Mind Over Matter

By Stella Joseph-Jarecki (Enquiries: stellamusicwriter.wordpress.com)

I have worked out something about my personality. Many of our psychological responses in life are shaped by what motivates us at our core. For example, I am the least competitive person I know. When I took part in team sports during high school PE, I was so apathetic at the prospect of ‘winning’ I could barely be bothered to try my best. (I also didn’t really like sport.)

And hypothetically, if I had been told that every month the top student in English class would earn a trophy, I still wouldn’t have put in any extra effort. I am completely uninterested in trophies. I’m not trying to sound noble, either. I would have tried my best regardless because it’s a personal point of pride that I enjoy writing and work hard at being good at it. But I would have logically understood that there was only one trophy, and that it could easily be won by a member of my class if they submitted better work that month. And that wouldn’t change the fact I am objectively very good at writing.

I don’t want to insult those who are motivated by ‘winning’, or topping a scoreboard. We need all kinds of personalities in this world. And without the kind of scarily disciplined individuals who win Olympic medals, or get up at 5am to train for marathons (and pay money to take part in them!), I suspect a whole lot less would get done.

I think it’s important to work out what motivates you. During a high school psychology unit, we looked at the theory of personality types divided into A, B, C and D. The first two classifications made a lot of sense to me, especially in working out why I have always been so bamboozled by people who are fiercely goal-orientated (I’m more of a Type B personality, happy to chug along in my own lane, and people who are competitive and overtly goal-orientated are usually more Type A). No classification method is perfect though, and the remaining two types seemed to me a strange mix of leftover qualities.

There are many different kinds of personality tests out there. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with picking and choosing elements from the ones you’ve tried, if you’re simply trying to identify characteristics you can relate to. (On that topic, can you tell I’m a Libra, constantly weighing up the different sides of an argument? That even extends to the topic of horoscopes…)

I’ve realised that I am most motivated by a desire to be challenged, and to acquire knowledge. (Sounds lame, but I am a Ravenclaw through and through). That’s why I decided to pursue classical singing, because it allowed me to sharpen different parts of my brain simultaneously. I was learning the sounds and structures of foreign languages, the cultural and dramatic history behind opera, as well as taking on the physical and emotional challenge of the singing itself!

That’s also the reason I am not devoting myself to singing full-time. There are so many other things I want to explore. I want to do a music history research Masters and PhD, something that seems totally normal in my brain, but I suspect most of the singers I’ve met through my studies would rather eat rusty nails.

A characteristic that goes hand in hand with wanting to challenge yourself and fill your brain with more and more information, is a voice inside your head that constantly says “You don’t know enough to express your opinion yet”. It’s not necessarily that I think I’m an impostor, but that I get overwhelmed with all of the things I won’t get a chance to learn.

When someone asks me why I love a particular composer, I’ve realised I usually answer with my emotional responses to their music, not an appreciation of what they achieved with chordal harmony and form. That’s because music theory isn’t my forte. But that makes me doubt my opinions in the area which I am confident in, the relationship between music and drama.

I think it’s a variant of impostor syndrome- when in a room with people who are intimidatingly, amazingly knowledgeable in their field, I don’t doubt that I have interesting things to say, but I definitely wish I that knew more!

But now I have worked this out, I am ready for that voice when it comes. I’m never going to be satisfied with my level of expertise so I am just going to keep ploughing ahead, focusing on the things that I can change.

I hope my indulgent self-reflection has given you cause to navel-gaze upon your own personality and motivations. There is probably no better time to do so, than when we are trapped inside self-isolating.

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