How the classical musician can find their own value in a world that tells them to WIN
“Over time, the person who is simply focused on maximizing what they can learn and how they can grow will become much greater than the person who sees life as one continual test to prove themselves.” Joshua Medcalf
A couple of years ago, my teacher from Eastman invited me to speak to her studio about performance anxiety. She asked me to write out a little bio of everything I had accomplished on the flute. It was one of those moments where I could either:
Really build up my experience and go heavy on the “impressive” parts of my achievements
Be vulnerable with a group of incredibly talented musicians and tell them that I quit music because I couldn't manage the fear of failing.
Honestly, It wasn’t the easiest choice for me. I still have that drive inside my heart to prove my worthiness, to prove that I am valuable, that I have talent, that I have something to offer this world.
The way I was trained to do that was to win competitions, attend prestigious schools and summer festivals, and land a job. All of these achievements were tangible, quantifiable results that I could point to and say - “Look! I’m worthy! I’m good enough!”
And all of these achievements were dependent upon other people’s assessment of my talent AND where I was in comparison to other flutists.
This is an exhausting way to live. And, for me, the pain of quitting was preferable to the pain of failing. The desperation of abandoning myself and the thing I loved felt better than taking an audition and not advancing.
In hindsight, this makes my heart ache for young Katie. It makes my heart ache for every musician who experiences this.
There is a way through - a way that allows us to pursue excellence and also honors our humanity as an artist.
When we shift our focus from achievement to growth, curiosity, experimentation, and imagination we begin to build an identity based on our artistry and our unique, creative voice.
We release ourselves from a professional timeline and, instead, create the thing our hearts call us to. Like a blog! Like an innovative method to teach sound. Like a hybrid performance series that includes poetry and videos of clouds.
There is So Much Beauty inside classical musicians and my heart skips a beat when I think about what we will bring into this world when we embrace the weird, expansive, unconventional dreams that rise up inside our imaginations.
So, how do we do this? How do we begin to retrain or deeply ingrained value system of external achievement to one that values risk-taking and artistic integrity?
1. Get Quiet.
We have been functioning with the voices of others directing our paths for years. Sometimes those voices are explicit take that audition and sometimes the voices are implicit the only measure of success is a big orchestra job. We need to learn how to discern the goals of others from the goals of ourselves. Sometimes those goals will align! But, it is imperative that we make intentional choices about the direction of our lives rather than going on automatic pilot and blindly following the path that was laid down before us, whether it fits us or not.
So, get quiet. Write. Ask yourself questions. Wonder about what you could create. Explore what you think is beautiful and important and true. Give yourself space to excavate what has been hiding behind all of the should’s and supposed to’s.
2. Start Small.
Maybe you set aside 15 minutes of a practice session to see what it feels like to improvise? Or maybe you brainstorm ways to combine your love of vintage transformers with music from the 80’s? Or maybe you have a problem in your playing that you want to experiment with solving in a new way? Just open the door to your imagination and peek in. See what’s hiding in there. And spend just a little time exploring.
3. Find Like-Minded Folks.
I am the biggest introvert around. I love typing on my computer and reading books and listening to music. I love it! I love being quiet and alone. BUT, this type of work happens in community. Ideas get a chance to breathe and develop; inspiration and energy gets transferred between humans; collaborations and new concepts are born with other people. Find them! Create space for them! And see what emerges. I have no doubt it will be new and exciting and completely original. And you will feel supported and encouraged as you lean into more fully operating out of your value system rather than someone else's.
So, when I offered my teacher from Eastman my bio, all I said is this: I think the most valuable thing the studio could know about me is that I quit. That I gave it all up because perpetually proving myself and earning my worthiness was too high a price to pay.
Thankfully, you don’t have to quit music to rewire your experience. You can just take one small, intentional step at a time.
Next Steps and Additional Resources
Here at The Musician's Mindset, we have some incredible resources for developing and implementing mindset practices that will transform how you perform on stage.
First, check out our Personalized Mindset Tools Quiz to discover the mindset strategies perfect for YOU!
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Schedule your call with Katie. It’s free. It’s my pleasure. And it’s the first step to releasing stage fright once and for all.
Founder of The Musician's Mindset
Katie is a certified life coach dedicated to helping musicians overcome stage fright and believe in their own unique artistic voice. She believes live classical music is a powerful antidote for the division, pain, and loneliness pervasive in the culture and strives to support all artists to confidently share their work with the world. She lives in Cincinnati with her husband, three kiddos, a dog, a snake, and a goldfish named Orca.