As musicians I believe we are harder on ourselves than anyone else. We always find some monster player to look up to and compare ourselves to, and of course we always come up short. The main reason is that as we hone our craft we always seem to find another amazing player to look up to. Now do not misunderstand me, this is not necessarily a bad thing, but what sometimes happens is that if we are not careful, we sell ourselves short and we may pass up opportunities or not seek them because we feel we do can’t measure to our own expectation. But the reality is, our expectation is only to make us better, the expectations we need to meet or surpass are those of the listeners of our talent or music. These individuals are the true litmus test of our talent. As a musician I realize that I am guilty of this.
Now another aspect of measuring up is when our humility is perceived as cockiness. As many musicians when I received compliments of my playing, I would always brush it off as I thought they were only being nice. Now, here is where it gets interesting, I thought I was being humble (and honestly I just thought I wasn’t that good), but what I didn’t understand was that people actually mistook my humility as being cocky and insincere. Case in point, I had an incident a few years back, where a fellow band mate was saying I was a monster player, and I was literally brushing off the comment to “oh please, I don’t consider myself a monster at all, adequate at best.” The reply totally caught me off guard, she stated “Yeah when I think of crappy sax players I think of you! You better stop smoking that crack, or are you just being an arrogant ass?” Later that night after the gig I asked my wife, my best sounding board, if I was being a jerk by brushing off such compliments; she replied that it did sound cocky when I told people I wasn’t that good. She went on to explain: “You are an amazing player and people cannot actually believe you are being sincere that you don’t know you are so good. People don’t understand that you are as hard on yourself as you are. I know you and this is why you keep getting better, but for the general public there is little if anywhere for you to go. My recommendation is just say; Thank You and smile, even though you may feel you don’t deserve it, you will sound more sincere to others.” Wow!!! Now, that is exactly what I do, when people give a compliment, I just thank then and smile, though I may not necessarily agree.
At first getting the compliments and not brushing them off was awkward at best. But something did begin to happen, and this was that by being open to their compliments a fan base began to develop and though I didn’t always feel I deserved their accolades it did make me think that I was capable of more than I thought I was. After some time I started to ask myself; Can I actually do something more within music? This led me to start looking at various opportunities and what I found was that even others within the industry thought I was pretty good, and more to the fact were asking why I hadn’t approached them before. Now this made me think, did my lack of confidence in my skills actually hold me back? Could I had done this sooner and achieved greater success had I believed in myself more? Now there is no definitive way to answer this as I cannot go back in time, but the more I think about it, I am pretty sure I did hold myself back. Please don’t misunderstand me, I am still brutally hard on myself and am always looking at my performances and killing myself in critiques, but at the same time, I understand what I hear is not what the public does and as such use my perception of my performances to make me better, but am taking advantage of the public perception to advance my career.
We may be our harshest critics, but in the equation, our own opinion only counts in practice, but in performances the one that counts is the public that actually listens to us. They are the ones that gauge our playing and determine how good we truly are. The public is the one that will buy tickets to our performances, download our music and share with others about our music. It is imperative that if they give us a compliment that we receive it with open arms and not deflect it. Don’t let your thoughts about your playing hold you back, because at the end of the day it is other people that will support us in this amazing career and they determine how far we get, not our own opinions.