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Friday, November 7, 2014

Comparing Yourself to Others? Feelings of Inadequacy? Making no money? Don't despair- we've all been there!

Maybe the title of this post was enough for you to already shake your head in acknowledgement of what I mean. Perhaps you know the scenario all too well yourself: you practice your music day in and day out (mostly alone and sometimes on a rare occasion with a teacher or with colleagues/friends), and eventually you get curious or bored (whatever the case, depending on the day) and decide to see how you 'measure up' to other musicians who are in your field (singing your same genre, having your same voice type, playing your same instrument....you get the picture). BAM! Before you know what's hit you, you've listened to several media samples on scarily-good-looking websites from people with whom you're kind of in direct competition (again: you are in the same genre, they have your same voice type, you play the same instrument, etc..) and you're feeling pretty bad about yourself and your musical progress in comparison to what you just heard/saw. The worst part is this: you know that you can do better than what you are doing currently, it's just that somehow you've lost momentum.

Well, if you're in this particular pickle currently, or if you've been in it before you know what to do: step away from the computer!!, (though not, of course, before finishing reading this blog post) and STOP comparing yourself to others!

I know that this sounds simple enough to do, but honestly, it's pretty challenging. If you've fallen into this trap before you know the reasons why. Perhaps you've even talked yourself into believing that this is a good thing to do. You'll get toughened up for when you have to audition against these people, having to listen to them auditioning right before you through the door, and then you don't get the job. Or, you're simply curious about who is getting the jobs that you'd like to have, and why they're being picked. Perhaps you can divine exactly what is the magical ingredient to their success simply by watching their videos/listening to their audio samples countless times, and spending a good hour on their website scouring through their bio and resume to discover who might be the 'big name' that is missing on your info which could have potentially gotten them the job and not you. Maybe you've even considered stealing their signature moves (a new cadenza that they wrote themselves, some interesting non-traditional dramatic portrayal, discovering what style clothes they wear when performing, adding dynamic contrasts where they do, or following their phrasing to a 'T') and hoping that they will work for you well-enough so that when you're auditioning people might think you're them (or as good as they are if they don't actually look physically like you) and then you can get the job too. Perhaps it's as easy as stealing that new killer cadenza. Right?

Wrong!!! My dear friend, in all of this, the one thing that you're severely overlooking and completely forgetting is that you are unique and special by just BEING WHO YOU ARE. (Sorry for yelling, but this is an intervention, no?) Even if you could impersonate someone perfectly (whom you deem at this moment to be more 'successful' or more 'talented' than you are) you would never have the same success that they do, simply because you're not being authentic. People can see through that charade a mile away. Trust me- I've been on the other side of the audition table (okay, only once, but it still gave me a lot of insight about this) and I can tell you- those singers (actors, instrumentalists, etc...) who came into the audition and were completely comfortable with who they were and their abilities were the ones whom we all liked the most (and that had nothing to do with who was the most technically skilled or performed the most 'perfectly' in terms of 'traditional expectations'- actually the funniest part about all of this was that everyone we chose was NOT technically perfect, and we turned away a lot of people who were! How about that?!). And that was also a situation where each member of the audition panel had totally varying senses of what is 'good' and what is not. So, that's something to consider, right?

The other thing which I'd like to mention is that you are most likely being too hard on yourself. You know, this morning I realized why we are supposed to talk to children in a way that builds them up- because living life is hard, and when you're learning a lot at one time, learning something difficult or brand-new, or even fine-tuning something over many consecutive years, then it becomes even harder- and you need support and encouragement in those situations! You don't need someone breathing down your neck saying stuff like this:

"Why aren't you getting more done? You've only practiced 2 hours today and you did 3 yesterday! What's the matter with you? Why aren't you more motivated? Why are you so lazy? I bet (fill in the name of the person whom you compare yourself the most to) wouldn't be acting like this! I bet they do (x, y, z) instead of taking as many breaks as you do! Get off Facebook, for crying out loud! Who would even want to hire someone like you, anyway? I mean, with an attitude like this and no follow-through how do you expect to become successful? And you had so much potential!! But alas, it's all wasted now. It's much too late for you to ever make something of yourself. Lord knows that you actually have gotten worse over the years. Maybe when you were younger there was still hope to get on the right path, but now you've hopelessly strayed and have become so screwed up with neuroses and bad habits that you'll never be able to get back to where you were, let alone where you want to be. You've squandered your time and now you'd better just get a real job that pays the bills so you don't end up starving on top of already being pathetic. I guess your (Mom/Dad/Grandma/Grandpa, whomever...) was right when they told you not to go into music! But you were too dumb to listen to them. You believed in yourself- pah! Even then you didn't know how little talent you had and you had even more hope than you have now- how silly you were! Didn't you always know somewhere deep down that it was going to turn out this way eventually? So admit defeat. At least if you give up now you won't continue to make a fool of yourself and continue to waste money and time like you've been doing all these years. Maybe people will forget that you tried and failed. Hopefully they just won't mention it in the future."
This kind of talk does not help anyone. If it's coming from someone else (maybe you're not actually saying these things to yourself- maybe someone else is saying them to you) then you have to get away from that person's influence (physically or mentally, somehow), or if it's coming from you (your own negative self-talk) then you've internalized these things as you developed over the years through hearing them from others (teachers, parents, friends, etc..) and have finally turned them into your own beliefs about yourself.

However, there is still plenty of hope for you, so don't despair. When was it ever accurate to measure yourself by another person's standard anyway? Consider- there are two major systems of measuring things (the metric and the imperial) and both are considered 'right'. So why can't you be who you are and do your music how you see fit and that be right too? I say that you can. Because you have to. I mean, what choice have you got, really? You can't accurately assess yourself or your abilities (I mean, sure you can in a way, if you record yourself and listen back for technical perfection, or if you're doing it how you'd want yourself to do it) but that is NEVER going to be the way that other people experience your music (and consider this mind-blower: you are only able to assess yourself by the parameters with which you've been taught to by OTHER PEOPLE--which are most likely totally invalid since they were weren't tailored to evaluate YOUR UNIQUE ABILITY!). You will truly never be able to fully grasp the way that your music making affects others who listen to you or watch you perform. Therefore, why try to over-analyze your abilities and strive for your imagined perception of 'perfection'?

It's as senseless as trying to look at the middle of your own back. You'll never be able to see it in real-time (sure you can take a picture but that loses the aspect of seeing it like others can) so you can also never judge it properly or fully. Therefore, again- why bother trying? Why place value on that? It's not important. What IS important is that you have a back and that it's there doing it's thing- being your back. And it's basically the same with your music making. You just have to do it in your own authentic way, and even if it's performing a piece that thousands of other people have performed countless times and have received critical acclaim for it, your version still will be enriching the lives in an unfathomable way of those who hear it and adding to the rich legacy of music making in this world. You just have to know that that is true and hold this truth in your heart, and then make your music. Simple as that.

Don't buy into the pessimistic views of the naysayers. They only talk that way because they're also saying those same things to themselves in their heads. Why else would they try to drag you down into the mental mire of being your own worst critic? They need company in the muck. But don't join them! Rather, throw them a lifeline and pull them up into the world of people who live each day knowing that what they do-no matter or big or how small-is worthy, good and needed, and they should feel proud about doing it, and glad that they could.

That's all.

And another thing- IF YOU DO NOT GET PAID FOR WHAT YOU DO, THAT DOES NOT MEAN IT HAS NO WORTH!  This is a common error of thinking. Many people buy into believing this is an appropriate way to measure whether or not something is worthy. The logic goes like this: if a person gets paid, then what they are doing is valuable. If a person does not get paid, then what they are doing has no value. WRONG!!!!!! This is a hold-over from thinking that developed probably right at the time when money was first used. Sure, back then money was created to approximate the value of the thing that it was being traded for (a.k.a. you give me a loaf of bread, I give you a coin that's worth roughly the worth of the loaf of bread). Money was used to equal the worth of goods that people needed. Well, in today's society things have changed. With the advent of inflation and modern commerce practices oftentimes a person is paying much more for a good than it's actually worth. (Gucci clothing, for instance, is made super cheaply but is still sold for a huge mark-up.) Thus, it is senseless to equate something having value with something that earns/costs a lot of money.  We can all think of plenty of things which are worth a lot to us but don't create cash flow/aren't expensive. For example, what about hiking up a mountain to see the view at the top, seeing a baby smile, sharing things with others, waking up every morning, experiencing new things, learning for fun....? The list could go on and on. And these types of things are the sort that, I'm sure you'll agree, money could never buy. So, again--why believe that if your music isn't making money, it's worthless? That is a total and blatant falsehood.

Okay, I hope that this has given you somewhat of a different perspective on your situation and empowered you. Maybe it will even help you to show others who are having similar problems the way out of the downward spiral. I know that once I realized how futile and untrue these beliefs were, it was easy for me to get out. I hope that you can too. So, keep on making your music and thanks for reading! And make sure to share if you know someone whose outlook might be brightened by reading this-we're all in it together! :)