It's no secret that the training to become a Classical Musician is rigorous.
And it is also no secret that this process has more than a few unhealthy side effects.
(See: performance related injuries, crippling self-doubt, and perfectionism)
The more I talk to other Classical musicians who are struggling with the anxiety and panic that comes along with choosing this as a career path, the more I realize there is one common theme that holds people back from pursuing their dreams, and sometimes causes them to quit altogether:
Feeling like they are not, and may not ever be, good enough.
As defined by Joe Langford and Pauline Clance, Imposter Syndrome is a psychological pattern in which an individual doubts their accomplishments.
So instead of saying, "Yes, I won that competition because I worked my ass off and I deserved it," we say something more like, "The judges must have just eaten when I went on, I am so lucky that they picked me! Everyone was so good!"
We convince ourselves that we did not earn the success we have had, rather it was just good luck or good timing.
Me performing at the Southern Flute Festival winner's concert, feeling very much like I just got lucky.
I feel like imposter syndrome has almost become commonplace within my generation of fellow Classical musicians. It is more talked about and more discussed than ever before which, granted, is great because now we can shed light on it and stop feeling alone in our struggles.
But... for something to become so prevalent there's clearly an underlying issue causing it.
So what exactly could be causing so many of us to feel like this?
What has caused us to be unable to celebrate our successes and allows the feeling of 'not good enough' to overshadow nearly everything we do?
I think the answer lies in how we, as Classical musicians, are trained.
We are basically conditioned into being perfectionists.
Think about it.
We become obsessive over minor details.
We don't take time to celebrate our wins and successes because it's constantly on to the next piece, or next recital, or next gig.
We're control freaks. We expect flawlessness not only from ourselves, but from our peers and colleagues.
We set excessively high goals for ourselves.
When we fail to reach our excessively high goals, we experience crippling self-doubt.
We avoid trying new things because we won't be immediately perfect at it.
Things are rarely satisfying because we always feel we could have done better.
And I'm sure you could already guess this, but nothing I listed above is healthy.
It leads to burnout, it leads to the constant feeling of being a failure and being disappointed in those around us, makes it hard to find contentment (and even happiness), and leads to a debilitating lack of self-confidence.
Am I speaking to you on a spiritual level right now?
But the thing is...
Nothing in life will ever be perfect. Logically, we know this.
But it is nearly impossible to accept that fact when we are told that if you want to pass that pre-screen or advance to the next round of an audition, you need to play perfectly. Or when we are pressured to spend our lives in a practice room. Or when we are guilted for not practicing if we spent a weekend away trying to enjoy life with our family or loved ones. We are made to feel as 'less than' if we didn't land that orchestra job right out of college or make it in to that big summer festival.
This type of psychological conditioning is not healthy, and is probably why so many of us constantly feel like we are not good enough, may not ever be good enough, and face almost debilitating self-doubt and lack of confidence.
I'm going to let you in on a secret.
I haven't done any of those things.
I have never played a perfect pre-screen or first round.
I do not spend hours a day in a practice room.
I have left my flute at home on weekend trips.
I didn't land a full-time orchestra job and I have never gone to a summer festival.
And guess what?
I am still successful.
I still make a living as a professional musician.
I have a full studio of private flute students.
I will be out of town for a week each of the next two months performing with orchestras.
And I can put together a solo recital and perform whenever I damn well please.
Because the truth is,
there is no such thing as perfect.
If we wait for the perfect situation, or the perfect timing, or the perfect run-through of Firebird, or whatever else it is we wait for...we will be waiting forever. Even if something isn't absolutely perfect, it is better at least done.
So In order to combat our ingrained perfectionism you have to force yourself outside of your comfort zone and just do it, whether you feel ready or not.
The reason I have been so successful in my business, despite those overwhelming imposter feelings, is because I just 👏 did 👏 it. 👏
I set aside my need for perfection, my obsession with details, and I just ran towards my goals with reckless abandon.
So this week I want to challenge you to just do it. Start on that thing you've been putting off because you're not sure you're ready. Sign up for that audition even though you haven't practiced enough. Send in that pre-screen for the competition you've been telling yourself you'll do for the last 2 years.
Because every time you choose to set aside that little voice saying you're not good enough or not ready, you move one step closer to shedding those fraudulent feelings and stepping into your true brilliance. ✨
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Thank you for reading!