Some of us are lucky enough to achieve a certain amount of recognition or fame. Others, even though we may not be in the public eye, have developed a certain reputation for our good work that we must maintain. It’s not easy to carry around this kind of history, knowing that one mistake can wreck it.
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 experienced the same thing as a musician. I had severe stage fright as a piano player for many years because each time something went right the weight of proving myself made the burden impossible. I couldn’t concentrate on the music because all I could think about was those eyes on me.
It’s taken me many, many years to learn to manage that thought process so that I can perform. The best way to describe how I think about it is that I try not to carry my successes around. Instead, I think of them as building blocks.
We build so that we don’t have to carry.
Why do we build a house? So we don’t have to carry everything we own around everywhere. We can expand our reach without sacrificing security.
We can do the same thing with success. If we dwell on the accolades we’ve achieved, it will prevent us from being able to move freely enough to succeed again. Instead, we should use our success to build another.
So if I achieve one of my dreams and receive the Nobel Prize for Literature, what am I going to do then? Will I be paralyzed because now everyone expects so much more from me? Will I simply stop writing because I’ll never surpass that kind of recognition?
Well, what does having the Prize allow me to do that I couldn’t do before? Who can I meet now? What can I accomplish with the help of that Prize?
The same thing is true with something as simple as a good performance at a recital. My little success can create pressure if I let it. Instead, I can take what I learned about success from the experience and add to it.
Those kinds of things are building blocks to take me to the next thing of value that I can do. If I am building well, I can make good use of my successes to reach higher, take better risks. Then the focus is on the work where it belongs and not the successes.
Adam Cole is a writer and music educator. His blogs can be read monthly at www.mymusicfriend.net.