It's the end of Awards Season. We've had red carpet after red carpet. We've watched the Golden Globes, the Grammys, the Oscars. We've argued constantly over what won, why particular artistic works of merit were more deserving of awards over the artistic works of merit that won awards, and why we have this whole system in place.
I'm a pop culture junkie, and truth be told, I can't get enough of this stuff. I can argue until I am blue in the face that Janelle Monae should already been a multiple Grammy-garnering artist (she is already now a Member of the Academy as an actress) or decide that I'm never, ever going to forgive Pasek & Paul for robbing Lin-Manuel Miranda of his EGOT. I've attended multiple Oscar parties where I've dressed up as characters from award-winning films. Although most of this stuff qualifies as intellectual junk food, I relish in it.
At the same time, many movies and the overwhelming majority of music that I love does not include award-winners. There is a lot of very slick & well-crafted pop music that I love, but there is a lot of music that is not finely produced or even tremendously proficient that moves me. There are amazing moments I've witnessed in concerts when artists bent pitches in strange ways or even blanked out on entire riffs for a moment.
At the same time, I am apt to celebrate artists whom I admire when they achieve great things. This is true in part because we often use achievements as currency. Whereas any sports coach may not get a raise for facilitating a winning team, they may garner more opportunities and more respect. And let's be honest: everyone loves a winner.
Oddly enough, in the same season, music directors & programs are given hardware, in the form of ratings, medals, and trophies for concert season. Some programs & directors build their resumes in the springtime. Some spend the aftermath wondering what happened. When teachers & kids achieve great things, it should be celebrated.
But awards, ratings, honors, trophies — these things should not determine your self worth.
Then again, I have no pedigree. You probably shouldn't even be reading the words that I say.
I have some accomplishments. I have a relatively good-looking CV. My school-based evaluators adore me. I am shamelessly accepting the money I received as a "bonus" this year from my school district, although I disagree with the teacher evaluation system as it stands especially in Florida, and putting it toward furthering my education & expanding my skill set this summer.
But I didn't come from any place great. I did not graduate from a prestigious high school (in my field, that's something that folks put in their bios). I went to a university that I loved & learned a lot from, but that folks frequently rag on. I suppose I did graduate from a master's program at a more prestigious school (in my field), but I've had people tear me down over that, as well.
By several metrics, I have underachieved in my field. I have not gotten as far as I've wanted to and I have fallen short of much of what I've looked to accomplish. Admittedly, much of it awards or ratings-wise.
But that's not by all metrics.
And when the metrics don't seem to stack up for me, I blame myself. I get upset. I tell myself that I haven't worked as hard to make things happen. Surely, I still make mistakes (sometimes really foolish, rookie-level ones, still), but the level to which I blame myself is usually not indicative of the misfire.
The truth is, however, that I am always working hard. I am scatterbrained & will often over-commit, but I am no slouch in my professional life. This is true to the point where I often confuse my work and my worth.
I've come to the point in my career, underachieving or not, where I realize my biggest mistake of all: that I let ratings, evaluations, or the resultant reputation determine my self worth. I have wasted so much time being upset and giving free rent to the haunting negative voices that I've missed out on other worthwhile pursuits.
I may be just a music teacher, but it's not a career for the faint of heart. It is riddled with self-doubt & frustration. The students are worth it, without a doubt, but the gymnastics we go through to determine who is good or not good at their jobs are almost never worth it.
Feedback is good. Feedback is important. High standards are good. These things are all essential to improving at your craft.
And yes, accomplishment deserves praise & celebration. Much like I want to scream from the rooftops when my favorite artists win awards, I want to pop champagne bottles when my friends achieve outstanding ratings & win awards. I know what they’re up against day to day. And I know what so many of them, and so many of their kids are battling on a daily basis.
I have such amazing company and am surrounded by so much support. And good gravy, are the people who support me doing really incredible things.
And then at the same time, so many of us encounter struggle. And we fall short of what we expect.
But a label someone bestows upon you cannot and should not determine your self worth.
It might sell a few more records when an artist can be labeled a Grammy award winner, but it should not determine their contribution to music as an art form or to society. David Bowie won but a single traditional Grammy in his lifetime, the same number as Milli Vanilli (prior to their award being revoked).
Regardless of who wins the most trophies, the most medals, the most unmanageable number of Grammy statuettes (Norah, Adele, et. al.), the important thing is to continue to do worthwhile work. Don't forget that, regardless of what you see on the red carpet or the after-party wrap-up shows.
*Edited very slightly on March 11th, 2019.