The Musician v. The Conductor

Being a parent is hard work. Whether working full-time outside of the home or managing a household full-time, a parent’s work is never over. There are blissful moments of reprieve after the little one(s) are tucked in bed for the night: the living and dining areas are an acceptable version of tidy, everything is prepped for the next morning’s routines, and a peaceful energy hushes its way across the house. But every parent knows that inevitably there is always plenty left to be done.

I recently came across a clip of Russell Brand (Bear with me…) on a talk show. A co-host remarks that their segment is running out of time. Brand responds by saying that one can never run out of time because time is infinite. “Time continues,” he retorts. I am a bit nerdy when it comes to applied philosophy, so naturally, this clip inspired me to consider a way to connect it with some equations I’ve been grappling with:

Self + Kids + Marriage + Household = X amount of Time (XAoT)

XAoT/4 = Allotted Time for Each

All Time – XAoT = Social Life

I’ve been trying to calculate the exact way to divide my time in order for everything to always come out even, to no avail. I mean sure, time is a social construct and all that good stuff, but measurements of time hold meaning–at least, in my life. When I step away from the immediate allure of the Time Continues philosophy, Brand’s financial privilege adds clarity to the concept. I am not a celebrity with a $15 million net worth. I don’t have the option to stop working tomorrow and never need to work again. I can’t just decide to dedicate time to certain aspects of my life whenever I feel like it because I brazenly decide not to subscribe to the social construct of time on a given day.

So, if time has a significant meaning and there is no equation to solve for how much is exactly enough of it, what gives?

Mindset.

It is important for me to release the idea that there is a way for everything to always come out even. It’s an impossibility built on a dwindling perfectionist mindset that would only lead to depression in the long run. But the philosophy is not completely useless. Enter the analogy of The Musician v. The Conductor.

The Musician

The musician is a disciplined individual. She spends countless dedicated hours to honing her ability to play a given instrument. She begins with the fundamentals and graduates to increasingly complex techniques until she reaches a level of mastery that allows her to innovate, developing her own signature sound. The musician’s talents may be phenomenal and she may even be able to play more than one instrument with finesse, but alas, she may only play one instrument at a time. Should she choose to play the violin and the saxophone, she must divide her time and decide when she will dedicate her focus to each.

The Conductor

The conductor is also a disciplined individual. She began as a musician–having learned perhaps several instruments–in order to best understand the distinct qualities of each. She has dedicated many additional hours to study music composition, group psychology, leadership, and learned from the examples of great conductors whom she admires. The conductor’s orchestra may be composed of the same instrument sections (string, wind, brass, etc.) throughout her career, but the musicians within her orchestra may change frequently, the compositions themselves will vary as will the acoustics of each venue.

Those truths are also a reality for the musician’s experience, but whereas the musician’s focus is on their individual instrument and immediate section, it is the conductor who is ultimately responsible for guiding the harmony of the sounds in order to create the desired experience.

Perspective

I have had the opportunity to be a musician for much of my life. I’ve had the privilege of dedicating isolated time to focus on myself, my marriage, and my social life. Now that I am also a parent and homeowner, those aspects are joined by the others. There has been a transition period where it has felt like all of those things have been in competition with each other and I have been working to manage them to the best of my abilities. But admittedly, I have tried to manage things from the conductor’s podium while still regarding myself as a musician.

To embody the essence of the conductor, I must first regard myself as such. In doing this, my awareness is able to transcend from a single section or instrument to one that guides and responds to the ebb and flow of something much greater than the sum of all of its tangible parts.

It is as impossible for every “instrument” to play the same number of notes as the others every time and there no way for each section to play one at a time. But as it is possible to focus on the characteristics of a chair while still holding an awareness of everything else in the room, it is possible to conduct a harmonious life full of wonder, love, and peace.

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