The Self (Part 2)

From where we left off, in a nut shell, our perception of events, circumstances, and our reactions to them cause internal and external conflict that results in fear, doubt in one's abilities and other detrimental emotions and habits. These, if it regularly occurs, creates expected outcomes which write a narrative of ourselves that lowers our self perception and our positive outlook on anything and everything that we do. We know that changing the perception, rewriting the narrative to be positive and not allowing circumstances to inform our beliefs are all integral in creating a more positive, compassionate version of how we view ourselves and what we do. This, again in my particular case, was extremely helpful in controlling my anxiety and low self esteem when it came to my performance and even my life. This of course is very internal, dealing more with how you perceive yourself, but the other side is, of course, how you feel you are being perceived.

In most cases, we fear that people will perceive us in the way we think we are. Take for example the fear of missing a note. We usually think that the people listening to us think of missing a note in the same way that we have, "Oh no it's terrible. They must think it's terrible too." We are our biggest critic, and often we make more of certain things than outside listeners are even aware of. If you watch Arthur, there's an episode where he played a piano solo and made a mistake. He continually apologized to audience members but they all said they heard nothing wrong. A children's show just explained it perfectly. Don't be so hard on yourself for certain things that you know are splitting hairs. It's not until you do that that you can really see what really counts: was the phrasing right, was the character correct, was the overall execution correct? If you focus on the single note in the midst of the whole presentation you'll miss a whole lot more.

Along with the perception of outsiders as far as having the same view of us as we have for ourselves, usually in a negative way, the other side of that is having a desire to be seen a certain way, one that we either feel we have to be seen as or one that we think hides something about us that we don't want visible. In most cases it's the former of the two, and often, at least in my case for sure, the latter is mostly if not all "solved" when the internal struggle, from part 1, is dealt with and worked through. In the case of this desire for acceptance, it's really difficult to tackle because of the society we live in. For most of natural lives, we've always had someone looking at us in a certain way, or being "told" that someone like us is like this or that. Men are strong and work hard, women are emotional and motherly, things like that. This means that we not only have to tackle the internal desire of being accepted but the societal standards of what is acceptable as well.

First, we have to accept ourselves. No one can love you if you don't love yourself. This is the most important step in taking on the societal norms, having that grounded, proud vision of who you are and being confident in your uniqueness. There is only one of you and that's what makes you interesting, special, unique, and if you don't embrace that, embrace the whole you, you will never become the best you that you can be. You will always be holding something back. Don't, go all out, be as great as you can be. Don't try to make everyone happy, make yourself happy. They can take it or leave it, it's subjective, but you, you have to take it. You've heard the saying be yourself, but seriously, just be yourself. Don't try to be anything other than that. Of course we will always be improving, but as you are right now in this moment, you are perfect. Embrace it now, not later, not when you win a job, not when you get more money, not when you get into college, not when you get a significant other, not when you move to a new place. Love yourself now, with all the mistakes, with all the flaws. Only then can real change and growth take place be realized.

Second, after we have accepted ourselves, maintaining that confidence and self sufficiency in the midst of societal norms is the challenge. Again, we cannot allow outside forces to influence our internal narrative. Who do you say you are, not what did they tell you to say you were. Of course I don't mean it in the way of, "Oh they say I'm a novice at this, but I say I'm an expert" and you know you aren't an expert. Common sense of course. I'm talking about when you know, or even when you aren't completely sure, that they are wrong. With media nowadays, they are always pushing the new trend and fad: everyone should look this way, the new standard of living is this, these foods are the way to go. This is where we find ourselves, using or placing society's norms on our vocation, music. All we as musicians need to do is express the music. We don't have to be anything other than who we are and play the way we feel within the musical context. Anything else should enhance that, not diminish it. 

So, when they say that you need a 3 bedroom home that's worth $100,000 to be happy, you don't have to accept that. You know within yourself that happiness is achieved through more than just a house. Don't think that just because you don't have a certain thing, or don't look or sound a certain way that people won't accept who you are by yourself, especially when you are actively performing or sharing your art. The feeling of being rejected while performing is extremely detrimental to the performance and its effectiveness. If you go out there with the mindset of, "Oh I do this differently than people usually do it. They aren't going to like it," you won't perform well. Yes, there are trends, there are traditions, but there's also you! If you can navigate between the three, accessing as much of "you" as possible, then you will perform well, taking all aspects into consideration and making strong choices. Go out and perform the pieces the way you would do them, not the way you think they want to hear them. Live the life you want to live, not the one you feel obligated or expected to live. Let go of the desire to be accepted and accept yourself. Yes, we all want to be liked, but we can't let that motivate our actions or influence how we feel about ourselves. We should love who we are and what we do no matter what anyone says. When we get cut from the audition round, we should still know that we did and performed the way we wanted to and executed exactly the way we wanted.

All of these parts of self esteem are intertwined in some form or fashion, but basically they boil down to how we perceive ourselves and how we perceive the outside world. We should see ourselves in as positive a light as possible. Even if we don't like certain things, thinking of them as, "I can improve," and not as, "I suck, I'm never going to get better" will better our chances of a positive and speedy improvement, rather than a slow or stagnant one. Similarly, the circumstances and influences of the outside cannot inhibit or contaminate these positive outlooks. If the trend is that only Caucasian Americans win orchestral jobs and you are a minority, you do not have to let that stereotype inform or influence what you think is possible. I wouldn't be playing with the Detroit Symphony had I let that stereotype keep me down, and I soon realized how untrue that stereotype really was the more I got into it. 

Again, this is an ongoing journey for us all as far as becoming comfortable with who we are in this world. Society will always be pushing some new agenda or norm, and situations will always come up that will make you doubt or question yourself, but in the midst of everything, keep hold of who you are and don't waver from that truth. We are all growing and we all can and will get better, but as we are right now, we are perfect. You don't need someone to tell you that, you don't need a certain circumstance to confirm your place in the world, and you don't need a certain item to validate your existence. Your existence validates your existence, your love for yourself validates the love you have, your performance and choices validate themselves, you validate you. Everything goes back to the internal. If you love yourself, everything else is possible. So love yourself and enjoy making the impossible a thing of the past.