Working Your Show: Dealing With Insecurity

As a music teacher I have a duty to build up my students but also to keep it real.  I stress the balance between believing in yourself (working your show) and being honest with yourself (breaking it down).  An artist needs a healthy ego, but students (and we are all students at some level) need to have critical self-awareness in order to improve and grow.  One of the main ways we find that balance between confidence and growth is accepting the challenge of insecurity.

There are lots of ways to feel insecure, and lots of ways to describe the feelings of doubt, despair, frustration and all that good stuff.   I think it is helpful to stay grounded in the music.  Other triggers for insecurity (body image, family history, personal relationships) should be dealt with in appropriate ways, but they are peripheral to the space/time ritual of music performance.  So, seek strength in the music to work through feelings of insecurity.

What does this mean in practice?

A) Separate your ego from the music.  This means accepting the challenges of musical growth while never doubting that you are the center of your universe.  When you have doubts (“Am I good enough?”, “Am I just one among thousands of wannabe rockstars?”, “Why is this so hard?”), it is usually because you’re letting your ego wander into the area of critical thought.  That’s not where it belongs.  It belongs in the imagination, in the ritual space/time.  Critical thinking is useful when directed toward specific tasks, like researching, rehearsing, refining.  Don’t confuse emotion with analysis.

B) Insecurity is a helpful adaptive trait: It is your mind telling you to be more observant, so you can adapt to your environment.  If you respond to feelings of insecurity by looking outward, trying to learn more, not accepting limitations, then you will continue to grow.  It is emotionally hard work, but this approach leads you forward and creates tangible results.

C) There is a cycle to taking on a challenge.  First there is the desire to get there, be the thing you dream.  Then there is the resistance, the work, as you move from where you’re at to where you want to be.  Finally there is the elation and satisfaction of making progress.  After that there is usually the awareness (and emotional low) that accomplishing your goal only opened the door to another challenge ahead.  We all have to learn how to deal with the emotional ups and downs of that cycle, and making insecurity a tool for critical awareness and improvement.

Now, on with the show!