Music Teacher's Helper Blog

Going for Goals

Isn’t it funny how often we say that we know what we want, but we can’t seem to get there?  In my job as a life coach for musicians, this is one thing I often hear from my clients.   So we draw diagrams, put together action plans, list next steps, set goals for 3 months, 6 months, one year… And then the next time we meet often little has changed.  I’ve come to expect this now, and don’t take it as a setback.  It’s just a sign that other factors have come into play. This article is about how to tackle those other factors that get between you and what you really want.

From the moment we are born, other people start to determine who they think we are, and who they think we should be. When I was a child, I wore my hair in long braids and played the piano. It wasn’t until much later that I realized neither of those things was my idea, but were part of my mother’s dream of a perfect daughter.  One parent I saw interviewed on TV recently decided that her son would be a prize-winning violinist when he was still in utero-  and so he turned out to be. He may be very happy that way… or maybe one day he will wake up and realize he has a completely different dream for himself.

What were your parents’ dreams for you? Your teachers’? What have been your dreams for yourself, as a child, as a teenager, now?

Conversely what did those people decide you could not do–you didn’t have the ability, they didn’t have the means, or maybe just it was something that was ‘not done’ in your family? Who told you things about yourself?  Do you still believe them?  Do you still judge yourself through their eyes and find yourself wanting?

Without realizing it, most of us internalize these opinions and judgments, and they become part of the way we talk to ourselves about what is possible for us.  So when we set goals and allow ourselves to dream big, we are often not prepared for the conflict that can arise when those other voices make themselves heard.  In fact, for some of us, the idea of dreaming big is too overwhelming in the first place.  We are so subject to critical voices that we can’t even hear the voice of our heart, and what it really wants.

Sometimes if I discover that a client feels paralyzed in this respect, I suggest a particular exercise–one that you might like to try also.

Firstly, sit down with paper and pen, and take time to get in touch with your breathing. Ask inwardly for the part of you that is loving, wise and compassionate- the part that truly knows what is best for you- to come forward.  That part is going to be the mediator in a discussion between different aspects of yourself.

Next, start to write down what’s going through your mind with regard to the goal.  For example, “ I really want to enter the piano competition next month.  It would be such a good opportunity for me to try out some fantastic repertoire, and increase my profile in the community.”

Usually it just takes one or two statements about moving towards your goal for any opposing aspects to jump in.

One aspect might say, “Yes, but you know you never play well in competitions! You’d be much better off giving a recital to friends and family.  You always get so nervous that your hands shake, and you start worrying about what the jury is going to think, and then it’s all over.” Write down whatever comes forward, making sure to give both aspects a nickname or a letter.

Here’s an opportunity for the mediator to ask questions of both aspects, and to give them each the opportunity to express themselves fully.  Initially, it might look as if the first aspect is the positive one, and the second is the negative. This might well be so, in which case the mediator could help support the first aspect in coming to a decision about the next steps to take, and defending itself against unfair criticism.

However, sometimes an aspect which we perceive as negative or ‘in resistance’ can actually have valuable information for us. In my case, the above dilemma did occur for me at times over the years, and I began to realize that the second aspect was reminding me of the truth- that I flourished musically in warm and inviting environments, rather than the cut-throat atmosphere of competition.

However it turns out (and there may be many more aspects that come forward), do your best to let the mediator remain in charge as a voice of compassionate reason, and let it guide the aspects into listening and communicating with each other, with the objective of coming to a harmonious conclusion.

This tool has been extremely valuable for my clients and me over the years. It can be astonishing to discover how many aspects are active inside of us, and how valuable it can be to let them have a voice. As Walt Whitman said, “Do I contradict myself? Very well, then I contradict myself, I am large, I contain multitudes.”

The more we can connect with these inner aspects of ourselves, the more self-aware we can become and the more able to be understanding to those around us- our family, friends, students, and colleagues, who also contain multitudes- and hopefully more able to be a kind, compassionate and wise presence in their lives.

Do you notice competing intentions when you move towards a goal? How about your students- do you witness them wrestling too?

About the Author

Valerie Kampmeier
Valerie Kampmeier, M.A., brings decades of performance experience as a successful classical pianist in Europe to her piano teaching and her life coaching practice for musicians. She also writes about living a creative life on her blog.
A gifted p... [Read more]


  1. Ryan Record

    I love how you said “life coach for musicians”. I think that so describes our position as music teachers. More often than not, the obstacles that are in the way of our students are not musical by any means. They are circumstantial in the family or something.

    This to me makes it such complex problem. However, I have made a few changes to the way I do things in my studio. I have this one student whose parents I am really good friends with but the kid never comes prepared.

    I started engaging the parent with some methods and things they could do with their kid, specific things and the next week the child was ready to go!

    Now I don’t think this would be the case in every situation but I guess I am saying that you make a good point Valerie. Children often don’t get to decide which means we have a lot of influence over these kids!

  2. Valerie

    HI Ryan,

    Thanks so much for your feedback. I agree that engaging with the parents can be very helpful, although it can require a lot of diplomacy at times! I also appreciate how you must feel like a ‘life coach for musicians’ at times. I was actually using it in a specific sense, as I have life coach training (which I thoroughly recommend, by the way), but think we are all called upon to be coaches at times!

  3. » STG News Desk – 06-26-2012

    […] Great article about setting goals from the Music Teacher’s Helper blog – […]

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