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Emotional Intelligence Improved my Musical Pursuit and Life

"Emotional Intelligence is the capacity to recognize your own, and other people’s emotions; to know the differences between emotions and label them appropriately; and to use emotional information to guide thinking and behavior." - Cheryl O’Donoghue in her book “How to be an Emotionally Intelligent Leader (While Crushing Your Goals)”


It is no secret that 2020 has been the year of change, but I’d like to jump right in with the big question; Why is change viewed in a negative light? Truthfully, I am so thankful for the change that has come with this year. Let me take some time to explain why.

Pre-COVID, I was an undergraduate music performance major with tunnel vision that I was going to go to grad school, get my doctorate and become a clarinet professor and that’s it. No other choice. I have to say it was working for me. I won some small competitions, performed regularly throughout Ames, got into grad school, and all that exciting stuff. Sounds great right? WRONG. I was so stressed and uptight all the time. I wouldn’t make time for my family and friends because I always felt the need to be working towards my goals. My sleep schedule was non-existent. Three meals a day? Yeah right! Music is a competitive career, you know. I was constantly working, constantly busy, constantly only thinking about clarinet. At the time, I thought I was satisfied. I thought this was the dream life. I thought this was the way to succeed. Then COVID came and it seemed like my life was over.


What the heck is a performance degree good for if you can’t perform? More than you would actually think, but to get to that conclusion it was a complicated and confusing road for me. I am fortunate enough to be very close friends with Cheryl O’Donoghue’s daughter. During my time of thinking my life was over, Cheryl had just released her book “How to be an Emotionally Intelligent Leader (While Crushing Your Goals)” and her daughter had gifted it to me as a graduation present. I like supporting my friends and their families, so I figured I now had something to do during quarantine. What I didn’t know at the time was how this book was going to literally change my life.


The book starts with a survey where you rate your emotional intelligence strengths and weaknesses. I felt a little attacked on some of the weaknesses, but that’s for another time! In the time I was doing the survey my brain had already started thinking “Why have I never heard of emotional intelligence before and why haven’t I been using it in the fullest in my clarinet playing?” I truly believe that music has the power to make people whole again, but my focus was very much on “If I play well then you will become whole”. When it should have looked more like “What do you need that I can offer through my craft?” My tunnel vision mind was limiting me to the true opportunities that I could offer through music. This revelation lead me to a wonderful conversation with Cheryl (again perks of being friends with her daughter) about how emotional intelligence should be apart of what we study and know as musicians.


This revelation has become the driving force of what I do as a musician. I have a new fire of motivation and reason behind my work. Yes, I’m still looking forward to the day where I can perform music for an audience again, but I don’t need just that to be satisfied and to be able to make change in the world with my craft. This revelation lead me to getting a certification in Mental Health Training and in Music and Mindfulness to truly understand where music fits into improving the lives around us.


Even though venues are closed and audiences are sparse, music still plays an integral role in daily living. It took a pandemic for me, and I’m sure many others, to understand the true power that music has far beyond the concert hall. So yes, 2020 has been a year of change, and I will forever be grateful for it.


*This blog post is the first part of a series that will discuss more on my discoveries with emotional intelligence in a musical pursuit and in life.

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