Where Are You Looking?
There’s something that bothers me. It bothers me when I walk around outside, and 99% of the people I see are looking down at their phones. The sun is shining, the grass is green, the air is fresh, the water is sparkling (yes, I live in Florida now, sorry to all you Northerners!), but no one is looking around and admiring nature. Everyone is looking down at their phones. Granted, I am a hypocrite, because I do this sometimes, too. But I have been making a conscious effort to do something crazy when I am walking outside: actually walk and look around me. (A novel idea, right? You may even avoid bumping into both animate and inanimate objects if you do this.) The benefits are numerous: I notice things I never noticed before. I find new beauty to appreciate and thank God for. I see how dumb the people around me look who, heads bent in seeming obeisance, are glued to their phone screens.
If there is ever a time to look away from the screen, it’s when we are in nature! Nature is one of the few things—perhaps the only thing—in life that automatically draws our attention away from ourselves to something higher and better. I get inspired walking back and forth on my campus, because I am staring at the leaves of a tree, or the dew on the grass, or the morning sunlight peeking through the trees, instead of staring down at my phone screen. Staring down at my phone screen, I am confronted with all the distractions of my life, things that are important and need my attention, but things that often distract from both my productivity and my joy. There is a time to take care of these things: answer emails, text my friends, post multidinous photos on instagram that inaccurately represent who I actually am, browse what all of my friends are doing on Facebook (or at least what they want the world to think they are doing), etc. But what if there were a designated time to do these things, such as when I am not outside trying not to miss the beauty of the natural world, bump into people, or walk into a pole? (I don’t use instagram for this reason, but I’m definitely guilty of the Facebook trap. However, I don’t post daily updates, because my life is not a staged soap opera for you to entertain yourself with. However...I admit that I have indeed benefited from the entertainment of many of my friends’ public soap operas. And finally, this is something I am working on, too—we’re always working on becoming less addicted to media!)
What does this have to do with music performance? I love metaphors, so this post is about looking in different directions. Looking down at a phone screen represents being constantly distracted by the problems and stresses of daily life. Looking up represents being aware of the greater purpose in life, and letting that knowledge free you from the drudgery of the day-to-day. The next metaphor is the difference between looking horizontally and looking vertically in the competitive, pressure-filled field of music performance.
If you’re like me, listening to a peer perform really well can often stir up feelings of discouragement. If you are like me, you fight performance anxiety before an audition. If you are like me, you often struggle with thinking you are inadequate and not good enough. All these feelings point side-to-side. They point to other people you are comparing yourself with, other people you are trying to impress, or other people you are trying to be better than. These feelings can only arise out of a heart that is looking to other people for both approval and a sense of affirmation. This is the horizontal thinking that we all struggle with every day (at lest, I know I do!).
I am not writing about this topic because it’s fun to expose some of my insecurities. I am writing about this topic because I know that my peers struggle with it, too. I am writing about this because I want to remove the stigma in classical music performance that we have to be afraid to expose our weaknesses. I want what I have learned to be an encouragement and help to you. This is the comfort God gives us in our struggles: that through them, we are trained to help others go through the same things (2 Cor. 1:4).
What I have learned, and am still learning, is that the solution to horizontal-gazing is vertical-gazing. My eyes must be fixed not on the opinions or successes of others, but on my Creator. My self-worth is not determined horizontally, but vertically. The business of my work (whether it’s classical music or anything else) is between ME and GOD. Vertical-gazing creates a new attitude in me: I am freed to work hard, because I am not working to determine my worth. I am not jealous of other people’s successes, because I am only worried about improving the skills God gave me. I have the strength to persevere through failures, because other people’s opinions of me are not of paramount importance. Vertical gazing produces confidence. Your work is between you and God. Keep other people out of your self-worth equation and your work mindset as much as possible.
Practically, how can we develop this? First, learn to recognize your horizontal attitudes and emotions (such as the negative feelings I mentioned above). Do not accept them as just part of being a musician; do not accept them as truth; do not tolerate them simmering and developing in your heart. When you feel those things, recognize them for what they are (clever lies), confront them (realize you’re not going to live like that anymore), and direct your gaze upward (inject positive thinking about the truth). I do this upward thinking through my faith (prayer and Scripture). Here are some verses that help me:
Work willingly at whatever you do, as though you were working for the Lord rather than for people. (Colossians 2:23 NLT)
The Lord is for me, so I will have no fear. What can mere people do to me? (Psalm 118:6 NLT)
O God, my heart is steadfast [with confident faith]; I will sing, I will sing praises, even with my soul. (Psalm 108:1 AMP)
“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you [and approved of you as My chosen instrument], and before you were born I consecrated you [to Myself as My own].” (Jeremiah 1:5 AMP)
Bottom line: Other people can never truly satisfy your craving for belonging and worth. But that’s okay, because you are chosen, you are loved. Look upward at the One who truly bestows purpose and worth!