As I write this, I am a few hours away from participating in an afternoon recital with some of my colleagues.  Many of my students will be there with their parents.  Although I am only playing a short movement from a Mozart sonata, I am feeling the pressure.


Last Friday, though, something happened to change the balance of the equation.  I was opening a folding door and the third and fourth fingers on my left hand got caught.  The third finger was jammed and swelled up so that it wouldn’t really bend.


Over the course of the day, the injury retreated enough that I was confident I could still play the recital.  However, it was uncomfortable and I was no longer certain I would play well.  This setback turned out to have an interesting benefit.


I think people fall into two camps when it comes to mistakes, or are of two minds.  On one side, we seem to understand that mistakes are necessary in order to learn.  On the other, we seem to agree that mistakes are something to be avoided.


If I accept both ideas, then I don’t know whether to welcome mistakes or dread them.  I don’t think its enough to simply accept both statements as valid.  Maybe there’s more to mistakes than meets the eye.

It makes sense that we should try to live our lives as free from stress as possible, right?  Actually, I don’t think so.  Consider the rubber band.

When I was a kid I wasn’t very good at sports.  Even so, if I happened to make a particularly good football catch, for a few minutes everyone around me would treat me as if I was a good player.  Then I’d mess up and miss the next one, and the respect and opportunities to play vanished.


I didn’t miss because of my ability.  It wasn’t that I couldn’t catch the football, it was that the pressure to repeat my success made it more difficult.  I was carrying the expectations of my success and it was too distracting.

I want to be great.  I really do.  Like Beethoven-great.


The older I get, the more I realize that’s not up to me.  

Many times my students will come to me in a lesson with a piece of music they think they are ready to perform.  They get very upset when it falls apart.  “I was able to play it perfectly at home,” they say.


I have the same problem: inaccurate self-assessment in the practice room.  That’s when I pull out my tried and true method for making sure something is going to go well in performance:  The “three times” game.

My band just played a gig at a high-profile room in Atlanta.  I was very excited about the exposure.  But me being me, I also started to freak out a little.


I wanted to look good, both as a band and as an individual.  I wanted people to look at me and like what they saw.  At the same time, I did not want to lose myself in an ego trip.


What is the difference, I wondered, between sharing and showing off?

One of the problems I have arguing with my more conservative friends on issues like the president’s behavior and the reality of climate change is that many of them are very reasonable, intelligent people.  It’s hard for me to close the gap between our viewpoints based on facts alone.  As I’ve had more conversations with them, I’ve been able to understand better where the discrepancy between their intelligence and our viewpoints lie.

I learned a trick about talking to people that I thought helped immensely.  Since I’m not the kind of person who automatically knows where to look when people are talking to me, I began to focus on the bridge of their nose.  I noticed that people seemed immediately to look more comfortable when I did that.


I thought it was because they liked what I was looking at.  It wasn’t as intrusive as looking straight in their eyes, and there wasn’t any risk of looking at the wrong eye.  It turns out, though, there was probably another reason they looked more comfortable.


I frequently ask for constructive criticism on my work.  I routinely ask people to read my writing and listen to my music.  Yet I rarely get responses, and when I do, it may come in one of three forms.


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