Can You Let It Go?

Imagine you are holding on to your child by the wrist.  She is up to her neck in deep water and you are lying face down on the pier keeping her from going under.  She is looking up at you and the fear on her face compels you to hold on even tighter, to never let go, until help arrives.

 

Derek Sivers has written that we as creative people must know what motivates us.  What do we want?  What gets us up in the morning?

 

Is it money?  Is it fame?  Is it fear?

 

If we know this, he says, we will be able to more effectively go after what we want.  I think there’s more to it than that, though.  I discovered what I want, and it’s been keeping me from getting it.

 

That’s confusing, isn’t it?  Even so, what I wrote is true.  For years I’ve pursued something without realizing it, and my blind pursuit has actually prevented me from succeeding.

 

In order to maintain internal respect for myself and my abilities, I needed outward signs of respect from everyone else.  When I felt respected, or when I did something that I believed would bring me that respect, I was happiest.  When I felt disrespected, or when I was unable to work towards that respect, I was miserable.

 

There’s nothing particularly wrong with wanting respect, except that I wasn’t aware exactly that was motivating me.  Because I didn’t realize what I was chasing, I often prevented myself from getting it.  I prioritized my feelings without examining them accurately.

 

Often people would respect me and, because I didn’t realize or feel it, I would do unnecessary things that confused and even alienated them.  Other times, I would believe I was deserving of respect when I wasn’t.  The subsequent reactions of others to my inadequate contributions confused and demoralized me.

 

Just this week an editor returned a draft of one of my articles to me with drastic revisions.  The changes were so intrusive in places that I was devastated.  Clearly she didn’t respect me or my work.  I wanted to send her a nasty letter letting her know that she was obviously incompetent and that I would retract the article.

 

Fortunately I know myself well enough to mistrust any knee-jerk reaction like this.  I slept on it, kept the revisions I thought were worthwhile, and returned the article to her for more editing.  Her response was enthusiastic, and I realized that she was focused on creating a quality work, while I was only focused on getting respect.

 

Because I was unaware of my consuming desire for respect, I nearly prevented myself from finishing a good piece.   Instead of getting respect from the editor for my hard work, and receiving a respectful reaction from an audience for a good piece, I would have gotten nothing.  By pursuing my sense of respect, I would have gotten less of it.

 

I may always crave respect.  If being respected makes me happy, there’s something valid in that.  But what if giving up my quest for respect could bring other benefits?

 

Lately, as I’ve been playing jazz, I’ve discovered that the less I think about how much people will respect my solo while I’m playing, the more successful I am at playing one.  In my teaching, kids will often be disrespectful and if I am focused on that, I may miss many opportunities to discover what they need.  In my writing, I may end up creating pages that are insulated with a sheen of respect-generating competence without ever risking communicating something fragile and beautiful.

 

Seeing my desire for respect, I can decide when I really need it, and when I am just reacting to the possibility of losing it.  Not an easy task.  The results, however, might be transformative.

 

Imagine your child is up to her neck in deep water and you are lying face down on the pier holding her by the wrist.  Taking a deep breath, you let her go and watch her head sink under the surface of the water.

 

And then she swims.

3 comments

  • Ben Coker

    Ben Coker

    Adam, Great thoughts. You are perhaps the most transparent person I know. I have regularly thought about such things when I attempt to play music that "passes for jazz". If someone great at jazz is listening, I can tend to focus on that and end up playing worse. As they say, it's best to "get over oneself" and focus on making a meaningful musical statement. Ben

    Adam,
    Great thoughts. You are perhaps the most transparent person I know. I have regularly thought about such things when I attempt to play music that "passes for jazz". If someone great at jazz is listening, I can tend to focus on that and end up playing worse. As they say, it's best to "get over oneself" and focus on making a meaningful musical statement.
    Ben

  • James Bartlett

    James Bartlett

    I see nothing wrong with wanted to be respected as a "player among players". It's always been important to me. It was a driving force in my younger days However, the much younger version of myself wasn't always open to... direction... specifically with regard to jazz. I'd always felt.. hey "I've paid my dues.. I'm the bass player in this situation, I'll handle this" Funny thing..... I've doubled in age since those days. Recently I started attending a jam session.. ..since February. My intent, was to play with some people and hopefully get some gigs. I started to notice that the drummer who holds the session was pretty opinionated... with everyone. He is very passionate about jazz, definitely a top player and he knows music , not just drums. In the times I've sat in with him, he's often said things, like "walk", or "stay in two here"," make sure you make that turn around clear..etc." sometimes he just gives a look. As a younger player, I felt these decisions were mine alone to make... I mean after all I was the BASS PLAYER. but now, after years of playing, and not playing. I welcome and respect this sort of bandstand teaching. One is never too good , nor too old to learn from others, even if it sometimes comes down to nothing more than a viewpoint or approach that is different from the one you have. In the week between each session, I would try to incorporate the things I was was hearing or learn a specific tune from the previous session.. My time at the jam session payed off as none other than the the drummer mentioned in this post chose me for two of his other gigs. I just got back from the first. I know that part of the reason he chose me was that he likes the way I play.. there is a respect... however, he also knows that I care about the music and that is bigger than me and my ego. So Adam.. it seems to me from your post that you did everything right. You put a lot of thought and work into an article... but then you let the editor do her job. When we are all "focused on producing quality work", respect is a by product.

    I see nothing wrong with wanted to be respected as a "player among players". It's always been important to me. It was a driving force in my younger days However, the much younger version of myself wasn't always open to... direction... specifically with regard to jazz. I'd always felt.. hey
    "I've paid my dues.. I'm the bass player in this situation, I'll handle this" Funny thing..... I've doubled in age since those days. Recently I started attending a jam session.. ..since February. My intent, was to play with some people and hopefully get some gigs. I started to notice that the drummer who holds the session was pretty opinionated... with everyone. He is very passionate about jazz, definitely a top player and he knows music , not just drums. In the times I've sat in with him, he's often said things, like "walk", or "stay in two here"," make sure you make that turn around clear..etc." sometimes he just gives a look. As a younger player, I felt these decisions were mine alone to make... I mean after all I was the BASS PLAYER. but now, after years of playing, and not playing. I welcome and respect this sort of bandstand teaching. One is never too good , nor too old to learn from others, even if it sometimes comes down to nothing more than a viewpoint or approach that is different from the one you have. In the week between each session, I would try to incorporate the things I was was hearing or learn a specific tune from the previous session.. My time at the jam session payed off as none other than the the drummer mentioned in this post chose me for two of his other gigs. I just got back from the first. I know that part of the reason he chose me was that he likes the way I play.. there is a respect... however, he also knows that I care about the music and that is bigger than me and my ego. So Adam.. it seems to me from your post that you did everything right. You put a lot of thought and work into an article... but then you let the editor do her job. When we are all "focused on producing quality work", respect is a by product.

  • Darcy

    Darcy

    Wow. Great awareness, Adam. How crippling the search for approval can be during the creative process. It's almost comical how quickly the thought "wow, I sound *awesome*! The audience is so totally impressed with me right now!" is followed by my chipping a note because my ego boner was distracting me from focusing on the next measure. I get such a better work of art when I remind myself that no one but me ever has to see it before I sit down at the easel. Amazing, just amazing, Adam. Thank you for sharing your beautiful vulnerability with us, and reminding us to do the same to continue becoming our most authentic selves. Hugs and love to you on this respect-worthy journey you're on. XOXO

    Wow. Great awareness, Adam. How crippling the search for approval can be during the creative process. It's almost comical how quickly the thought "wow, I sound *awesome*! The audience is so totally impressed with me right now!" is followed by my chipping a note because my ego boner was distracting me from focusing on the next measure. I get such a better work of art when I remind myself that no one but me ever has to see it before I sit down at the easel. Amazing, just amazing, Adam. Thank you for sharing your beautiful vulnerability with us, and reminding us to do the same to continue becoming our most authentic selves. Hugs and love to you on this respect-worthy journey you're on. XOXO

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