In a recent interview, I told someone that, at my age, I cared a lot less what people think of me, and a lot more about how we are interacting. I was surprised by my own answer! I’ve been obsessed with what people think of me for so long that the thought that I have grown in this way was really nice.
I wish I could say I no longer care what people think. To be honest, I still worry about that, and I spend a lot of energy trying to paint very positive portraits of myself in my work and my publicity. But the interaction piece has come to fill up some of the empty space that used to be there between me and others when I ran out of “look at me” tricks.
Wanting people to have a good opinion of you is not necessarily a bad thing. Talmudic teaching puts a lot of emphasis on maintaining a “good name.” Once people think ill of you, it’s very hard to fix that.
But there’s a difference between wanting people to think highly of you, versus wanting to impress them. And the difference tends to live in how you interact with them. Good interactions that lead to powerful mutual results are what you want.
For years, as a jazz musician, my desire to have people think I was a Herbie Hancock or Oscar Peterson in the rough ruined my playing, at least for me. I couldn’t focus on the music because I kept looking over my shoulder to see if anyone was impressed yet. I actually had to get good enough that I couldn’t sabotage my playing like that anymore.
Over time I have finally come to a much better way of playing. Now I tend to ask myself: Am I making good music with the drummer? With the bass player? With the soloist?
If I focus on the quality of music we’re making together, it makes the question of my ability irrelevant. The other musicians notice immediately what I’m doing, and they focus on that as well. Then we’re all working on the same thing.
I’ve often noticed that the best musicians can play with complete beginners and the beginners will sound great. This mystery is explained by the great musicians’ focus on their relationships with one another. Their skill generates good music between them and the beginner, not just virtuosity coming our of their expertise.
As a writer, It’s a little harder to focus on the interaction between myself and my audience. I may have no readers at all for a given piece. If I do have readers, I may not hear their response for years.
Even so, I’ll get a different result when I’m thinking about showing off how good I am versus thinking about the reader’s interaction with the work, or the characters in it. “Good writing” tends to get in the way of the reader. Great writing makes the reader a part of the story.
This line of thinking is enormously helpful for getting not only the best result, but for getting away from exhausting, counterproductive thinking that really only annoys people and wastes your efforts. I hope you feel like we’ve interacted well in this blog. If not, I hope you’ll let me know.
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Adam Cole is a Jazz Musician Who Writes Books. Fantasy author, music educator and performer, Adam chats weekly on the subject of listening, creativity and living your best life. To take a quiz on what kind of music warrior you are, please visit www.mymusicfriend.net