hard gets you places – but if I had to do it all again, I’d draw the line somewhere, because apparently the line did not even exist until I decided to believe in the power of no. No is the new Yes: if I believed that mantra from the get-go, I might have had some semblance of a social life that didn’t consist of regular Sex and the City binge-marathons with my roommates and did involve non-music-related conversations with actual humans outside my residence (in hindsight, talking to plants is a little crazy, no matter how hard you try to prove that classical music helps things grow, I swear).

When I first started teaching privately, I needed my schedule to be full, like, yesterday. It took me a good year to be at capacity, so I’d basically let my students choose their lesson day and time, even if it meant teaching on weekends or sustaining large gaps in my schedule, during which I could only really play thumb-war with myself (not exciting, as it turns out) or fill my modcloth.com shopping cart. As long as I made rent, my students could request their lesson be at midnight, for all I cared. Today, I attribute my ability to not rip people’s faces off sanity to a happy studio schedule, which enables me to maintain the delicate balance between comfortably-busy and crying-myself-to-“sleep.” Sleep. That thing that shouldn’t occur restlessly between the hours of 1 and 6 AM, inevitably interrupted by snoring roommates and noisy neighbors? Yeah, that…

The take-away: it’s okay to be a little selfish with your time. Doing so, at least for me, makes for a happier, saner, less-resentful music teacher, which in turns helps students learn…and that is the Ultimate Goal.

That, and proof that classical music does stimulate plant growth…I swear it does, guys.

Stay tuned for my next post on how to actually fill your studio schedule while simultaneously being a time-hoarder.


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