Believe me. If I could, I would wave my magic wand and wipe out self-doubt for every artist that needed it. Not just because I’m so philanthropic, but because if I charged for that service I would be filthy rich. Only a rare few artists out there don’t face this demon and usually they’re of no help to us because they don’t know why they don’t suffer from this issue. But for the most part, many an artist faces a demon or two named fear, intimidation, or possibly second-guessing. So what do we do about it? Well, let me just say I’m not at all against seeking help for it. There are peak performance strategists like Renita Kalhorn, creator of Flow Factor (sign up here for her amazing FREE Mental Toughness Seminar on Performing Under Pressure, starts April 25th) who spend their lives teaching others to live in the zone and to routinely conquer the aforementioned demons. There are psychologists, psychiatrists, meditation experts, our faiths that we can all pull from as well. But even before we seek professional help it’s good to start by knowing what it is that we’re actually doubting. Rooting out the cause(s) of our self-doubt can take us a long way in beating it. Even before that, we have to understand why this pesky thing is worth expending the energy to defeat.
Why take self-doubt on headfirst and not just hope it will go away? First of all, because it won’t go away on it’s own. It may slink off into a dark corner only to pop up moments before you go on stage or right before you hit that tricky run you’ve been dreading. It’s just never far away and we as artists must banish it to a place where we can keep it at bay or at least reliably manage it.
Once we get rid of it, here’s what can happen:
1. We’ll actually enjoy our concerts as much as our audience is enjoying it. Did you ever notice that? Even while we’re screaming inside our heads about that last flub, the audience is still staring at us, dreamy-eyed! They love us, even when we’re busy hating ourselves.
2. We’ll play better, more like how we sound when we’re at home in our bathrobes without a care in the world, loving every second of the piece we’ve only been waiting our entire life to play.
3. We’ll feel better about our career choice, instead of regretting or second-guessing our worthiness or ability to call ourselves professional artists. Many of us quit waaaaay before our time and for all the wrong reasons.
1. The Need to Impress and Prove
Maybe it’s from those many lessons where we just wanted our professors to say, “That was awesome!”. I had a wonderful undergrad professor and as much as she loved me, “That was awesome!” was a rarity. An affirmative nod a few delayed seconds after your last cadence was about the best you could hope for. Then every blue moon she would grace us with an affirmation worth writing on our calendars. But the damage is done, isn’t it? We want and crave that approval over our art. As a student, it’s a little more logical, but as a professional we have to begin to give ourselves our own approval. Or else, we’ll be at the mercy of every sour face in the audience, every goofball who brings the score and sits in the front row and every guy with a tie we assume is the critic. Remember, you already made it. You graduated. So in many ways your art, your technique, your interpretations have been “approved”. Stop playing for juries and start playing for yourself and for your audience.
2. Who’s Listening?
We assume everyone in the audience knows the score inside and out or has possibly played the Liszt B Minor Sonata that you’ve programmed. We imagine that all Eastman grads are seated in the front row, along with the local critic. We wrongly assume that everyone is there waiting for us to miss that note. Truth is, there will be a connoisseur or three in the audience (I can’t tell you how many of my piano technicians have been former serious piano majors, many from top conservatories), there will be Larry the Lumphead who only comes to the concert to criticize, but for the most part, the audience is there to be delighted. They also like to believe that you’re taking delight in what you’re doing. And as for the few jerks, if they start to question you after the concert, here is how that conversation should go:
Larry: So, I see you had a bit of trouble in that Beethoven.
You: Well, you know it’s a tricky piece. So you must play, as well? (This is what he’s been dying for you to ask)
Larry: Ah yes, I graduated Juilliard in ’76! I studied under (Insert Big Name Piano Prof here).
You: Oh how wonderful, she was an amazing teacher. So where do you play next? (You ask very innocently)
And here is your moment of glory, this wonderful awkward silence that occurs when you’ve outed him. The truth is usually, that he doesn’t play anywhere next, he has no ideas of the pressure of maintaining an actual touring concert career. He’s only imagined it, so he has no right to belittle your efforts on stage. So just smile, let the silence hang. Eventually he’ll hem and haw, conjure up a local gig or two or mention an important past performance. And all you’ll say is, “Oh…I see.” Then you’ll politely turn to your next adoring fan.
3. Lack of Preparedness
This is the easiest one to fix. Get ready for your concert. Whatever it takes. If you’re not ready, your brain (neither your fingers) can be tricked into thinking you are. It’s the worst feeling in the world to go on stage knowing in your heart you’re not ready. Sometimes it can’t be avoided. Most of the time it can. So avoid it…like the plague.
4. Eliminating the You from your concert
Besides being unprepared, the worst thing you can do is play your concert hemmed up in the traditions of days old, pretending to be someone or something you’re not. This is the opposite space you want to be in if you’re trying to have your audience make a genuine connection with you and your music. It also keeps you from being free mentally and musically, which will ultimately keep you from performing how you know you can. I’ve already blogged about Putting the “YOU” in your concert and recently on Finding Your Artistic Identity. Take a look back at those entries.
Now, don’t doubt me when I say we have the power within us to win this battle. As the cartoon above so eloquently expresses… You’re not poop. I promise you.Read More »