9: Four Tips to Get Unstuck When You Are Depressed

Show Notes:

๐——๐—ผ ๐˜†๐—ผ๐˜‚ ๐˜€๐—ผ๐—บ๐—ฒ๐˜๐—ถ๐—บ๐—ฒ๐˜€ ๐—ณ๐—ฒ๐—ฒ๐—น ๐˜๐—ต๐—ฎ๐˜ ๐—ฒ๐˜ƒ๐—ฒ๐—ฟ๐˜†๐—ผ๐—ป๐—ฒ ๐—ฒ๐—น๐˜€๐—ฒ ๐—ต๐—ฎ๐˜€ ๐—ถ๐˜ ๐—ฎ๐—น๐—น ๐—ณ๐—ถ๐—ด๐˜‚๐—ฟ๐—ฒ๐—ฑ ๐—ผ๐˜‚๐˜, ๐—ฎ๐—ป๐—ฑ ๐˜†๐—ผ๐˜‚ ๐—ฎ๐—ฟ๐—ฒ ๐˜๐—ต๐—ฒ ๐—ผ๐—ป๐—น๐˜† ๐—ฝ๐—ฒ๐—ฟ๐˜€๐—ผ๐—ป ๐˜๐—ต๐—ฎ๐˜ ๐—ถ๐˜€ ๐˜€๐—ผ ๐˜€๐˜๐˜‚๐—ฐ๐—ธ?

If youโ€™re like me, you probably feel that your career is stuck at times – if not the majority of the time. Itโ€™s really hard seeing others announcing their shiny new career opportunities and engagements as it feels like everyone else but me is having such a great career and such great success as a conductor. Deep down when I could pause to think rationally, I know that social media is full of false and toxic positivity. I know for a fact that my colleagues are also going through frustrations and rejections – and maybe even some self-doubt at times – but I still canโ€™t help thinking about all the opportunities and gigs I thought I deserved, or how everyone else seemed to achieve success but me.


I am opening up and telling you all this because I wanted you to know that you are not alone, my friends, if you sometimes feel depressed and stuck, just like me. But itโ€™s okay to feel frustrated, defeated, and even depressed at times. Whatโ€™s important is that we acknowledge our feelings, become accepting of ourselves, and give ourselves the much needed time to figure things out.


Give yourself much time and love to heal, and when you feel ready, try a few different exercises to get through the feeling of being stuck. Today, I wanted to share with you strategies that have helped me through my darkest days, in the hope that you will also find a tool that resonates with you. Later in the episode, we will also talk more about effective goal setting skills and ways to audit your progress, so make sure that you stay with me and listen to the end!

Links Mentioned in Today's Episode

Instagram:ย @theconductorspodcastย /ย @tingchaowen

Website:ย www.chaowenting.com

Facebook:ย Chaowen Ting

Chaowen: 0:02
Hi everyone, this is Chaowen, recording in May 2023. After finishing the first season of the conductor’s podcast, I have decided to give this podcast project, a dedicated website with more user friendly functions. So now we have a brand new website called theconductorspodcast.com. Straightforward, right? And now we also have its own Instagram handle. It’s also the same @theconductorspodcast. So all the show notes have been moved to the new site, and I invite you to come check out all the resources and happy listening.

Chaowen: 0:50
It was hard, very, very hard. I feel that I have achieved nothing. For the past 10 years, I have been applying for dozens and dozens of jobs and have gotten very little success until now. It feels like everyone else but me is having such a great career. I’m opening up and telling you all this because I want you to know that you are not alone, my friend.

Chaowen: 1:23
Hey there, welcome to The Conductor’s Podcast. I’m your host Chaowen Ting, a conductor with over 20 years of experience working with professional symphony orchestras, opera houses, new music groups, and vocalist. I’m also founder of Girls Who Conduct and have mentored hundreds of conductors from across the globe.

Chaowen: 1:44
I created The Conductor’s Podcast to share all the behind the scenes secrets with you, while I interview conductors, musicians and business gurus from around the world. This is a space created for conductors, conducting student musicians and non musicians who are curious and interested in learning more about the profession, craft, industry and business.

Chaowen: 2:10
Shy away from the real talk? No way. Money, hardship, growth and the roller coaster of conducting career are all topics we discuss here. I will give you a simple actionable step by step strategies to help you take action on your big dream. Move through the fear that’s holding you back and have a real impact. Now, before I proceed, make sure you’re cozy and get ready to be challenged and encouraged while you learn.

Chaowen: 2:44
Hi, there, welcome to another episode of The Conductor’s Podcast. I’m your host Chaowen Ting, and I’m thrilled that you’re tuning in with me today, as we are talking about something that is really close to my heart.

Chaowen: 2:57
If you’re like me, you probably feel that your career is stuck at times. I know it might not look like it from the outside. I’m now the conductor of the Peabody youth orchestra, and the assistant conductor of the orchestra symphony. I just recently made my debut with the symphony during our October family concert, and also conducted a part of a subscription concert in November, I have directed some big orchestras. And now I’m getting engagement invitations from some major organizations too.

Chaowen: 3:32
But the truth is, for the past 10 years, I have been applying for dozens and dozens of fellowship programs, music festivals, college teaching positions, assistant conductor roles with professional ensembles, and have gotten very little success until now. On average, I send out about more than 20, sometimes even 30 to 40 applications to all of this postings and opportunities every year.

Chaowen: 4:04
Out of this 200 something applications, not counting the current jobs that I have, which are three, I have only been selected as a finalist for three other positions. Meaning that I was invited to a live audition outside with only three other organizations in a 10 year period. That makes me a finalist for six positions in 10 years of success rate of around 2%. In addition, during this 10 years, there were only six other times when I was shortlisted from the candidate pool for an interview. But I did not advance to the final round of the application process. I have had a zoom interview and to form interviews with their committees. You know, people did this kind of thing before COVID. And before we ever knew what zoom was. So that’s a total of about 10 organizations that were even interested in me, based on the 250 Something applications that I sent out over the past decade. It was hard, very, very hard. November and December are usually the hardest time of the year for me. I’m almost always very depressed during this time. The lack of sunshine doesn’t help and the end of year failing feeling always helped me.

Chaowen: 5:35
I feel that I have achieved nothing. And the year is almost at an end. I complained that I did not make any progress in my career trajectory. I did not win any major competition. or a new big job. I wasn’t accepted into prestigious festivals, or into a conducting program like I had wished. And it’s really hard seeing others, announcing their shiny new career opportunities and engagement. It feels like everyone else but me is having such a great career, and such great success as a conductor. On a day, when I was really unwell, I could just lay in bed and look through other conductors social media, it didn’t matter if they were a personal friend, a professional rival, an acquaintance, or just some conductor Rendell, whose profile I stumbled on, I would just lay in bed, looking at all the great posts and pictures. They’re professional successes and triumphs, and beat myself up.

Chaowen: 6:48
Deep down when I could pause to think rationally, I know that social media is full of false and toxic positivity. I know for a fact that my colleagues are also going through frustrations and rejections, and maybe even some self doubt at times. But I still can’t help thinking about all these opportunities and gigs that I thought I deserve, or how everyone else seemed to achieve great success. But me.

Chaowen: 7:19
Of course, this kind of thinking and feeling did not help my depression and anxiety. In fact, the imaginary competition I was developing in my head with my peers, made things much worse. For a couple years, I was in such a depressive cycle, but I couldn’t find a way out. I couldn’t talk myself out of it. And if you’ve ever been depressed, like me, you will know, it’s not just a simple as easy as, hey, just don’t think so much about it. It’ll be okay. Everything will be fine. Gosh, I really hated those comments. And then I started regretting my decisions and blaming myself and other people. I regretted choosing conducting as a profession and thought I will have had such a brilliant life if I had just stuck with my legal practice.

Chaowen: 8:15
And just a disclaimer here, if you didn’t already know, I went to law school and majored in financial and economic knows, and work in the field of international health and trade roles for a while. And on my hardest days, during this time, I would tell myself that I was just incredibly stupid. If I hadn’t changed my career path, I would have been so much better off and with a great career.

Chaowen: 8:43
Or I blame my choice of having kids, I blamed parenthood because that is also something that is difficult, and time and energy consuming. I used parenthood as an excuse for my own actions and decisions, blaming my family or my kids for not advancing in my career. All the while feeling extremely guilty. I felt that I had failed as a partner, a mother and a daughter, as I didn’t even have time, or the bandwidth to deal with my own family. And that I wasn’t building a close relationship with my parents either.

Chaowen: 9:23
I’m opening up and telling you all this, because I want you to know that you are not alone, my friend. If you sometimes feel depressed and stuck, just like me. If you sometimes feel like a failure, just like me, if you sometimes feel that you have achieved nothing, and that everything is a total mess. I have been there and you are not alone. My friends. We all have been there. We probably are still there sometimes. But it’s okay to feel frustrated, defeated, and even depressed at times. What’s important is that we acknowledge our feelings, become a cepting of ourselves, and give ourselves the much needed time to figure things out.

Chaowen: 10:15
Don’t beat yourself up. I recently heard a podcast with a guest Susie Moore, a life coach specializing in teaching people how to be more confident in themselves. She said when you’re feeling defeated, just remind yourself that no one has figured it out either. Which is a reason instant that has helped me feeling better and I wanted to share it with you.

Chaowen: 10:43
Give yourself much time and love to heal. And when you feel ready, try a few different exercises to Get through the feeling of being stuck.

Chaowen: 10:53
Today, I wanted to share with you strategies that have helped me through my darkest days. And I hope that you will also find a tool that resonates with you. Later in the episode, we will also talk about effective goal setting key skills and ways to audit your process. So make sure they stay with me and listen to the end. As always, if you’re listening from the car or at the gym, you can find everything on the show notes at ChaowenTing.com/9 [now theconductorspodcast.com/podcast/9].

Chaowen: 11:30
The the first and one of the most important reflections you can do when you’re feeling hopeless, is to return to your Why. Why did you want to become a conductor in the first place? What made you want to conduct? What amazed you so much that you felt that this was it? Conducting will be the career path for you.

Chaowen: 11:55
My teacher, Mike Gibson from CCM, which stands for college conservatory of music as a part of the University of Cincinnati system used to ask this question to every single applicant who applied to the construction program. Why do you want to be a conductor? And through the two years that I attended this program, he continued to ask this question from day one. Until the day we graduated.

Chaowen: 12:23
He always say to us, it’s not enough for you to just love music. If you just love, if you just love music, you can play an instrument, you can sing or you can compose or create things with sound, you don’t have to be a conductor.

Chaowen: 12:40
Gibson felt so strongly that there should be a very good reason, or at least some motivation to lead a musician onto the conducting path. I believe this is so true because this is such a unique career path. From the outside, it looks like such a glamorous profession that we just take on this leadership role demanding excellency from our musicians, and direct a group of very talented people. But we are actually more servant than leaders.

Chaowen: 13:16
In my opinion, I believe very strongly that conductors are there to serve the music first. We are there as the messengers of the composer, bridging the gap between the nodes and markings on the page to the actual realization of sound. Beyond serving the music, we’re also serving the musicians and the ensemble. The conductor doesn’t exist for anyone’s ego, or to move their arms around and look great. But to help the ensemble recreate the music to the best of our ability from the notation of the score. We are also serving the audience through the music, we want to create a positive experience for them, which is engaging and relevant, and makes them want to come back for more.

Chaowen: 14:09
So what is your why? What made you want to be a conductor in the first place? I hope it wasn’t because you wanted to make a lot of money, because only very few of us make it to that level. If your why was to impact people, then perhaps focus on what kind of influence you can bring to your ensemble and audience. If you wanted to become a conductor because you just loved working with groups of musicians, then consider focusing on those interpersonal relationships, and the joy that you create through interactions with your ensemble. When we are less fixated on personal success, and the career accomplishment, we project onto ourselves, and instead, focus more on why we got started conducting in the first place, and whether we are achieving those goals. We will feel less stuck.

Chaowen: 15:10
Number two, form a support team for yourself.

Chaowen: 15:16
Five years ago, I wouldn’t have believed that I will ever give this advice because you might not be able to tell but I’m such an introvert and a lone wolf. I’m not a people person at all. And in fact, I’m sometimes very awkward around other people. When I was little, I used to want to become a scientist because I thought if I could just then spend all my time in the lab without having to talk to people. I don’t make friends easily. And I don’t open up to others and talk about personal issues often. I’m also always very selective of the company that I keep. And I used to be proud of having only a handful of people that I trusted.

Chaowen: 16:06
But things have changed so much since I build a team at the core of gross will conduct. The seven of us are all very different but mutually respect each other. Our monthly planning meetings have become so therapeutic, that they’re a safe place to ask questions, get honest opinions and feedback, and exchange or test our new ideas. We discuss sensitive issues like sexism, clothing, job offers and negotiation. And, of course, we argue with each other when we take different stance. This group of awesome women have made me a much better leader, as I learned to navigate contrasting opinions, to find ways to work with different minds. And to lean on people strength.

Chaowen: 16:56
Your support group doesn’t need to be a group of conductors, as that can be very difficult and uncomfortable at times, if you’re in competition with each other for career opportunities. If that’s the case for you find musicians in our field, or even non musicians who have a quick mind and wisdom who can give you a very honest and constructive feedback. And I can see things beyond the surface level.

Chaowen: 17:25
Outside of my Girls Who Conduct team, I have a handful of people that I turn to for various issues. One of them is an administrator, whom I often consult with matters in management skills, and sometimes for audience engagement ideas, as he is my model lay person. When I’m planning interactive project, there is another conducting mentor of mine whom I could ask more pertinent questions regarding my career trajectory. Johanna Lanning, who just joined our Girls Who Conduct as the social media director is my social media and PR guru. And she is the best person with everything graphic and image related.

Chaowen: 18:11
Additionally, I’m forever grateful for my few great writer friends who look at my draft of cover letters occasionally, and give me critical feedback. You need to start forming your own advisory board. I was given this piece of advice a couple of years ago, and then laughed it off. I didn’t think I needed one because one, I’m such a loner and over achiever, and I felt that I could do everything myself. And two, I didn’t know where to start looking for people to be on that advisory board. I didn’t think people will want to mentor me or to help me out in my career, or that I could find peers who wanted to exchange insider information with me, or to be my cheerleader. But after a year of having this awesome people as my people, I will give this piece of advice to all of you who are listening.

Chaowen: 19:12
If you don’t already have a personal Advisory Board, start developing one now. When you are stuck, this trusted people can see beyond your zoomed in view. The support from your community can help you feel less alone, as we all share similar experiences. And your colleagues can share various ideas and thoughts on the same issue that you might not have considered before. For instance, if you’re applying to a new type of position that you don’t have a lot of experience with colleagues who have worked in similar situations will give you a valuable insight, or interview and audition preparation tips that you would have never known to prepare this insider knowledge where both preparing you to bring your A game and boost your confidence as you embark down a new path.

Chaowen: 20:11
Number three, confront the brutal fact.

Chaowen: 20:16
In a book, Good to Great. The author James Collins talks about one of the key elements of distinguishing Good to Great companies from the good to nothing or non sustaining companies is that good to great companies are able to come from the brutal fact and act on their implications. By the way, if you haven’t read this book, I highly recommend it as it’s talks a lot about leadership skills and how organizations can achieve greatness.

Chaowen: 20:50
Coming back to confronting our brutal reality. I had a wake up call moment, actually, just a couple months ago, when I was called to reflect on decisions I have made that were sabotaging my own career. This decisions and actions I took, actually led to miss opportunity and misaligned career trajectory. So I sat down and really thought through my career goals, and what steps I had taken to achieve them. Then I realized that, to this point, I have been doing very little to achieve my goals, and not devoting as much effort as I could have. I will tell you what that makes.

Chaowen: 21:38
I have always known that I’m not a competition type of a conductor. In a competition setting, you have to impress people within the first 15 seconds. And you have a brilliant show. While a lot, it’s only 10 to 15 minutes under extreme pressure, your techniques need to be solid. And you need a specific plan going into the conducting excerpt. This is not where my personality shines the most, I need some time to warm up to people. And I generally need to have a chance to observe others before I know how to interact with them. I don’t work well, when I barely know the ensemble and the musicians that I’m working with. But yet, I used to dream about having the same type of success that my competition winning friends achieved. Furthermore, I did not actively work on sharpening the skills and techniques needed to improve my chances of advancing in competitions. Instead, I sat at home feeling miserable, rejected and desperate about not getting selected.

Chaowen: 22:52
Another instance of my own decision, actually sabotaging my career was about networking. Everyone knows that connections are important when getting jobs, with all heard the phrase, it’s not what you know, it’s who you know, we build and strengthen our network through schools work and professional and social engagement with others. But to me, networking doesn’t come naturally. And I don’t have expansive connections like some of my colleagues, I made very few friends at the beginning of my career. And I didn’t always keep in touch with people. I used to feel that it was pointless to keep a friendship with other conductors whom I met at a workshop or a maths class. Because I thought, if I had a gig, I wouldn’t just recommend anyone that I met in a conducting workshop in Ukraine or Romanian whom I haven’t been in touch with for a while. Right. And I don’t think other people would recommend me for opportunities just because we had dinner together once.

Chaowen: 24:05
As a result, I didn’t work on developing my social and professional network over the past decade, I did not look for ways to sharpen my interpersonal skills. I did not actively reach out to people or build meaningful relationships. I didn’t even try to improve my skill set there. I just did nothing. And yet, I sat there feeling desperate that I was not advancing through job publications. I looked down on people getting recognized because in my head, they happen to just be at the right place at the right time. And I didn’t acknowledge that it took effort, not just luck to be prepared and adventurously position at the right place when opportunities arose. My colleagues worked hard on improving their craft into beauty, their connections in order to be discovered when someone influential was present.

Chaowen: 25:12
Waking up to this realities was really hard and brutal. And I saw clearly how my actions or the lack of really sabotaged my own career. I did nothing to improve the situation that I was in. Instead, I just felt stuck and defeated and blend everything else without ever trying to take matters into my own hands. What is your brutal reality? Find a quiet moment to sit down with yourself and write down what your goals are. What you have done to achieve them and what else can be done to help you achieve those goals in the future? Will you do this exercise Remember, no judgement. You are not there to judge or blame yourself, but simply to create a reality check. Separate yourself from your past doing you the exercise as a strategist, check in data and be very matter of fact, instead of entering into a vicious cycle of wishing you had done something different, or that you made a mistake here or there along the way, don’t beat yourself up. Get a sense of whether your goals are unrealistic, or need adjustment. make those changes and write down some steps that are really bite sized and manageable instead of overwhelming yourself, and have an audit system to hold yourself accountable. Sharing your goals with a group of friends is always a good way to keep oneself accountable, as well as setting calendar reminders to do an audit a few weeks or months down the road. Now we talked about one find your why to build an advisory board, or simply having a group of trusted friends that you can turn to and three confront the brutal fact.

Chaowen: 27:17
The next step, as Jim Collins suggested in Good to Great is to act on the implications of the brutal reality. So here comes our exercise number four, focused on things you can control and plan small tasks you can accomplish.

Chaowen: 28:39
Lastly, when you’re making plans, focus on things within your power. Our careers, like everything else in life is largely out of our hands. Instead of setting a goal, like I’m going to win a competition, this we’re focused on things that are 100% under your control, like I’m going to throw my name and a hat and apply for three competitions this year. Or I’m going to find three people reviewing my conducting videos and get feedback from them.

Chaowen: 28:13
Find actions that you can take to improve yourself and sharpen your skills, such as, I’m going to find three people who went to school with me that I haven’t talked to, and reconnect. Or I’m going to contact the manager of my local ensembles X, Y, and Z and request permission to observe a rehearsal. Another example is I’m going to engage five friends or three editors to look at my cover letters and resumes to revise it further. Then create many milestones to accomplish this goal with actionable bite sized, achievable steps. Don’t make a goal like I’m going to learn all the Puccini opera this year, just because I love his music when you barely speak Italian. Or I’m going to engage in for professional gigs when you don’t even have any experience conducting a full concert yet. And just remember that this kind of goal setting is unrealistic as you’re mistaking things out of your control as something that is achievable. Whether we get an engagement sometimes has nothing to do with our qualifications. Focus on actions that you can take and be very down to earth with your mini milestones.

Chaowen: 29:39
If you’re learning and operatic repertory for the first time, take Kristen did last advice from Episode Six and start with the language and the libretto. You can set a goal for yourself that you will learn one act in three months, breaking it down by various numbers each week. Or you can say I want to learn all the text and the first act this month, breaking it into various tasks like writing out the text and the original language in week one, finding the translation and IPA in week two, learning to speak the words in week three and having a coaching session with a vocal coach in week four. breaking things down into items that are achievable, and the micro successes will result in an increase of endorphins in your body, making you more motivated and less stressed. And for more tips on learning operatic repertory for example, listen to episode number six with Kristin that low and you can find the show notes at Chow plantain.com forward slash number six

Chaowen: 30:51
Another important thing that I learned about making plans over the years is, in addition to breaking goals into small, achievable tasks was to leave a little wiggle room for myself. Give yourself some leeway to catch up, so you can actually complete tasks. Don’t overstretch yourself by creating too structured of a schedule for yourself. Remember, accomplishing small steps are much more important than creating grand plans that are never completed.

Chaowen: 31:28
Last step in goal setting is to hold yourself accountable. Sharing your goals and steps with your personal counsel can be a nice way to do this. Some people like to announce things publicly, like on social media, while I’m a bit too self conscious to do so. One effective way that I found is to block out time on my schedule to get those tests down, make an appointment with yourself, and dedicate a few hours a week to work on this tasks. I have a much better success rate of completing things when I see it on my calendar. You know, I’m the kind of person who doesn’t exercise unless I’m sign up for a fitness class, for example, you have to find what works for you.

Chaowen: 32:18
So there you have it, my strategies for getting unstuck. Number one, find your why and understand your purpose. Number two, create your support team and your personal counsel. Number three, confront the brutal reality and for Focus on what you can control and take tangible steps towards your goals.

Chaowen: 32:46
One last word before we wrap up, seek professional help as needed. I have not seen a therapist myself, but a lot of friends have regular sessions with their therapist. Having someone that is trained to support mental health is important. If your insurance allows and if you can afford it. A therapist can help you develop coping strategies guide you to better understand your emotions and provide a fresh perspective on an issue. I have also taken medication to help my depression when I was under a lot of stress. And there are also many support groups and communities online with like minded people who can share their experiences and be sympathetic with what you are going through. Seek help and don’t think that you are in this alone. We all have been there feeling stuck and we can really support each other. If you want, you can always DM me on social media or write to me at the conductorspodcast@gmail.com I promise everything is confidential, if you just want a safe place to talk.

Chaowen: 34:01
Thank you so much for listening. And I hope you enjoyed the show. Follow me at @tingchaowen that is T I N G C H A O W E N on Instagram for show note inspiration and exclusive behind the scenes stories as a conductor that you won’t find anywhere else.

Chaowen: 34:22
Starting in December, I will host a monthly giveaway of an hour of free consultation with me. All you have to do is leave a review of the podcast why you love the show, screenshot the review and tag me on Instagram or Facebook and you will be entered into the monthly giveaway for a free consultation. You can also get an extra entry every month as long as you share the podcast post and tag any friend.

Chaowen: 34:52
So go ahead and subscribe and leave a review. Next week we’ll be talking about the somewhat sensitive topic of conducting competitions. And my guest is Rebecca tome, the winner of the inaugural la Maestro competition held in Paris earlier this year. I can’t wait to share her wisdom and experience with you all and I will see you at the same time, same place next week. Bye for now!