Written by Karen Rile
Published: January 30, 2014 at 5:45 AM [UTC]
Round about March the internet starts to get treacherous. At any moment you're liable to be ambushed by news that will make the bottom drop out of your heart. Sometimes there will be advance warning: Conservatory X sends an email instructing all applicants to check their application status at 7 PM. By the time 6:59 rolls around you're shaking so hard you can hardly type in your password. After you absorb whatever news awaits, you hold your breath and brace for the onslaught of statuses and tweets.
Other times it sneaks up behind you and slits your throat.
A casual stroll down Facebook Lane reveals that your arch-nemisis, Fauntleroy, that kid you've been sparring against for the concertmaster chair since grade 5, is being congratulated by friends, aunts, and teachers. But what for? The two of you applied to all the same programs yet you've heard nothing. Frantically you check your email. Did he get a phone call? From which school? Which teacher? You feel crazed with curiosity and dread.
Or maybe your friends are crowing about acceptances to a certain program you haven't heard from yet. Are you the only one who didn't get a letter? That doesn't bode well; as everyone knows, the thin envelopes are mailed out last.
Or maybe it's you who gets the fantastic news. Joy bubbles up inside you so fierce you want to throw open the windows and yodel to let off the pressure. You leap around the kitchen, high-five your mom, and dance a jig with the cat. And then what? You want to tell the world. You need to tell the world. You feel inside your pocket for familiar shape of your phone.
When my daughter was in 11th grade, one of the seniors posted details of every acceptance she received, including the prestigious studios she was assigned to and the mouth-watering amount of each scholarship she received. It seemed that every day Ovaltina had more spectacular news to report (she'd applied to a lot of places). Her dad corroborated her claims on his own Facebook, publishing photos of Ovaltina holding up the scholarship letters. At first, everyone rushed to congratulate her. But after a while, the announcements began to feel like cudgels to the brain. For every acceptance Ovaltina posted, there were kids in the community struggling with rejection from those same schools. For every scholarship letter photo, there were kids, also accepted, who had received lower awards and were suddenly made to feel less valued. Finally a boy posted a comment on her wall: Ovaltina, stop! You're upsetting everyone.
I'd like to give Ovaltina and her parents the benefit of the doubt and assume that they were not deliberately trying to inject distress into the lives the other kids and their families; in fact, I doubt Ovaltina had given much thought as to whether her behavior was causing pain among her peer group. It was easy enough to understand the motivation behind her boasting: a late starter on the violin in a competitive music town, she'd worked extra hard on her auditions and had come from behind with spectacular results. But her Facebook performance offered an object lesson for others in how not to behave.
Five years later, which is light years in history of social media, our culture is more sophisticated in its use of platforms like Twitter and Facebook. But how much have we evolved? By the time kids reach high school, they are mini public relations experts, adept at presenting themselves in the most flattering light. The best of them can spin a tiny crumb of information into a week's worth of attention.
An informal poll of current college students generated this list of the most reviled types of personal propaganda relating to audition results:
So how do you deal with it?
Pull the plug. The most obvious suggestion would be to simply shut down your social media from March to May. But that's easier said than done, even for musicians, a self-disciplined bunch. Increasingly, social media is integrated into many facets of life, everything from school to work and beyond. You still need to promote events, such as your senior recital. Shutting down entirely can be impractical and self-punitive. Besides, it's better to learn how to handle a problem than to avoid it.
Get some earplugs. Instead of deactivating your Facebook, you could turn down the volume by controlling what shows up in your feed. Preemptively "unfollow" obnoxious posters (they will never know.) You'll still be able to see everything you choose to see, but you won't need to navigate an unfiltered avalanche of repetitive, painful reminders.
Suck it up. Throughout your career, whether or not you stay in music, you'll be hearing about the successes of colleagues who are also rivals. Get used to living in this reality. You've just gone through your most important audition cycle—up 'till now—of your life. This is just the first of many public risks you'll need to take in your profession.
Remember: it's not about you. Keep sane by continually reminding yourself that teenagers (like yourself) are, by definition, egocentric. These preening, narcissistic missives emanate from a place of deep self-absorption. In other words, they're not doing this to make you feel bad. They're doing it to make themselves feel better.
Suffer the underdogs. When, against great odds, someone gains admission to her reach school, the whole world cheers her on—and you should, too. Regardless of whether you're struggling with jealousy or indignation for being passed over.
Accept compliments graciously. Even if you did not publish details of your success, unsolicited congratulatory messages are tantamount to an announcement for anyone not in your immediate circle. Be sensitive to the fact that mystery compounds stress for innocent bystanders. Maybe there's a subtle way to slip the information in, so as to put a cap on the drama? Thanks! I've always wanted to live in Cleveland will answer questions in the kindest way.
Observe the Golden Rule. Even if altruism is the least of your motives, it pays to treat others as you would prefer to be treated. Do you want to spend the rest of your life among colleagues who whose gut reaction towards you is a primal memory being made to feel worse when they were most vulnerable? Think twice before rubbing other people's noses in your success.
Stay classy. Take the high road and congratulate others when the occasion arises, but avoid public gloating over your own successes. You'll feel more dignified and you'll earn the respect of the your musical peers.
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