This week, I developed a decent practice routine for the first time in — longer than I’m comfortable telling you.

Learning how to develop a rewarding musical career, co-direct an organization, earn enough money to live, and still actually practice has been a huge challenge for me. I worry sometimes that I’m doing “worse than average” on this front. After all, as you know, I’m a bit of a dabbler. Teaching is not practicing; writing is not practicing; rehearsing and performing are also not practicing. I’m an active performer, I’m doing a pretty good job … but am I actually practicing enough?

The transition from conservatory life — where three to four hours a day of practice was an expectation around which we built our entire lives — to professional musical life is a rude awakening. Student loan payments come due and so do rent, utilities, and health insurance premiums. We form essential relationships in our lives that will wither and die if we don’t nurture them. We plan ambitious concert programs and commission challenging new works. Gone are the days when we could linger over an open-string exercise for too long. A pile of demanding music waits on the stand, and before too long, it’ll be time to jump on the train to rehearsal. We’re hustling so much, time to practice can feel like a luxury. (As it did this week during my “vacation”.)

These are the challenging life circumstances that can lead to some pretty serious practice guilt. Our work is never done. This is a source of inspiration and energy, but also can be a source of torment.

But this week, I’ve uncovered a reality that I think will keep me coming back for some one-on-one time with my violin: practicing is so unlike ANYTHING else that I do, it feels almost sacred.

I practice in true solitude. My practicing is not evaluated by anyone but me. My practicing cannot be liked, re-blogged, or re-tweeted. I do not practice for the approval of others. I do not negotiate with anyone else about the time, location, length or content of my practicing. Practicing does not involve any compensation or payment. Practicing brings awareness to my body, mind, and emotions. Practicing increases my understanding and appreciation of the music I am playing.

Practicing has been a centering ritual of work, play, self-reliance, self-improvement, observation, listening, problem-solving, and tenacity since I was nine years old. When I practice, I reconnect to my best self — the self that has been listening, working, and trying again for close to two decades.

When I look at it like this, practicing means more than I thought it did. And I feel a lot more willing to protect its role in my life.