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Perfection Got You All Tangled Up? Try This Instead!

Use this mindset tool to build self-compassion

As musicians, we can easily cross the line from healthy striving to perfectionism. While healthy striving encourages us toward excellence, perfectionism paralyzes us with doubt and fear. We become focused on areas of shortcoming, inhibited from taking risks, and defensive to feedback.

Perfectionism shames us as humans and tells us that we will never be good enough. It points out all the ways we fail and makes us believe that if we had just worked harder we could've avoided the pain of failure.

Nothing good comes from perfection. Perfection doesn’t even come from perfection! Only suffering, anxiety, and dread.

When you find yourself gripped by a perfection mindset, this tool will help you reclaim your self-compassion and reorient your mindset to one of health and action. Because let’s face it, the bar for classical musicians is high. We need strategies to reach for it without demolishing our self-esteem in the process.

Write a Letter of Self-Compassion

Eww, right? The perfectionist in me is even cringing at this tool. Stick with me, though.

Many of us are all in on our belief that we are not good enough, and, frankly, this is a comfortable emotional space in which to exist. We know what to expect in a mindset of self-shaming. The narrative is clear, it’s always the same, and (usually) motivates us at least enough to get the job done.

Sort of. Except for a significant emotional toll. You might even end up quiting like I did…

So, let’s try something different, shall we? Something VERY UNCOMFORTABLE and INCREDIBLY RADICAL.

I want you to treat yourself with compassion. And I want you to do it by writing yourself a letter.

Trust. Me.

Here’s how to write a letter of self-compassion.

  1. Identify something about yourself that causes you to feel unworthy. It could be making a mistake in rehearsal, a comment your teacher made in a lesson, or a comparison with another musician where you fall short. To start, try to keep it small and concrete, and as your practice of self-compassion grows you can begin to tackle the thoughts or experiences that cause you deeper shame.

  2. Describe how it makes you feel. Put the ugly, the embarrassing, and the painful all down on the page. Be as honest with yourself as you can. These dark feelings only have power over you when they are hidden. Bring them to the light, put expressive words to them, and honor yourself by being honest.

  3. Now comes the letter. Use your notes from steps one and two to give yourself empathy and compassion for the thing that causes you to feel unworthy. That can be tricky, so these strategies might help. Imagine one of these “people” writing to you:

  • An older version of yourself writing to your current self;

  • The piece of you that feels loved and accepted by someone else (your mom? Your spouse? BFF?) writing to the piece of you that feels ashamed;

  • An imaginary friend with unconditional high regard for you coming alongside you;

  • Or, you writing to a friend you love who is struggling with the same exact things.

Ask yourself:

  • Where do these feelings come from? With time and space from that event, can I look at myself from a different perspective?

  • Am I holding myself to a higher standard than I hold other people? What would happen if I let that go?

  • Where do I find my value and identity? How does this experience fit into that?

  • How would I feel about this if I believed that, no matter what, I am doing the very best I can?

  • How can I create for myself an inner life that nourishes me as an artist? What kinds of things would I say to myself?

Sample Letter

Dear __________,

You have been working so hard to be ready for your ______________ solo in orchestra this week. You've listened to recordings, studied the score, and worked tirelessly with your metronome. But, it didn't go quite the way you wanted it to, did it? That's hard. I'm so sorry. I know it feels like you're never going to be good enough, but you did everything you could to prepare. All you have control over is the work you do in the practice room. Keep trusting yourself, keep doing thoughtful work, and know that you are doing the best you can. You are a beautiful musician and have an important story to tell. Remember, authenticity not perfection is what the audience needs.

Love _________

Often times we feel like we are keeping ourselves in check with a negative mindset. We believe that we’ll become lazy, indulgent messes without the barriers of perfection guiding us.

It’s not true. You love what you do. You love why you do what you do. You will continue to do it excellently with our without self-shaming and sabotage.

Perfectionism is inhibiting the freest and truest expression of yourself as an artist. Release that and there are no bounds to what you can do!

I’m here to tell you it is SCARY to take that first step into self-compassion. Scarier than any failure or shame that you’ve experienced thus far.

And it is 100% worth it. Be brave. You can do this.

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.

  1. First, check out our Personalized Mindset Tools Quiz to discover the mindset strategies perfect for YOU!

  2. Schedule your FREE 30 Minute Call with Katie. It’s free. It’s my pleasure. And it’s the first step to releasing stage fright once and for all.

Katie Frisco

Katie is 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.


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