Updated: Jul 17, 2021
What is your response when someone pays you a compliment? Do you deflect or downplay it? The reaction is an automatic result of social conditioning. We praise humility and berate cockiness, yet at the same time envy those people who carry themselves with seemingly effortless confidence. Self-effacement is not humility just as confidence is not cockiness. To be a successful musician you must be gracious and confident and mindfully cultivate both traits.
A picture of me in my doctoral regalia popped up in my Google Photos memories this morning and inspired me to wrote this post. As a Navy musician, I am a member of the enlisted military community. No matter what your level of education, once you win a job with the Navy music program you enter as an enlisted service member. After fielding the question: "You have a doctorate, why did you go enlisted?" numerous times I began to downplay my education because I felt like people would perceive me as an underachieving asshole. I didn't want to stick out as conceited and created a sense of shame about my civilian accomplishments.
I let shame create a false narrative that all my civilian musical success meant nothing. Then, after collaborating with great military and civilian musicians I realized my "Dr." title wasn't meaningless "alphabet soup". It represents the years of literal and figurative wood-shedding I have put into my craft. It represents the amazing musicians and teachers who pushed me to improve and who continue to inspire me everyday. It represents the academic and musical experience I bring to my job as a Navy musician.
Are you creating a version of this shame narrative? When someone compliments you on your playing, do you immediately deflect with: "Ugh, thanks but I wish I hadn't messed up ---?" Next time you receive a compliment respond by looking the person in the eye, smile, and say: "Thank you!" Create confidence by owning you accomplishment and cultivate graciousness by expressing genuine gratitude toward your audience. The simple act of taking the time to make eye contact and smile forms that connection we seek to create through music. Even if you audience is just your spouse, parents, or siblings, take the time to receive the compliment and know that your art has made an impact on someone.