(Photo Details: Doug is the opposite of me. Here he is when he found a guitar at a coffee shop in Italy, entertaining whomever happened to be there.)
I often hear people say that one of the advantages of getting older is that you stop caring what other people think of you.
How old do I have to be to get to this point?
Sure, there are some areas where this is true: I don’t care what people think about what I am wearing. I don’t care what people think about my political views. And I no longer concern myself about what people will think when I tell them I’m retired.
But I still get very nervous when I play piano in front of people. And that’s because I really do care what people think.
If I stumble and can’t remember the rest of a song, are they thinking, “Wow, she’s been playing for six years now and she can’t even finish a song?” When I sing are they thinking, “This is as bad as the pre-qualifying rounds of American Idol?” And this is just informally performing in my own living room. I would never let friends come to my recitals!
My Uncle Jim used to tell me not to worry about these things because “They can’t do what you’re doing.” (Although he used a little more colorful language to make his point.)
Even without actual people I know in the audience, the nerves aren't any better. Because at a recital, where several small jazz combos are playing a couple tunes each, the other piano players CAN do what I’m doing. And much better than I can do it. I care what they think.
The funny thing is, I have several friends now who play musical instruments, and I NEVER think any of those things I’m worried about them thinking about me.
My friends Kim and Jeff are learning to play ukulele. I’m always delighted to hear Kim sing along with her playing—it’s lovely! And Jeff finally played for us recently. He says he hates playing in front of people because his hands don’t move as easily as when he is practicing by himself. Yes, I know how that is! He apologizes when he makes a mistake—much of the time I didn’t really even notice there was a mistake. And even if I did, I see that it’s NO BIG DEAL. It’s really fun to see his progress and I’m so proud of them both for taking this on.
So maybe it’s not a matter of trying not to worry about what people think, but being more generous about what they might be thinking. Maybe people are actually thinking nice, supportive thoughts like I am thinking when my friends are playing.
I’m just not sure how to convince my shaking hands of that.
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Where am I Going to Find Ten Thousand Hours?
Am I Really Getting Older Like Everyone Else?
I am so with you on this one! I want to not care what people think about my painting, but painting is important to me, so I do care. It is MUCH easier to hear critiques from people that I don't know than it is to hear them from people close to me. I wish, wish, wish that I could get to the "don't care" stage, but I'm not there, yet, ...but my goal is to get there. I think about your uncle's comments often! Loved that earlier blog post (along with this one, of course!)!
Posted by: Marie | August 27, 2019 at 06:42 PM
HI, Syd - Perhaps if you played for Kim and Jeff first that would help. They sound like kind, supportive friends, who understand how incredibly terrifying it can be to perform in front of someone else. Good luck!
Posted by: Donna Connolly | August 27, 2019 at 06:50 PM
Hey Sydney… Thank you for being brave and sharing your true thoughts and feelings. Do you have Netflix? If so, I highly recommend Brene Brown’s ‘The call to courage.’ I think it will address a lot of what you’re talking about.
And after that, you need to watch Hannah Gadsby’s ‘Nanette.’
I promise both will change your life!
And maybe your performance anxiety...
Posted by: Angela | August 27, 2019 at 07:20 PM
PS Both of those women use strong language. (I don’t want your readers to check them out and get an unwelcome surprise.)
Brene Brown addresses your topic directly. And Hannah Gadsby just makes you want to embrace your own truth.
Let me know what you think!
Posted by: Angela | August 27, 2019 at 07:25 PM
Angela: I don't mind strong language--I kind of like it . . . Anyway I will definitely watch. I mean, I even tried hypnosis--what have I got to lose watching a couple Netflix shows! I will report back my progress.
Donna: I have, and they are my favorite audience. Kim especially.
Marie: I totally get it--but again, I have to tell you, I LOVED your work. Maybe we just need to learn to hear that . . .
Posted by: Sydney | August 27, 2019 at 08:58 PM
Hi Syd, I think this is something that performers (musicians, actors or public speakers, etc...) all encounter. It's what gives you the energy to do your best. After 35 years in sales, I still would get nervous addressing groups. People told me I did a great job but I always was hyper-aware of what people thought. I learned to begrudgingly accept it. The best advice I ever heard was, "it's not about ridding the butterflies but about getting them to fly in formation." ;-)
Posted by: Dave Walsh | August 28, 2019 at 06:37 AM
Dave: I like that one about the butterflies!
Posted by: Sydney | August 28, 2019 at 06:59 AM
About those recitals.....my daughter teaches voice and piano to all ages. Her recitals are in somewhat intimate, informal settings .. think stage lighting, pizza, and great sound technicians. There is a mixture of the serious and the not so serious pieces, some funky duets, some play/sing something that they have written, a bit of Taylor Swift etc. I think the atmosphere takes the pressure off but they still want to do their best. You can tell that a few older students are a little nervous but most of the students are just having a great time. Last time it ended with several pieces by a teenage band (lead singer is her voice student). Most of what they did was excellent, but once they messed up , just laughed it off, stopped and told a joke and started again. .Fun times for all... as it should be.
So glad you are back.
Posted by: JudyC | August 28, 2019 at 10:13 AM
Thank you Judy! I used to perform in a lot of plays and musicals when I was a kid, and although I got nervous, it was kind of excited nerves. The ones I feel as an adult are more anxiety nerves. I need to capture that spirit of being a kid I think . . .
Posted by: Sydney | August 28, 2019 at 11:32 AM
i admire your perseverance and courage to perform, even with shaky hands. Obviously your joy in the music and in working to become the musician you want to be trumps the performance jitters. Bravo!
Posted by: lc skupien | August 28, 2019 at 02:00 PM
lc: Well I will admit it keeps getting marginally easier. So I have faith that someday it won't be quite so terrifying. . .
Posted by: Sydney | August 28, 2019 at 04:39 PM
What kind of style is Doug’s playing- jazz? Classical? Blues? Combination?
I also want to express enthusiasm for your return to blogging even if it is short lived. Would love to see you play since i live near you (Mt. View) and since you don’t know me you won’t be nervous!
What I also think is your more experienced perspective on retirement will mean that those who have been at it for awhile will get a hint of how interests and activities change now that you are not a newbie or looking to catch up on all the fun that you had to put off during your career. You are still helping to see ahead!
Posted by: Luisa | August 30, 2019 at 05:07 PM
Luisa: Doug mostly plays classic rock. Beatles, Eagles, Bread, that kind of stuff. Although he and I play a few jazz tunes together. Ok, now Mountain View--that's where I do my classes--at CSMA. So, maybe I will have to invite you to my next recital. That might be TOO much to ask, to read my blog AND to listen to me play piano!
Posted by: Sydney | August 30, 2019 at 06:31 PM
Welcome back Syd!! I would be nervous too. But when I watch others perform, I'm usually in awe that they have the nerves to do it.
Posted by: Bridget | September 02, 2019 at 01:12 PM
Bridget: Now that's some good perspective.
Posted by: Sydney | September 03, 2019 at 12:34 PM