How Musicians Can Find Freedom Walking Their Own Personal Path
We live in a culture, both broadly and in the classical music world, that values achievement. From a young age, we are taught to get the grades, win the race, enter and win the competition, study with the best teacher, go to the foremost school in our field, attend elite summer festivals, and on and on.
That mentality only intensifies as an adult. Our success is measure by the job we hold, the income we bring in, the luxuries we own, our popularity within the community, the world experiences we’ve had like travel, fine dining, and attending fancy events. Or maybe it is the size of our homes, the schools our kids attend, the car we drive, our personal indulgences like facials, manicures, and massages. Or it’s going to rehearsals with great soloists and conductors, hob-nobbing with high-level donors, or teaching at exclusive schools. Or the number of students in our studios, the connections we have with musicians in top-tier orchestras, recordings we’ve been a part of, magazine articles featuring us.
Take a minute and check-in with yourself. How does this list make you feel? What does it bring up for you?
This, or some version of this, is our collective lived experience in the United States. We exist in a culture that values measurable results; a culture that has clearly defined expectations for a person to be successful and promotes the message that you, too, can and should achieve this type of success. You need to work hard, practice, take auditions, be excellent, be PERFECT. If you don’t achieve? Well, that just means that there is a deficiency within you or you simply haven't tried hard enough.
Not only does culture’s definition of success set an ever-rising bar of achievement, but it also shames you and causes you to believe you are less than if you haven’t measured up.
Chasing after this kind of success causes you to live from the outside in. You are given a list of things to do - not things that you have chosen or things that are aligned with your values and gifts, but rather a list of achievements that someone else has determined to be the priorities. You dedicate your life to ticking the correct boxes. You chase after the next goal, the next win, the next validation hoping that it will finally be enough. Enough for them … and enough for you.
“Restricting success to a mere fixation on results - or goals such as material wealth, having traveled, or knowing many people - is a view which causes our spirit to be atrophied because this persuasion gives us the illusion that everything can be accomplished with will-power and self-control.” - Irmtraud Kruger
A view that causes our spirit to be atrophied…
There is another path. It is a path that is laid out just for you, deep in the forest of your soul where no one has traveled before. Often times the entire path is hidden save for the next step or two in front of you. Walking on this soft path allows you to finally begin to live from the inside out.
When you choose to seek fulfillment rather than success, you allow your inner voice to rise and speak. You experience an internal satisfaction that denotes a job well done. You feel aligned with your values, your priorities, your unique personality, and your giftings. You are able to access a deep reservoir of creativity that flows uninhibitedly into your work. Thoughts and dreams arise that could only come from you and can only be brought forth through you. You harness the you-ness of you and bring it forth into the world in a way that only you can. Seeking internal fulfillment becomes your own unique To-Do list that allows you to exist purely and authentically.
Like Mary Oliver says, “You only have to let the soft animal of your body love what it loves.”
Success vs Fulfillment On Stage
As we turn our gaze onto performance anxiety, let’s unpack how shifting from a success model to a fulfillment model can support you onstage. With performance anxiety, your success is dependent upon others. There is an external box that needs to be checked - it could be praise from a teacher, impressing your colleagues, the roar from the audience when you take a solo bow or performing perfectly to assuage that inner voice that says you aren’t enough. But you can’t check the box, only someone outside of you can deem the performance worthy.
No wonder musicians feel intense pressure on stage! Everything hangs in the balance and ultimately you have no control over whether you win or lose. It’s like there is a grandmaster of ceremonies who stands in judgment of you and all you can do is wait and see if his thumb goes up or down. AND, there is that societal message that if the thumb goes down you are to blame. That is an overwhelming amount of stress to field during a performance.
However, if you chose to be driven by internal fulfillment your experience will look much different. Perhaps you have set an intention before your performance such as desiring to create a connection between you and the audience or allowing yourself to be vulnerable. Or perhaps you have identified a core value of bringing beauty into this world and this performance becomes your expression of that value. Or maybe you have determined that the next level of personal growth for you means leaning into moments that cause you to be brave. All of these things are born inside of you, can only be executed by you, and you, not a faceless judge, are the only person who can evaluate your performance.
Additionally, because you are walking your own path with your own goals, there is an inherent understanding of grace and imperfect practice. You know that you won’t achieve one hundred percent of the time - you are not a machine! But, the fulfillment comes when you do the thing, step on the stage, take the audition. It is the process that is fulfilling, not the outcome.
As you practice walking on stage with your goals and your goals alone you will begin to find freedom. You will be able to take more risks, create more authentic art, and resiliently deal with setbacks. Your work will become less motivated by achieving arbitrary successes set forth by culture and more about taking the next brave step forward on your unique path.
This is the work you are made for.
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!
Join the waiting list for my FREE mini-course, How to Stimulate Your Vagus Nerve and Calm the Heck Down.
Founder of The Musician's Mindset
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.