The most painful lesson I have learned in my life is that nobody cares how good you are.
I wonder how many of you already know this. I wonder how many of you are outright denying it. I stand by my words.
People don’t care how good you are. They only care if you’re doing your job.
Now, if your job is to impress people with how good you are, like a virtuoso musician famous for technical virtuosity, then of course people care. But that’s only because it’s your job. Someone else could actually be better than you and, because they aren’t out there showing everyone, no one will care that they’re better.
Beyond that, working to “be the best,” or to “get better” really doesn’t garner you any attention. People will not reward you by telling you how good you are. They will not come to see you or buy your work just because you are “so good.”
Do they want to dance? If you can make them dance, they’ll care. Do they want to cry? If you can make them cry, they’ll love you. If you can make them cry with one chord and a scratchy voice, they’ll still love you, even more than your competition that knows ten chords and sings like Beyonce, because you’re giving them what they want.
I say this painful truth because it makes life so much easier. The difference between crippling stage fright and pre-performance jitters is that someone with someone with pre-performance jitters knows exactly what their job is, who their audience is and what they want, and they’re excited and/or nervous about how close they’ll come to meeting expectations. Meanwhile, someone with crippling stage fright doesn’t really know what their job is, and therefore they don’t know how to give everyone in the audience what they want, so they are afraid everyone will reject them.
I’ve been to both places, numerous times. Many of my students start out under the assumption that they have to be “good” at piano playing in order even to have the right to play. With adults especially, they assume there’s some magic bar that separates musicians from non-musicians.
It’s a simple question of understanding what your job is at any given moment. Once you have that, the millions of possibilities that terrify you go away, to be replaced with a very few over which you have lots more control. If your job is to prepare a piece for the next lesson, then prepare it.
If your job is to perform a piece, prepare it to the best of your ability. Don’t worry about whether you’re good. Nobody cares how good you are.
Audience members either want to see you make it through a performance, or they want to be entertained, or they want some kind of background music to go behind their thoughts (or their conversations). If you have an audience with all of these kinds of people in it, choose the type you care about and play for them. That’s your job, and you can do it.
I think I’m a pretty good writer, but that doesn’t matter. Did I do my job? Guess how I’ll know?