Musician Burnout and Rekindling Joy

It’s remarkable how many talented musicians I know who haven’t played their instruments in years. They practiced for hours a day, went to competitions, mastered the standard repertoire, and, somewhere along the way, forgot about the joy of making music with a group of people.

For the last five years, I was both a violinist and orchestra committee member in the Stanford Symphony Orchestra. As with anything that’s truly worth it, continuing orchestra throughout my time in college came with tradeoffs: missing any other events scheduled on Monday and Thursday nights due to rehearsal, adding individual practice time to my schedule, and entire weekends taken up by performances.

It also came with fond memories of our annual retreat in the Monte Toyon mountains, symphonies and concertos followed by thunderous applause, and an incredible two-week tour to Mexico and Cuba that I helped put together.

Most importantly, performing in SSO was something I enjoyed doing. Instead of focusing on competitions and spending hours on end locked away in a practice room, I continued orchestra at a steady pace, slowly and relentlessly giving the best effort I could for each of our performances. As a result, I still enjoy making music all these years later.

If you feel burnt out of an activity that once gave you joy, now is the time to figure out why that’s the case. Maybe your tastes have changed over time. Alternatively, maybe you’ve become so focused on extrinsic motivators that, somewhere along the way, you’ve forgotten what first made you love this activity. If the latter is the case, take a step back to regroup, and refocus your efforts on the parts that you genuinely enthusiastic about. Go slow and steady as you rekindle that joy, and you’ll sustainably enjoy it for as long as you are able.

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