How to Embrace the Discomfort of Striving
A parent was explaining to me that her child wanted to play in youth orchestra, but every time they talked about it, talks tended to shut down over the idea of having to audition. She felt very uncomfortable with that.
I turned to my student, "Of course you feel uncomfortable," I said. "It's an uncomfortable situation! Don't be afraid of that feeling, you're supposed to feel that way. But then do it anyway."
Easy for me to say the words, harder to turn that into action. But it's worth the effort.
The problem with striving to do something new is that we humans tend to be a lot more comfortable doing what is familiar. Can our desire to achieve overcome our fear of failure? Can our desire to explore something new conquer our fear of the unknown?
I have a few recommendations:
- Focus on the process. Break it down into steps, and then simply proceed, one step at a time. For example: Find the audition information, figure out what you are required to do. Print out the application. Fill in the application, send the application. Decide on repertoire. Set aside time every day to practice repertoire. Make the video, or show up for the audition. As long as you have outlined the steps for yourself, you can focus your exclusive concentration on doing the current step thoroughly and correctly. Do not worry about the other steps! That only keeps you from concentrating on your current step.
- Manage your fear of failure. Stuff out those thoughts with action, and if you have done your action for today (whatever step you are working on), then distract yourself with mentally-healthy and unrelated activity: go exercise, read an inspiring book, visit with friends. Fear of failure is only useful insofar as it makes you act. Don't feel obligated to dwell in the Land of Fear if you have a solid plan of action.
- Envision success. This doesn't mean just envisioning a triumphant end result. This means envisioning success on the smallest of levels: success in tuning and having your instrument in order, success in playing a certain passage, success in your choice of solo piece, success in dynamics, success in making a first impression, success in breathing properly while playing, success in playing relaxed, etc. Create a vivid and detailed picture of you, nailing that audition. The more complete you can make your picture, the greater the likelihood of overall success.
- Embrace the unfamiliar. To a degree, you can familiarize yourself with the unfamiliar: the logistics of finding a new place, the requirements of the audition, the basic character of organization for which you are auditioning or interviewing. But beyond that, be open to a new experience and meeting new people. Let go of expectations.
- Have faith your preparation. It's the day of the audition, and you have done all you could do to prepare. Trust your preparations and let go. As Lara St. John quoted, "When all else fails, lower your standards!" Let go and do it!
- Succeed with grace. You have been offered a spot in the orchestra, or a new job, congratulations! Embrace your new situation, and be collegial to those around you.
- Fail with grace. It won't feel great, but it won't be the end of the world, either. Make note of any mistakes, so that you can learn from them. Know this also, about trying and failing: it comes with other feelings, not just the bad ones. You will likely find yourself proud of your accomplishment: getting out of your comfort zone and trying. And when you try again, the situation will be that much more familiar.
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