As a musician, it is hard for me to feel good about myself since I am surrounded by amazing musicians.
Someone who is much younger than me has already done this.
Someone who is at my age has already done this.
Someone who is just a bit older than me has already done that.
It feels like I am always in a competition and the world seems to be too intimidating.
I often feel uncreative, untalented, and unproductive.
I often feel like I am not improving fast enough.
I often feel like I do not have any significant contribution.
I constantly beat myself up for not being as (insert an adjective here) as others and not doing as much as others.
I remember I was thirteen when I first knew the competition. I remember how I wanted to do it, read through the flyer and said to myself, “well, I won’t be able to participate in this competition, the pieces are impossible to play, I won’t reach that level of piano playing,”
Life has a funny way of working things out and I entered that piano competition this year. Obviously, the goal is to prove my thirteen-year-old self that I am capable of doing this. However, instead of trying to do my best, I kept thinking that everyone else would do much better than me and I would not even get a chance to win.
I was right.
I did not have a chance.
I did not win.
I did not even get into the final.
Hold on, that was not right.
I decided from the start that I would not get into the final by not learning one of the final pieces, meaning that even if I get into the final, I would not be able to perform and compete.
I decided from the start that I would not get into the final by not putting 100% into it.
One of my excuses was “I am too tired to do this,” but the main reason was I felt like I was not qualified enough to compete and I thought that everyone else was going to do much better than me.
How fool I am, letting go a chance to improve my skill as a pianist. I spent most of my time thinking how good my competitors are, how long do I need to practice in order to beat them and other useless thoughts. I might have won the ‘first competition’ by challenging myself to join the competition, learned most of the pieces and performed while most of my colleagues did not even bother to try. However, I lost the ‘second competition’ by concentrating too much on anything else but my own goal.
What would have happened if I just focused on being my own competition? Would I be able to win? Only heaven knows, but I might win –one the side note, winning is not everything.
What would have happened if I chose to challenge myself to learn the piece? Would I be able to perform it well? I might be able to do it, I might not, but at least I would be able to play it. I actually knew that the piece was hard but not impossible and if I learned it, at least I would get some skills out of it (e.g. New techniques, etc.)
What would have happened if I chose to put 100%? Would I be able to get into the final? Only heaven knows, but at least I would be a proud girl who could say that I have given my best.
It is all about you, how you do, how you feel about it, not how good you are compared to others.
I received a lot of “how did the performance/audition go” questions as a musician.
“How did you go?”, my teacher asked me with a big smile.
“How did you go?”, my friend asked me enthusiastically.
Whenever I need to answer the question, I quickly compare my performance to other people’s performance, usually the ones that are better than mine and I often find the answer will come out to be, ‘it was just an okay performance,” without thinking about it any further. Once, my teacher asked the question to me and like a broken record I replied, “It was just an okay performance, X did really well though, her etude was…” She paused for a while, looked me in the eyes and said, “when I am asking you that question, it is all about you, how you went, how you felt about it, not how good you were compared to others. I am asking you,
“What did you like about the performance?”
“What did you not like about the performance?”
“What did you learn from the performance?,”
“What will you do better next time?,” and by asking those questions, you and I will help you to grow, by asking those questions, you will be able to learn your strengths and weaknesses and use them to improve yourself. You can learn something from other people’s performance but if you keep ignoring your own performance, you will not be able to improve.”
A few years later, I had my first recital. At that time, I still have never presented a recital before, I have never performed any music that is more than five minutes from memory, I have never been asked to learn pieces in a relatively short time and …I will let my performance anxiety issue alone for now. I knew people who gave recitals when they were only twelve years young, or even ten, and also people at my age who have done it for several times. Those people are more experienced and they are excellent players. I did not really want to do it because I kept thinking about what I should do to put a better show because I know that mine was more likely to be much worse than theirs, and did you notice what I have been doing in the past few sentences? Despite all these thoughts, I ended up doing it and I managed to present the whole program, even though I made some errors, unmusical playing and skipped a whole page of the second movement of a sonata. However, at that time, I understood that,
I did have something that I like about the performance,
I did have something that I do not like about the performance,
I did learn some lessons from the performance, and
I did know what I want to do better for next performance.
To quote my teacher, “it is all about (me), how (I) went, how (I) felt about it, not how good (I was) compared to others.”
I gained new experience,
I performed and learned a lot,
I felt pretty good about it,
I have improved and I think that is enough.
So this is for anyone who is similar to me, someone who is competitive, someone who feels like he or she is not doing enough compared to others and makes beating others as goals, I advise you, keep your focus, keep working hard but “compare yourself only to who you were yesterday and be your own competition,” because often you can learn more just by focusing on yourself instead of what the others are doing. Also, by being your own competition, you are doing yourself a favor by pushing yourself to grow.