Musician compare and despair

Here’s an embarrassing “life lesson” from my past that I learned from. OUCH. A few years back I was a guest speaker at the Classical Singer Convention. It ended up being a wonderful experience but it sure didn’t start out that way. What I mean is that immediately before I gave the talk, I fell into “compare and despair” mode, otherwise known as the comparison trap.

I arrived a little early at the venue and went to the assigned room and ended up seeing the previous speaker wrapping up his session.

The speaker was clearly confident, wore an expensive-looking suit, had slick Powerpoint slides, and once he finished he had many people asking questions, getting his card, etc.

This sent me into a tailspin of negative self-talk: I’d entered the Comparison Trap.

Now, for the record, I have a LOT of public speaking and teaching experience (and quite a few performance credits from my previous life as a cellist) so you might imagine that I don’t get nervous or intimidated.

But you’d be wrong.

Everyone has performance anxiety to one degree or another. EVERYONE.

My “jitters” typically turn into relentless negative self-talk. In this instance, it was all about comparing myself to the previous speaker. I berated myself with nastiness about being underdressed and that I should have prepared visuals. This was bizarre because I hate Powerpoint and still I was silently yelling at myself that I should have made slides.

The comparison trap

From that point my thinking segued into catastrophe mode, with my self-talk escalating to OMG this is going to be a disaster!

Maybe this kind of thing has happened to you, too, before important auditions, interviews, or meetings.

Here’s how it works as a self-fulfilling prophecy: with all that negativity we actually psych ourselves OUT of giving our best performances.

That is, unless we’ve practiced using some powerful tools to avoid the comparison trap and to counteract the negative self-talk.

So what did I do?

First, I got myself out of the room and did a little regrouping in the corridor. I needed to refocus and put some new, more reality-based messages in my head to replace the outrageously negative and inappropriate self-talk.

To counter the negative messages, I said silently to myself, “Fuck it: I’m prepared, I have something valuable to offer, and I’m curious about the people coming to the session and what we can create together through discussion and shared ideas.”

Other messaging I used to counteract the negative self-talk: that the audience may want a break from Powerpoint slides and expensive-looking suits. That I was offering them a fresh perspective, one that only I could deliver. That I like the dress I had on. And finally, I told myself, let’s get to it.

It helped that I didn’t have too much time to agonize or to wallow in the negative mindset. Getting moving, taking action is often a big help. The goal is to convert nervousness into energy, enthusiasm, and motion you can use in the performance or presentation.

How did it turn out?

Once I got started, something kicked in—I wasn’t self-conscious any more, I was simply in the mode of doing: of connecting with the audience. This is what happens in the best performances: we lose our sense of self because we’re completely in the moment.

The talk ended up being energizing and fun and there were many people afterwards with questions, wanting cards, etc.

One of my favorite pieces of feedback came from a participant who said “What I most liked about your session was that you are so real.”

The goal of any performance is to get past the self-consciousness, to get out of our own way so that we can focus on the message we want to communicate and connect with the audience. To be fully present, to be REAL.

We can’t do that if we are comparing ourselves to others or if we’re bracing against making a mistake, or are worrying about the passage we just messed up.

For help getting out of the mindset traps so you can move forward in your music career, let’s talk!

Here’s to avoiding the comparison trap,

Dream Big, Plan Smart, Live Well


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