Have You Loved You Today?
Each of us has something that comes easily.
Some of you would be appalled at the state of my clothes drawers. Some of you can effortlessly maintain a planner, remember phone numbers, and reflect on the accomplishments and shortcomings of each day, in writing, as the sun sets.
Some of you couldn't imagine making going to the gym to life weights four times every week an integral part of your life.
Some of us still spend hours upon hours every day in the isolation of a practice room, and some of us are at a *ahem* different stage of our professional lives.
But all us musicians have had this experience:
"That performance was terrible. I felt awful, struggling with everything, and I feel sorry for the audience that had to sit through my sorry attempt at music-making..."
And then, we listen to a recording that we forgot we had, maybe even years later, and we hear the qualities that we brought to the performance, and think "hey…that really actually sounds pretty good..."
Maybe we didn't even recognize that it was us! I have a memory like a goldfish, and I had the repeated experience of hearing radio broadcasts of one of my orchestra jobs, and thinking "I wonder what that piece is and who's playing it? Sounds pretty good..."
So what can we do for ourselves to short-circuit this lack of appreciation and love for ourselves?
1) Accept compliments sincerely.
I am as guilty as the next person of deflecting praise after a performance, but what if we accepted compliments at face value? Next time someone says "What a fantastic performance, that was incredible!" think about what that means; you just provided someone with an incredible, joyous, meaningful experience, regardless of the flaws you thought were there. Say thank you and reflect on the power that we have as performers to change lives.
2) Recognize your achievements
After a long day of audition prep, or grinding out a rehearsal we didn't have time to prepare for properly, it's easy to feel like shit about all the shortcomings we are trained to focus on. I half-jokingly have told students who want to go into music that the life of a professional musician consists mainly of sitting alone in a room reflecting on your failings. But the way we progress and the way we learn is not linear, and giving ourselves pats on the back for putting in time and effort even when it feels like shit is super important.
3) Recognize your strengths
It's important to recognize those things which come easily to you, as well as the things you struggle with. I always forget to congratulate students on the things they are successful with and jump straight into what needs to be better, and I suspect most of us do the same thing with ourselves. If you're the member of your chamber group who can coordinate the rehearsal schedule, that deserves recognition! If you're the one who always brings an extra pencil to rehearsal, that deserves recognition! If you play in tune without trying too hard, that deserves recognition! If you can count the insane irregular rhythms in that John Adams piece, that deserves recognition!
4) Celebrate your successes
If you won the job/part/got into the festival/school you wanted, celebrate! Look back at the process that got you here, and take a moment to compliment yourself! If the outcome wasn't exactly what you intended, go back and listen to the preparation recordings you made, and recognize the improvements you made. Success is how you define it, so while external validation can be nice, it's also important to define your success and your accomplishments in your own way.
Just going out and doing the thing can be a success, if that's how you define it.
All of us out here putting it on the line deserves all the encouragement and love we can grab, and that includes the love and encouragement that we give ourselves. Be generous and free with your self-praise, and celebrate your awesomeness.