Yesterday I wrote about the differences between taking music seriously and taking personally. It’s worth mentioning that keeping the two separate is really hard.

It’s not hard to do the technical work required of a serious musician. We can practice our instrument, listen to our influences, study the history, learn about music theory, and otherwise generally cover the bases which give us all the tools to play whatever kind of music we’re interested in.

But what about the internal commentary that runs in the background throughout the entire learning process? I’m talking about the stories we tell ourselves about how good we are, or how bad we are, or how we should be doing something else, or how someone else is better than us, and if only we could be more like them.

And that’s what they are, stories that we tell ourselves. We do it constantly. We have a story for every aspect of our life that neatly explains away any uncertainty we might have about our place in life. But why are so many of these stories negative? Why do we insist on telling ourselves stories about things we can’t do, or can’t do well enough?

I don’t have the expertise or experience to diagnose any of these issues psychologically  but I do know that these are all symptoms of taking music personally. Our own self-worth is wrapped up in what we can or can’t do in a given situation, usually because we’ve told ourselves the story, “I’m a musician.” And if we’re “musicians” and we can’t do something as well as we’d like, then we must be “bad musicians”.

It’s all stories. We certainly have the power to tell ourselves better stories, stories that are actually true. The true story of taking something seriously is that there are going to be dark moments when it’s extremely enticing to take it personally instead. And you probably will take it personally. I often do. But much of my time is now devoted to ways of letting it go, getting back to the serious work. Whether it’s teaching, exercise, yoga, meditation, cold showers, or anything else that gets you out of the cycle of self-doubt, those are some of the most important tools you have as a musician.

We need to do the work. But often the work does not take the form of scales or metronome practice. The work is whatever enables us to show up again tomorrow.

What we are developing is not a finished product which is the result of many years of practicing. The product is a person that shows up over and over and over again, ready to share what they’ve found in the vulnerable and scary place that is creative work.

What do you need to do to be that person?

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