Musicians: imagine for a moment that you could play, sing, or compose with much more freedom and abandon. That you could leave behind the “playing it safe” and for the next hour of practice or studio time — let go of any self-doubt, fear, or judgment.
Think how that might feel. And how your music might sound.
My guess is that your work in that hour would feel exhilarating and somewhat raw — and that it would sound a LOT more compelling.
I have a theory.
It’s that we all have a better version of our music inside us.
And that, for most of us, it’s locked up and hidden away.
We haven’t consciously chosen to limit our capabilities.
It’s that in our efforts to build our skills and get things “right” — to do as we’re told and fit in — we end up inhibiting our creativity. We stifle our imaginations, and lock away our more daring creative voices.
That “locked up” artistic voice is where your true potential lies.
How do you unlock it?
The key to your true artistic voice is your shadow
In Jungian psychology, “the shadow” consists of the parts of ourselves we feel ashamed of. The traits we’d like to disown, whether it’s being selfish, judgmental, needy, or anything else.
We all have crap we try to hide from others (and try to ignore or deny ourselves).
We grow up convinced that if we were to show up as our whole and complete selves — shadows, warts, and all — that we’d be shunned. That even our family and friends would turn away.
So, from the age when we first start to socialize with others, we do our best to “hide” these parts of ourselves. What we present to the world is only the more socially acceptable parts, a two-dimensional slice of our whole. By projecting a false front, and denying parts of our true selves, we cut off the full range of our emotions, ideas, and capacities.
There’s a high price for denying your shadow
There’s more to the shadow than what we’re ashamed of. According to Jung, the shadow gives us access to the collective unconscious — the source of all creativity. The shadow is the portal to those sudden flashes of insight, wonder, and inspiration.
So when we deny our shadows, we cut ourselves off from all that.
How does this play out?
Think of those times in rehearsals when you’ve held back from voicing an idea, an objection, or a request. You don’t want to be a bother or risk being judged. That’s denying your shadow.
Same with all the times when you’ve opted to “play small” in your career by forgoing the projects you tell yourself you’re not ready for. The project is something your shadow wants, but your ego says no, play it safe. Don’t risk rejection or failure.
Likewise in the studio or on onstage, we’re all so busy trying to prove ourselves or be perfect and hide our shadows, that there’s little room for real connection or spontaneity.
What’s the alternative?
If on the other hand we learn to accept, acknowledge, and connect with our shadows, we can become whole. And that, from an artistic output point of view, is where redemption lies.
Think about the best performances you’ve ever heard. Where the artist holds nothing back, and “leaves it all on the field.” It’s as though the artist has let go of all self-consciousness, any sense of ego, and is instead channeling something from the gods.
Those concerts can only happen when the performer stops hiding and dares to bring her full self — shadows and all — to the performance. It’s not about trying to make things perfect, avoiding risk, pleasing others, or “coloring inside the lines.”
And the importance of the shadow extends beyond the music itself, to how we manage our careers and our lives. Whether in interviews, networking, or any other situation where stress and fear may tempt us to hold back and “play it safe.” Things are just better when we are fully ourselves — when we show up shadows and all — vulnerable, and real.
“Shadow work” is some of what’s most fascinating for me in coaching clients to get more of their best work out into the world. To get you started, try this . . .
Musicians: imagine for a moment that you can see your Shadow.
As you read this, picture the version of you that you’re most ashamed of — the imagined version of your worst aspects.
In your mind’s eye, your Shadow may resemble a younger version of yourself at a particularly vulnerable time in your life. (My Shadow reminds me of how I saw myself in junior high — pimply, socially awkward, resentful, self-loathing.)
Or your Shadow may not even appear as human, but as a mass of energy, encompassing all that you’re ashamed of.
Just notice whatever comes up for you.
Your Shadow may be angry. Mine is. For good reason. After all, we’ve been denying and avoiding our Shadows for most of our lives, doing our best to pretend they’re not part of us.
But just imagine if you were to make amends and get to know your Shadow. And imagine that over time, by acknowledging your Shadow and checking in with her daily, what this might mean.
Become more accepting of your whole self
Accepting your whole self means acknowledging your ‘shadow urges’ and feelings. This doesn’t mean expecting less of yourself. It means feeling the full range of emotions and staying present.
The idea is to go into any stressful situation WITH your shadow. Your job is then to have your shadow’s back. To tell her, “I’m not going to abandon you,” and that we’re in this together. That you don’t care how others may judge you — that you’re in this for her.
What I can tell you is this: it’s an amazing thing to turn your fear and ego-centered focus into a selfless mobilized cause to stand by your Shadow — to back her — and be whole and present.
It’s in this change of focus — going from being caught up in ego-centered fear, to standing tall in solidarity with our Shadow — that the ‘magic’ happens. It’s where we find a strength and a resolve most of us have have never experienced before. It’s where we can discover our true artistic voice.
Here’s to developing a relationship with your Shadow so you can become the artist you are meant to be.
Make no mistake, we’re not talking about a quick fix here — changing long-established habits takes time and effort. But isn’t your creativity worth it?
Stutz and Michels have helped scores of Hollywood A-list performers, directors, and writers get past creative blocks and self-sabotage. Their books and website detail a set of dynamic visualization exercises that can shift your emotional state, behavior, and outlook.
When practiced regularly these tools can help you transform your mindset and your life. This practice has been a game changer in my life and I regularly teach the Tools to my clients — who’ve also seen their own transformations as a result.
Here’s the Tool that Phil and Barry teach to help you connect with your Shadow—and over time, form a bond that strengthens your creativity—is called Inner Authority.
Do you have a question for me about working with your Shadow? Hit me up in our free Facebook group.
Dream Big, Plan Smart, Live Well