When I neared my 20-year mark as a flutist, I found myself feeling like I was all dressed up with no place to go. I had pretty much mastered the instrument and its repertoire, and took on the challenges of learning to play other members of its ancestral family (baroque flute and recorder). Because I am wired to work, I worked like crazy to acquire technique, and struggled like crazy with the challenges of the instrument. I'm not happy with my "flute voice" when I listen to old recordings, but objectively speaking (and I can be objective after 20 years away--with a return dip here and there--from the modern flute), I played the instrument really well.
Staying in shape on the flute (or on any wind instrument) is an issue. In order to play well, you have to be in top form. If you are not, it hurts physically as well as musically. I really did have to be in my "third hour" of the day in order to feel like I had any control over anything when playing the modern flute, so I made sure that I put in two hours of scales and exercises every day.
Through a set of circumstances (mostly professional, or attempts at being professional, i.e. working as a flutist) that still make me feel defeated, I very often found myself full of technique and ability, but with nowhere to play. In other words, I was all dressed up with no place to go. It was very disheartening. I did everything I could, but nothing seemed to work.
When I was 31 or 32, I decided to stop trying to get work as a flutist or a baroque flutist, and begin practicing the violin. My father sent a 3/4 size violin (one that my older brother used) for our daughter Rachel (who was way too small for it), and one day, around Thanksgiving, I picked it up and started playing it. I had played as a child, but stopped when I began the sixth grade. In other words, I had 20 years away. I remembered my way around first position, but had no clue about anything else. Abandoning flute work wasn't any problem. I never got any calls.
I knew that playing the violin was what I wanted to do for the rest of my life, and that was that. I had a lot of hard work ahead of me, and most of it was slow and repetitive. I'm sure that it would be tedious to some (especially my family, who had to hear much of it), but to me it was was mediation. It was medicine. It was therapy.
Now I have reached my 20-year mark as a violinist and violist, and find that a lot of the technique that I have acquired over the years has become almost second nature. I have finally broken through many of the physical barriers that used to make me feel inadequate when I play alongside my peers. I finally have control over my limbs and fingers, and can confidently enjoy the riches of the string repertoire. The 20-year-mark is so different for me now because the road to satisfying musicianship still stretches long before me, and I find that the acquisition of technique is always a means to a fulfilling end, with a series of greater challenges ahead of that. And the high-quality music seems to be endless.
The moral of this story? If something you have worked hard at over the years makes you feel frustrated and you can't see a fulfilling future in it, try something that makes you feel like you can proceed with purpose. The millions of accomplishments you get along the way make up for the disappointments associated with the path that didn't work, and instead of finding yourself "all dressed up with no place to go," you might find yourself with a fabulous wardrobe that can keep you happy, even when you are just hanging around the house.