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“Shame Triggers” that Come with a Career in Music

With the end of the orchestra season approaching, it seems the appropriate time to take stock of the past year.  Personally, I felt a roller coaster of emotions attached to the 2015-2016 orchestra season, from the highest level of musical connection and joy, to moments of utter despair (and I am not referring to how the music itself made me feel – rather the experience of working).  I’ve been reading “Daring Greatly” written by Brene Brown and it has gotten me thinking a lot about shame.  I’ve written previously about ego, and I think the ego’s rotten cousin (at times enemies at times best friends) is shame.   

Brown essentially explains in her teachings that speaking about one’s shame is the best way to diffuse it, so I thought that it would be a “fun” exercise (growth opportunity anyhow) to share the parts of my job that make me feel shame.  My hope is that anyone reading this will add their own “shame triggers” to this list and help uncover the “gremlins” (as Brene Brown labels them) that are getting us down at work (or school)!  This way maybe we can release ourselves of their burdens and start to enjoy a music career to its fullest.  Feel free to write about non-orchestral/non-music shame triggers as well!!  

Here are the ones that come to mind for me immediately…

I feel shame in relation to work in music when:

  1. I make a mistake – especially if the people around me play the exact same passage flawlessly

  2. When a conductor/colleague publicly critiques my playing (the harsher the comment the more the shame)

  3. When I cannot live up to the expectations laid out for me 

  4. Not using my voice when when I fall victim to abusive language or behaviour, or when people in my section fall victim to the same thing – instead silently fuming or muttering passive aggressively 

  5. When I give my emotional or musical power away to anyone around me rather than taking leadership and ownership of my own musicality or feelings

  6. When I hear a playback recording of my playing in the orchestral setting, and it doesn’t sound as good as I thought

  7. When I miss work to do an audition and have to return to tell everyone that I didn’t win the job

  8. When my nerves get the best of me and I don’t play with as much expression as I know I’m capable of, or make some kind of egregious mistake – especially in the middle of a huge flute solo

  9. When my emotions overcome me at work (which for me personally usually results in a downward spiral of negative comments about myself and/or the job)

I’m sure I could come up with more, but I figure this is a good place to start.  Brown explains (much better than I will here) that shame is different from guilt or embarrassment.  Shame is what makes you feel like a failure – like a loser – like quitting.   Let me be clear – it isn’t about blaming people for making me feel shame.  Experiences involving others triggering my shame wouldn’t happen if I didn’t already feel the shame within myself.   Let’s beat shame at its own game and expose it for the dirty rotten scoundrel (modified for PG rating) it is!! Please join in this fight and make comments either here on the blog page, or on Facebook.  Feel free to share this post too!

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