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IIRY Podcast: 12. “The belief that perfection equals worthiness is the biggest struggle of my life.”: PART TWO of A Chat with Dr. Sarah Carter, physician, cellist, writer, and former child prodigy.

In Part Two of my conversation with physician, cellist, writer, and former child prodigy, Dr. Sarah Carter, we discuss the classical music culture’s resistance to talking about vulnerability, burnout, and mental health issues; the rigid definition of success within classical music and how it stifles creativity; the terror of improvisation and the importance of practicing discomfort in order to grow; and the positive ways Sarah’s classical music training serves her in her current life and career.

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2:34 – Sarah talks about her resentment upon realizing she hadn’t had a childhood.

3:34 – What Sarah’s classical music training taught her and the skills that serve her in positive ways, every day.

7:35 – How classical music in the way that Sarah experienced it is creative but in a very narrow way. She shares her experience of trying to improvise on the cello for the first time. “The thought of improvising was so terrifying to me that I burst into tears.”

8:50 -Sarah and I talk about why our current creative experiments have to be away from music. “In order for me to explore creativity, it has to have nothing to do with the cello at this moment in my life.”

9:23 – Why the “expertise” we have in classical music makes it so difficult to experiment within music. The importance of cultivating creative courage by lowering the stakes.

10:02 – Sarah talks about what she’s learned through her writing practice about the barriers of perfectionism.

10:55 – Her “obsession” with putting herself in uncomfortable situations to grow her creativity.

12:13 – Sarah and I bond over our experiences around improvising and the existential crisis of not knowing how to do it.

13:11 – Mike Block String Camp and how hard and ultimately rewarding that was for me.

14:11 – How the training Sarah and I received did not ask us what we thought, what we felt, and what we wanted to make.

14:55 – The rigid, black and white definitions of success in classical music and how these are antithetical to creativity.

15:16 – The classical music culture’s seeming resistance to discussions around vulnerability, burnout, mental health issues, self-loathing, loneliness. The tribalism and fixed beliefs of the classical music culture. Sarah’s depression and how it was centered around her experiences of joylessness and burnout.

18:32 – The complicated assumptions that committing to a classical musician’s life means you must love it unconditionally.

19:51 – The misconceptions people have about why a highly skilled classical musician would leave a seemingly effortless and blissful career.

21:30 – Sarah’s relationship to music now and how for a long time, she couldn’t listen to classical music.

25:15 – The complicated expectations of utter devotion to our instruments and the lifestyle of a successful classical musician, as well.

26:11 – How doing things that may seem to divert our attention from our instruments can allow us to perform better by allowing us to see ourselves as separate from our performing personas.

27:50 – “The primal, deeply imbedded feeling that perfection equaled worthiness is the biggest struggle of my life.” Evolving beyond the debilitating fear of imperfection.

29:34 – “What if I had done other things?” Sarah’s realization in college that all she’d ever done was play the cello.

30:14 – Letting go of the “vice grip” of having to be a classical musician and how this allowed Sarah room to intentionally choose her creative path.

31:33 – Sarah shares the gifts of living in a small town.

33:39 – Sarah and I talk about the crisis of “time” that we both felt as prodigies with an “expiration date” and I share my feelings of terror when I turned twenty and felt “over the hill.”

36:11 – Sarah mentions her dogs! 🙂

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