Back in high school, I was the quintessential band nerd. Well, almost quintessential; I hated pretty much everything about marching band. But I still served as squad leader, section leader, and co-president, and I silently suffered through four football seasons for the opportunity to play in my school’s wind ensemble, a great group filled with tons of talented musicians.
To further cement my band nerdery, I spent weekends rehearsing and performing with the Cleveland Youth Wind Symphony, a group comprised of students from all over northeast Ohio. And to top it all off, the summer before my senior year, I attended a music camp at a Baldwin-Wallace College, a school known for its music program.
Music has taught me so much, like the importance of practicing and how to come together in a group and create something beautiful. I’m also willing to bet that all that counting of beats was instrumental (get it? ha!) in my not
But while all those learnings came from years of practice, the major life lessons I got from my brief two week stint at Baldwin-Wallace are the ones I’ve consciously come back to over and over again.
That experience really got going that first day when they announced the audition results. I found out I’d made first chair clarinet and was completely surprised.
Now I’m not bringing this up to toot my own horn, so to speak, but because it was the first of the important lessons I would learn: Stop underestimating yourself.
Did I know I was a better than average player? Yes, but so were all the other people there. Did I feel my audition had gone well? Yes, but I didn’t think it’d gone that well.
I quickly learned I was capable of both reaching for and achieving more than I realized. And as I’m writing this, I also want to share a side life lesson that just hit me: I was just doing what felt right, what I knew how to do, what I’d trained for. I went in with hopes but no real expectations. In other words, I followed my heart and the result was beyond what I’d ever imagined was possible.
Almost immediately following the audition results came the start of what would become lesson number two: Don’t let fear stand in your way.
I found out that the first two clarinets in the band were automatically also in the orchestra. My initial thoughts were all fear-based: I’ll never be able to learn that much music (each group had a concert at the end of each week), I’m not good enough, etc.
Thankfully, I had some other thoughts pop in that reminded me I was at this camp to become a better player, and that it’d be fun to play different kinds of music. So despite the nerves, I played on.
And thank goodness I did, because that led me to lesson number three, which was the most life changing of them all: You DO NOT need to be perfect.
I remember the orchestra director being a classical music version of Simon Cowell. He was unflinchingly, unapologetically honest and demanded the best, but when he gave you a compliment, you knew he meant it. (To be fair, I don't know if this is an accurate assessment or just the way my thin-skinned teenage self remembers him.)
I don’t recall why, but at one point during a rehearsal, he stopped us and said to put our instruments down. I think we all expected to get yelled at, but instead we got a heartfelt and passionate lecture about not striving for perfection. Sadly, I can’t for the life of me remember the specifics of what he said, but I’ve never forgotten the message behind it; it’s had a profound effect on me in all aspects of my life.
During the concert at the end of that week, we played Bizet’s “Carmen,” one of my most favorite pieces I’ve ever played. (My ringtone has been “Les Toreadors” for years.) It was a big piece for me, not only because I had a bunch of solos, but also because it was my first time playing an A clarinet, an instrument more commonly used in orchestras, and I had to borrow one.
The concert went great, with the notable (man, I love music puns) exception of one brief but VERY exposed mistake while playing the unfamiliar instrument. I managed to not let it shake me too badly, but of course part of me regretted that it had happened. But when I went offstage after the concert, the conductor was standing there, waiting to shake my hand and tell me what a great job I did. Not one comment about the obviously missed note. His following through on what he said cemented the lesson for me and ensured that it wouldn’t ever be too far from my mind.
That’s not to say there aren’t times perfectionism starts creeping in; I see it surface most often with regards to my writing, and every time I notice it, I can viscerally feel that it’s holding me back. Thankfully, I also notice pretty early on when it shows up, and I know how to extricate myself from that stressful, unattainable situation. Good enough really is good enough.
And if you’re not quite ready to let go of being perfect, try this quote from Dr. Brené Brown on for size: “Research shows that perfectionism hampers success. In fact, it's often the path to depression, anxiety, addiction, and life paralysis.” Convinced now?
So let’s review:
Stop underestimating yourself.
Don’t let fear stand in your way.
You DO NOT need to be perfect.
When you follow your heart,
the result may well be
beyond what you’d ever
imagined was possible.
Get it? Got it? Good.
If this struck a chord with you (sorry, I couldn’t resist!), please feel free to leave a comment or question below. And if you need help getting a better handle on all this so you can live a bigger, better, happier life, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org to set up your free 30-minute over-the-phone session. I promise I’ll try to refrain from more music puns.
Katie Baron: life coach, freelance writer, animal and nature lover, musician, relentless optimist