Notes from a reformed negative-motivation addict

classical musician goals mindset

I left the building and climbed into the car. My dad had driven me six hours to take a lesson with a teacher whom I had my heart set on.

"How did it go?", my dad asked. "Fine", I said, honestly feeling a little deflated. I'd just played for the teacher, who at the end of the lesson suggested I consider a couple of other options. Finding this hard to admit, I waited a few minutes before I shared what the teacher said. "Well, maybe it's worth paying attention to" my dad offered.

I remember immediately feeling a deep well of energy rising, the kind that feels like someone ignited a contrary ambition. I vowed to get into this teacher's studio.

My parents took this teacher's advice to mean I shouldn't go into music. Instead, they urged me to go into my second choice major, architecture. I inwardly vowed to prove them wrong too.

As musicians with ambition (getting into a certain studio, vying for a spot in an orchestra or band, getting gigs, getting students, creating a project, or growing a business) we often think what we need to do is prove ourselves to other people.

Sometimes it's proving someone wrong. Sometimes it's convincing others that we're good enough, that what we offer is worth paying for, or that we're capable.

The strange thing is, sometimes I feel motivated by wanting to do just that ...prove. My guess is you've felt this too! My parents didn't believe that I would "make it" as a musician. Loving and wanting the best for me, they always asked, "what's your plan B"?

It wasn't until later that I recognized: I feed off negative motivation! I love the powerful drive and energy it offers! I enjoyed pushing up against the limits or beliefs others have imposed on me! "How dare they say I can't?? I'll show them. I'll prove them wrong!"

It can be long-burning high-octane fuel. But this energetic effort of proving yourself, or someone else wrong, miiiiight not be the healthiest approach. It took me a good number of years to realize this.

Here are a few thoughts (from a reformed negative motivation addict 🙋🏻‍♀️ ):

  • Achieving anything this way isn't fulfilling; it's at least short-lived. "I made it happen, now what?"
  • If your drive comes from anxiety, anger or frustration, after you've "achieved" the thing, you're still anxious, mad or frustrated
  • Proving is inherently selfish. It's taking. It's not generous.
  • It puts you in a defensive stance. Remember the last time you pressured yourself to play perfectly, or else 'what will they think'? How did that go for ya?
  • And, finally, proving people wrong, be it your teacher, your parents or peers, is on the opposite side of the continuum of the flow of energy - you're working off their power, not yours. You're still in their power!

All of this proving and wanting to impress? It's exhausting.

When you dedicate vision to someone else's judgment, you can slide quickly into comparison and lose your sense of direction. Not to mention the mounting pressure that can come from achieving on a certain timeline, or by an arbitrary deadline.

Challenge your need to prove

Refocus on your internal guidance system! What does it look like for you to live "right", from your real desires and interests? If it's the thing others' said you couldn't do, how can you make it yours, and independent of the energy others' words carry?

If not, what is? What are you truly driven by? What's your best life?

What's your way of adding value to the world? What do you feel called by?

If you feel stuck, I invite you to download this GOAL SETTING WORKBOOK to get refocused, re-align with what you want, clarify the steps to take to get there, and set into motion a powerful awareness of when you're straying off the path!

Wishing you a life that is joyous, true, connected, abundant and generous.


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