Musicians: imagine for a moment that you could play, sing, or compose with much more freedom and abandon — and leave behind the “playing it safe.” Imagine that in your next hour of practice or studio time, you could 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, maybe even a little raw — and that it would sound a LOT more compelling because you’d be tapping into your super power: your Shadow.
To clarify what this means . . .
I have a theory
based on all my years of coaching and working with musicians. It’s what I’ve witnessed and lived.
It’s this: that we all have a better version of our music inside us.
And that version, for most of us, is locked up and hidden away.
It’s not that we’ve 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, reining in our more daring creative impulses.
That “locked up” artistic voice inside you is where your true potential waits.
How do you unlock it?
The key to your true artistic voice lies in your Shadow
Let me introduce you to — if you haven’t already met — your Shadow. It’s psychologist Carl Jung’s name for the parts of ourselves that we’re ashamed of.
Our Shadows hold all the traits we’d like to disown, whether it’s being needy, domineering, cowardly, or anything else. It’s what we find unacceptable in ourselves — it’s the traits we’ve learned to hide from others, that we deny even to ourselves.
Try as we might to deny these, we’ve all had times when we’ve “acted out” in anger, frustration, or desire — and done something embarrassing or seemingly unforgivable. Something uncharacteristic of our usual socially-acceptable self. That’s often our Shadow erupting — it’s been repressed for so long that it inevitably needs to break free periodically. We may feel horrified by our own behavior, and others may wonder what’s come over us.
As a result, we grow up convinced that if we were to show up as our whole and complete selves — Shadows and all — 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, then, is the more socially acceptable version of us, the two-dimensional “sanitized” slice of who we really are.
There’s a high price we pay for denying our Shadow
Here’s the thing: there’s far 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. Your Shadow is your portal to flashes of insight, wonder, and inspiration.
So when we deny our Shadows, when we stuff down the less-desirable aspects of us, we end up cutting off the full range of our emotions, ideas, and capacities. We cut ourselves off from our artistic potential.
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 onstage, we’re all so busy trying to prove ourselves, to 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 acknowledge, accept, and bond with our Shadows, we can become whole. And that, from an artistic point of view, is where redemption lies.
Think about the best performances you’ve ever heard. Ones where the artist holds nothing back, and “leaves it all on the stage.” 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.
Such concerts can only happen when the performer stops hiding and dares to bring her full self — Shadow and all — to the performance.
In such concerts it’s never about trying to make things perfect. It’s not about avoiding risk, pleasing others, or “coloring inside the lines.”
And Shadow work extends beyond the music itself, to how we manage our careers and our lives. Whether it’s in interviews, networking, or any other social situation where stress and fear may tempt us to hold back and “play it safe,” we need our Shadows. Life is just better when we are fully ourselves, when we show up, Shadows and all — vulnerable and real.
But in order for any of this to happen, you need to . . .
Develop an ongoing relationship with your Shadow
Let’s be clear: we’re not talking about a quick fix — changing long-established habits takes time and effort. And developing a relationship with a part of your own unconscious is new territory for many of us.
But isn’t your artistic growth worth it?
The good news is there are practical tools for cultivating a positive relationship with your Shadow.
To get started, I recommend watching the Netflix documentary Stutz. Actor/director Jonah Hill made the film as a tribute to his therapist Phil Stutz. In it, you’ll see Shadow work and a number of Tools in action — these are dynamic real-time visualizations that can shift your emotional state, behavior, and prospects.
LA-based therapists Phil Stutz and his collaborator Barry Michels have taught scores of Hollywood A-list performers, directors, and writers how to get past creative blocks and self-sabotage. Having attended workshops and webinars taught by Phil and Barry over the past 10 years, I’ve seen what a difference the Tools have made in my own life. So I now teach these Tools to my clients.
As a coach, I’ve found that the career issues musicians come to me with are NEVER simply about the logistics of their careers. It’s not just about how to self-promote, network, or book more performances. So beyond teaching people how to manage the practical side of their music, I help clients get past the inner barriers that often prevent musicians from reaching their true potential.
I love seeing my clients get past their Resistance so they can tap into their own super power and get more of their best work out into the world.
Dream Big, Plan Smart, Live Well