During my first term as a DMA student, I can’t even count how many people have looked at me with looks of disbelief and said “YOU’RE starting your DOCTORATE?!” Yes, I know I look young (which will hopefully be to my advantage once I turn 40). But, as someone who has quite a few students with parents much older than me, it went deeper than that; it was easy to feel like I didn’t deserve to be where I was or shouldn’t be teaching or performing in a professional orchestra, simply because I wasn’t old enough and didn’t have the experience.
I know I am not the only one who struggles with this. Nothing can substitute for experience, and I am the first to admit that I have lots of things to learn, but I think it’s important to share with everyone going through this same thing that: you deserve to be where you are, you know what you’re talking about, and everyone (your students, parents, colleagues, even teachers) has something valuable to learn from you.
These general assumptions about someone’s age can also be, and often are, followed by comments about their size. I was having a conversation with one of my colleagues the other day about how so many students are limited by their teachers’, and often their students’ parents’, believe it or not, beliefs about their size/physicality. Of course, as string players, this can be essential to talk about in order to better instruct the student; for example, “your pinky is smaller than average. Try engaging the muscle in your back to bring your elbow around even more to reach that note comfortably.” That’s it. Not “wow, you’re so skinny” or “you’re such a tiny person” (I’ve had these things said to me directly by teachers and colleagues) or “you’re quite a big person.”
Unless it directly applies to the instrument, leave it out (I honestly believe that this goes for any kind of interaction that you have with anyone, ever. How are those comments about people’s weight/size ever appropriate unless you're at the hospital? Maybe it’s just me.) This makes the person feel that they are being attacked personally, and even more self-conscious than they already are in the lesson/rehearsal/performance situation.
There are things that we, as young professionals in music or really any industry, can do to aid the situation. First, dress professionally (“dress for the job you want, not the job you have”). Also, keep a calm and professional manner in interactions with others in person, over email, or in phone conversations, even when you are not being treated with the same courtesy (in other words, be the bigger person). And, no matter what, have the confidence in each lesson and coaching that you teach that you deserve to be there, you have a lot to offer, and that they are lucky to work with you.
Generally, if the people that you’re working with feel this confidence coming from you, they will quickly become to trust you. This is of course a natural process of trust that can apply to any teacher/student/colleague situation, but I feel that it is more complicated when there is already suspicion about one’s qualifications due to their age and/or background. Stay strong, and keep your conviction.
To those on the other side, I ask that you please treat your younger colleagues and private teachers with the same respect that they are allowing you, and offer them the encouragement to gain the experience they need in order to eventually get what they are working so hard to achieve. As Eleanor Roosevelt once said, “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.”Tweet
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