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Final post: What would you say to your 23-year-old self?

Here's thefinal part of What advice would you give to your 23-year-old self? 

The topic seems to connect with lots of people, and it's definitely been a very interesting learning experience to read contributions coming from musicians in different ages and stages of career.  


Rory McLeod

Violist, co-director of Pocket Concerts

When I was 23, I was about to start my first full-time music degree. I had finished a BA at McGill and had spent a year and a half teaching English as a second language and practising viola to get ready for auditions. I felt like I had a lot of catching up to do, and was ready to work hard, and of course I had no idea where my studies would take me. I just wanted to see what I could do if I focused fully on music.

So, young Rory, here is my message for you, now that I’m 34 and I know EVERYTHING.

“If you want to get satisfaction out of your relationships, your career, and your free time, the best advice I can offer is to stay in touch with your values. Figure out what you care about, what you think the world needs more of, and as much as possible, make your life and your work about making those things happen.

Your career will take on much more meaning when you start focusing on your role in the community, and line it up as much as possible with your artistic goals and interests.The more you can align what you care about with what you’re good at and what you enjoy, the more you’ll get out of your work.

Express yourself as fully as you are able.Learn as much as you can from as many people and experiences as possible.

Your mind, body, and emotions are all part of the same fabric. Take care of all of them, and ask for help when you need it.If you’re in pain, examine your habits and make some changes. When possible, learn to rest before you hurt yourself.

Learn to recognize your own negative feelings, and express them.It’s better to confront a problem than to ignore it, but first you have to learn to recognize your own emotions. This is more difficult than you might think.

Be kind, but try not to worry so much about being liked by everyone.Sometimes it’s better to be honest and disappoint someone than to keep smoothing things over.

Finally: commitment, courage, and enthusiasm are all skills that can be developed and strengthened. Practise them.


Jennifer Murphy


"If I had to choose one piece of advice to give to my 23 year old self, it would be to take all of the knowledge and wisdom from the people around me, and pour it into the development of my already existing musical voice.Instead of focusing on what I believed I should be doing, I would encourage my younger self to begin to trust and follow my instincts in order to create a stronger understanding of my own playing. Everyone is different, and everyone approaches and understands music differently, and that is what makes it so special. I am now beginning to understand the wisdom behind a quote that I first read at a very young age, by none other than Piglet from Winnie the Pooh - "The things that make me different are the things that make me me!" Everyone has something uniquely theirs to offer and all of these things are equally valid and equally beautiful."


James Shields


So I guess one thing I would tell 23-year old would be to find a way to try to take the art and craft of music seriously (but not too seriously!) but not take it personally. Obviously we all need to work hard at what we do if we want to make a living from performing music and bringing magic to audiences, but I now feel like so many of the ups and downs of struggle to refine my playing were unnecessary. Learning to set daily goals for practicing was something I was always pretty good at; learning to not let the natural ups and downs of growth on your instrument adversely affect my sense of self was harder for me to learn, and in the end, I think that part of the struggle is avoidable and unnecessary.  

I would also say protect your enthusiasm at all costs.Whether that means not being too hard on yourself (see above), or hanging out with people are who naturally enthusiastic, I think it’s really important to consciously protect your passion. Fight against cynicism in yourself and others if you can - it’s natural to have frustrations with yourself and your colleagues, but you don’t have to let those natural feelings define you and become permanently ingrained into your outlook. We are all lucky to be doing what we do, so few professions are dedicated to the goal of elevating the human spirit and touching hearts as directly as music, we need to remember that as often as possible. One important caveat, and this is definitely something my 23-year-old self would have benefited from hearing, is that I think it’s important to be patient and understanding with your colleagues who are feeling dark about making a life in music or the state of the music business. We all have our dark or frustrating moments, trying to remain positive is important and necessary; judging others for being frustrated and disillusioned is neither necessary nor productive, and it’s also unkind. I would have been a better colleague and partner in music making if I’d had a little perspective in this department when I was just starting out as a professional at the age of 22.

Finally I’d say stay close to the object - the object being music. Listen to music, experience concerts.  Force yourself to keep attending performances if you have to, like you sometimes force yourself to exercise. Sometimes I feel lazy and don’t want to get out of the house to go hear other performances, but I have never once regretted it. When you are performing every week it’s easy to just start feeling like you don’t have time to be in the audience, but I think it’s really important to keep showing up just to listen.


Have you been enjoying the series, What would you say to your 23-year-old self? (Links to Part 1and Part 2) Please feel free to comment here or reach out to us at We'd be happy to hear from you.


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