How do we know if we are ok to be on the stage we are, that we will do a good enough job. For years I lived with a belief that held me back and I have just realised that that belief has changed, and I am now free to be who I really am on and off stage…..
My biggest fear was always looking stupid. As the third of three children, I was the shortest, the less pretty of the two sisters, and always believed (I felt) to know less because I was younger. I felt I was playing catch up and prove myself. I laugh and say I had 4 parents as everyone would tell me off and boss me around, but I was also loved and looked after by my 4 parents. I was lucky. To this day know that I can turn to any one of the four of them for help in times of trouble and this has allowed me to try things I might not otherwise have tried, because I knew there were people who would catch me when I fell.
How does this relate to singing and performing? Well recently I have come to a realisation. In the 5 Day Challenge I ran last week I was talking about looking stupid because one of the biggest fears shared by the singers in the group was a fear of messing up and looking stupid on stage. This is entirely normal and so common, it ties in with our fear of other’s critical judgment, but it can get to a level that keeps us small and stops us doing the things we might.
I too have never wanted to look stupid, as I said. I remember working in a pub in my late teens and the customers would joke with me and try and embarrass me. They would tell rude jokes, make lude remarks and throw coins down my cleavage. None of this embarrassed me, and I told them there was only one thing that made me feel stupid. They begged me to tell them what it was, I refused for obvious reasons! I will tell you though, as I told the singers in the challenge. My fear was making an intellectual mistake, being wrong. If it was discovered I was wrong about something I would go red from ear to ear and to the tips of my toes. I hated it. It was when I told the singers this, that I had my realisation. All my life I have wanted to be right. Not just wanted to, needed to be right. I know everyone wants to be right, few people would actively choose to be wrong, but for me it felt somehow existential, like being right or wrong somehow defined whether I was a good enough person. Being wrong meant that I wasn’t good enough, and being right was the only way I could know that I was good enough, so I had to be right.
You can imagine, this made me hard to be around. I would argue black was white and state my opinions as certain facts, and sometimes argue myself and others round in circles. I just had to be right.
As I realised this, I also realised something else. With all the work I have done on the way I think, that need has disappeared. Don’t get me wrong, I like to be right, who doesn’t? But I don’t need to be. Being wrong is no longer embarrassing in the way it used to be. So what has changed? One of the tasks I the 5 Day Challenge is to look at the audience from the audience’s perspective. To think about who they are, what they want and why they are there. If you do that you realise that they are kinder than you thought, in fact it might be you that is judgmental if you assume they are being critical of you. Some may be, but even if they are, that’s usually that is about their stuff and not yours. They are also way more forgiving than we think, and than we are of ourselves.
I have realised that being wrong doesn’t mean I’m stupid, it means I’m human. What, did I think that I could be right all the time?! I wanted to be but, like perfection, that was never going to happen. So why be so hard on myself when I am wrong? If I can forgive myself for being wrong, and it stops being the end of the world for me, then being right stops being a necessity. This then makes me more open to the possibility that I might be wrong, which in turn makes me more open to listening to others, and hearing their perspectives, and learning from them.
Don’t get me wrong, my former ways have not completely gone and when I feel most vulnerable I definitely revert, but now I mostly hold the goal of being right more lightly, which enables me to try things I might not otherwise have tried, like writing this blog, and be kinder to myself.
Back to how this relates to singing.
If we can go on stage knowing that making a mistake is totally possible, but able to forgive ourselves when we do, it means not only are we more likely to go on stage, we are less likely to become obsessed and distracted by the mistakes we make, and we are more able to be in the moment, enjoy it, and give our audiences a performance that they enjoy.
So how do I know if I’m good enough now if I don’t use being right as a measure? It’s simple, I don’t. I just believe, not necessarily that I am good enough, but that I am enough, as I am. Or as Nancy Kline puts it, I assume that I am enough, because assuming that I’m not gets in the way of me achieving the things I want to achieve and doing the things I want to do. So I might as well make the assumption that serves me than the one that doesn’t, because either one can be right or wrong.