This semester, I launched 3 career groups at the Yale School of Music as an experiment to see how group coaching could facilitate learning and growth for entrepreneurial musicians.
My intentions were to provide:
- a positive, supportive, safe judgment-free environment that promotes learning through self-reflection and
- joint problem solving in which musicians can share with like-minded peers
- learn tools to help them create sustainable careers in the arts, as well as
- create a supportive community and
- build relationships and foster new connections.
I am happy to report that the coaching group experiment was an unqualified success!
I was deeply impressed how these students voluntarily showed up every other week to meet with their peers and share their successes and challenges, learn career-building and personal development tools and move themselves forward in their careers. They found the forum particularly helpful because it was the only place where they could talk about these issues.
What follows is a reflection on how the groups helped the members to work towards creating fulfilling and sustainable careers in the arts.
Group Coaching Format
Each session, we followed the same format:
- Check-in on successes and challenges
- Discussion of a topic
- Takeaways and actions
This format contributed to creating a rich learning environment.
In every session, we devoted time to covering a topic that was selected by the group. I often started the conversation by offering a few tools from my arsenal. In addition, each student was asked to contribute his or her knowledge, experience and/or point of view about the subject. By drawing on the group’s wisdom, we reinforced the point that they know a lot more than they realize!
Over the course of the semester, we covered a lot of ground:
Personal Development Tools
- Using Strengths
- Finding Values
- Aligning with Values
- Tapping into Passions
- Reducing stress
- Recovering from disappointment
- Managing failure
- Creating a Mindset of Success
- Goal-Setting and SMART goals
- Long-term career planning
- Time management
- Building a professional portfolio
- Creating Successful Collaborations
- Managing Audition Rejection
- Creating a Website
And while learning about these tools was one reason that the sessions were helpful, the real learning lay in the following 3 areas:
One of the aspects of the group that everyone liked the best was our opening check-in, whereby everyone shared one success and one challenge that he or she experienced.
This check-in not only established the context within which everyone was operating but also took students out of their isolation and made them realize that they were not alone in their challenges and fears. It takes a lot of courage to admit those challenges and our group members were willing to risk being vulnerable because they came to learn the power of sharing their challenges in a judgment-free space with trusted peers.
Musicians face a lot of competition and rejection and our groups were no exception, with challenges ranging from not getting any auditions to not advancing in auditions to not being accepted to a particular summer festival or graduate school.
Other challenges including feeling overwhelmed by competing obligations of performance opportunities, school work, career-building activities and personal life demands. A corollary challenge was time management and organization, since musicians have to be exquisitely organized in order to manage these competing priorities. Students also faced challenges in how to build their professional profiles, wondering how to sort through multiple opportunities for fear of letting a “good “opportunity slip by and generally, how to decide on the best career path.
And let’s not forget the more elusive challenges like feeling a lack of confidence in competing or in building your professional image. In fact, in one of our early sessions, one of our group members remarked, “I didn’t think this was going to get so personal”. Yet, the very act of sharing on deeply personal issues became one of the most valuable parts of the group coaching experience.
The students were often comforted by the fact that other people were feeling exactly the same way. Moreover, we often paused during our check-in to see what strategies other students had employed to overcome the challenge. This was enormously helpful because it showed that there are often answers to these challenges and that often, these solutions came from fellow students.
It’s easy to come up with challenges when you have too much to do with competing demands on your time from auditions, performances, school work and personal issues. That’s why we started our check-ins by sharing on successes.
For some students, it was a challenge to come up with a success. Other students found it hard to talk about their successes. And yet, over the course of the semester, as the groups bonded and as the musicians became more comfortable talking about themselves, sharing on successes became easier.
And there were many successes in our groups!
Over the course of the semester, members of the group completed their doctorates, were accepted to graduate programs and prestigious fellowships including the Ensemble ACJW of the Academy, and Yale University’s Presidential Public Service Fellowship, created new collaborations, explored burgeoning opportunities like the Video Game Orchestra, made debuts at Lincoln Center, performed at Carnegie Hall, and laid the groundwork for their freelance careers upon graduation.
Sharing successes also helped students realize that they were capable of doing a lot more than they thought they could.
Mindset and Personal Development Successes
In addition, our group members developed strategies for becoming more confident and how to adopt the positive mindset that is a critical element of success.
One tool that helped many students to share their successes was “reframing”: the ability to change your perspective and find the success in a challenge. Reframing was very helpful in “moving past what is getting me down.”
And they learned the importance of being able to recognize and talk about successes in a new way. In our final meeting, one student shared how proud he was of all the successes that he had experienced over the course of the semester and he is inspired to continue doing what he loves to do since that is a key to his continuing success. Another student observed,
“I have learned to pat myself on the back little more.”
Many students started off the semester with the thought that success has to be a major win. Yet, they learned how to identify a small success on which you can build because if you learn what success means to you, you can build upon it and create even more success.
A student who had trouble sharing successes finally told us that she attended a student opera production and was able to approach the singer to tell her how much she enjoyed the performance. We were delighted how this “small” success was in fact huge since it demonstrated this musician’s willingness to overcome some shyness and reach out to someone else with terrific results. As she put it, “It can be a small success and it helps because I won’t give up.”
One student concluded that she is good with failure and is having a hard time finding success yet she realized that it is important to savor success in small ways and is committed to finding a way to do that.
In short, the members of the group learned the importance of recognizing, sharing about and celebrating successes.
The Magic of Group Support
Perhaps the biggest aspect of the success of these groups was the support that the musicians felt from their peers. Many students cited the non-judgmental aspect of the group coaching format, which freed them up to brainstorm and strategize about different solutions. Another student found it empowering to “think out loud and mull things over” with the support of the group.
The group format was great for relationship building. One student realized that “People want you to help you succeed.” Another student loved talking to “people who care and are passionate.” New friendships blossomed in the groups, while students who previously knew each other felt a deeper connection to their peers and collaborators.
Another student particularly appreciated getting together with everyone else and realized that he was not alone:
“Everyone has felt what I have what felt. Some have solved it, some have not. We should keep doing what we’re doing.”
People love stories and in the groups, we shared a lot of stories. One student who learns best from experience appreciated hearing about and learning from other people’s experiences. Another student found that as a result of his experience in the group, he feels ready to launch his career with greater clarity as to what he can do. He also feels much more organized around the process, concluding:
“Being able to share and collect what other people have gone through is very valuable.”
Students remarked on the courage of their peers as they faced their challenges, like taking auditions in order to gain experience and not getting upset when they did not advance. Moreover, it was helpful to work things out as a group.
Another student was inspired to hear how others are using their strengths so that she can continue to build on her strengths. Yet another student was reaffirmed in her commitment to “do what I love as opposed to what I think I should be doing.”
A number of students remarked on the “freshness” of the discussions, the openness to new ideas and the excitement of being around “amazing people” who are thinking about how to change music. One foreign student concluded
“I hope I can take the freshness and openness with me when I go back to Europe.”
I am excited that so many of the members of the group will be back at Yale next year when the experiment continues. And a number of the graduating students plan on continuing their existing collaborations and providing on-going support to each other.
So whether or not you can find or form a facilitated coaching group, I encourage you all to reach out and find support from trusted, like-minded peers!