There was a time when we all learned by replicating someone else.
Walking. Laughing. Writing.
As we got older and our minds began to have conscious thoughts, we shifted our learning more towards understanding.
Why is a letter shaped this way? Why does joined-up handwriting have serif marks? Why should we use joined-up writing? Why do I need to handwrite anymore, anyway?
After we moved from replicating to understanding, we usually ended up going too far. Anything more than five “why’s” and you’re beginning to swim in mud. We end up focusing less on a good outcome than we do on how our efforts contribute to keeping the galaxy spinning in the right direction. We focus less on enjoying the process than we do on worrying about what the feedback will be. We assume our mentors’ (usually our parents’) responses are in our best interests. We forget to consider that they might be having another bad day.
Nothing was ever good enough
There might be truth in Ali Krieger’s approach “there’s always room for improvement.”
The Corporate world is very fond of that phrase, particularly those in Quality departments (like I was in for a few years).
But there’s also a problem with that.
Workers and doers are constantly failing to reach a “job well done.” Instead, “it could be better.”
I also experienced this growing up – nothing I ever did was complete, or good enough, or finished. Not even in music! I was always told someone else was doing it better, succeeding faster, accomplishing more.
Always competing with each other
Such feedback was not at all inspiring. It forced me to try replicating someone else’s experiences, circumstances… life.
And then I had something concrete, something direct, to compare myself to.
Except that it wasn’t my benchmark, it was theirs.
And it also gave permission for everyone else to compare me to others.
A little competition is certainly healthy, and under the right circumstances, it drives innovation, efficiency, effectiveness, and progress. But that’s only when the final outcome is a solution, not a target.
Constantly competing against others to be the best performer is, quite literally, a futile distraction that will hold you back.
Aim to be the best you, instead.
Discover, share, humiliate, retreat
When we constantly compete, we develop bad habits and attitudes.
One consequence of this is how we grow into introverts and extroverts.
To this day, my sister is always trying to prove how she is better at some things than I am. That’s because, for whatever reason, she believes she needs to be better than me at some things. Maybe she feels I am better than her at things she wants to be good at – I literally don’t know – but when we communicate, I see the constant claims of triumph.
As a result, I shut down and keep quiet. I’m not in it for accolades or winning approval. In my mind, there’s no comparison between what she does and what I do, so why try to compare and compete?
As hinted above, when I did learn something new and shared it, those I competed against would make fun of me. “Finally!” was a favorite my schoolmates in the UK would exclaim. Or “Er… of course! Where’ve you been?” Such humiliation caused me to shut down and keep quiet.
Retreating quickly became a way of life: either don’t reveal discoveries and learning, or be prepared to be shamed.
Because of what others said to me and about me, I learned to give great performances on stage and hide in intimate environments.
But as I began exploring how to become an even better musician, I was one of the fortunate ones who chose to limit my ‘why?’ questions to five levels, and have since climbed out of that devastating mindset.
Here’s a TRIPLE WIN lesson:
(Cultivate your community)
Gossiping is a form of beating someone down. Instead of sharing what should not be shared, find something that you can encourage by replicating the words others use to motivate themselves.
I hear way too many musicians complain about a lack of support, why people don’t attend concerts, and the elitism of specific genres (orchestral, show choir, brass band, etc.) The people I like to hang out with are the ones who go into their communities and find what they like to do, and then either do it, or at least remark on how interesting it is or how good people are at what they like to do.
Replicating AND understanding what others do is a foundation of good relationships.
The rule of reciprocity means that, at some point, the more encouraging you are, the more likely people will try out what YOU like! i.e. they will come to a concert you invite them to.
Try it. It’s never failed for me!