Looking to others for inspiration, without holding yourself to their standards

One of the most psychologically debilitating things any person can encounter is that feeling that they are “not good enough”. In particular, with the social media and news of today making it all too easy to be bombarded with the “best” people in the world at a given skill/job, and people constantly posting about how great they are doing, it’s fairly commonplace to then feel permanently inadequate compared to those people.

When we feel inadequate

For singers who just love to sing out a little, maybe this arises from seeing someone else getting more applause or recognition than you feel you did at the local open mic, karaoke, friends gathered round a piano, singing group or choir, etc, or just feeling like you don’t sound the way “Singer X” does. For artists, this might involve us seeing one person getting signed to a label, a top flight artist filling an arena, another having a successful album launch, while we feel we are still battling even recording a single song we like. And for all of us, when working on our repertoire, we might feel like we’re beating our head off a brick wall getting a song under our belt, whereas someone else seems to be nailing it every single time.

We’ve all felt feelings like that at one time or another, myself very much included. We’re also all going to continue to have those moments. Of course, it is good and helpful to look to others as a driver to get better, as a source of inspiration to work harder and do better, but it can be damaging if we then hold ourselves to their standards. This leads to a lack of perspective in how we’re progressing.

A simple anecdote

There’s this simple anecdote I wish to share on the thought of “getting perspective”, and some of you may have read this before. The great author Stephen Covey once wrote about perspective in his anecdote “The Man on the Subway” from his book “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People:

I remember a mini-paradigm shift I experienced one Sunday morning on a subway in New York. People were sitting quietly – some reading newspapers, some lost in thought, some resting with their eyes closed. It was a calm, peaceful scene.

Then suddenly, a man and his children entered the subway car. The children were so loud and rambunctious that instantly the whole climate changed.

The man sat down next to me and closed his eyes, apparently oblivious to the situation. The children were yelling back and forth, throwing things, even grabbing people’s papers. It was very disturbing. And yet, the man sitting next to me did nothing.

It was difficult not to feel irritated. I could not believe that he could be so insensitive as to let his children run wild like that and do nothing about it, taking no responsibility at all. It was easy to see that everyone else on the subway felt irritated, too. So finally, with what I felt like was unusual patience and restraint, I turned to him and said, “Sir, your children are really disturbing a lot of people. I wonder if you couldn’t control them a little more?”

The man lifted his gaze as if to come to a consciousness of the situation for the first time and said softly, “Oh, you’re right. I guess I should do something about it. We just came from the hospital where their mother died about an hour ago. I don’t know what do think, and I guess they don’t know who to handle it either.”

Can you imagine what I felt at that moment? My paradigm shifted. Suddenly I saw things differently, and because I saw differently, I thought differently, I felt differently, I behaved differently. My irritation vanished. I didn’t have to worry about controlling my attitude or my behavior; my heart was filled with the man’s pain. Feelings of sympathy and compassion flowed freely. “Your wife just died? Oh I’m so sorry! Can you tell me about it? What can I do to help?”

[With perspective] everything changed in an instant.

Your journey is your own

The reason I share this story is to help anyone reading this to realise that your journey – in music and in everything else – is your own. There’s no sense comparing myself to “Singer X” as a singer any more than it makes sense to compare myself to (say) Bill Gates as a business owner, or any other names I could care to mention in the different arenas I’m interested in. None of these people are in my position, nor I in theirs. I have talents and hard-earned skills they lack, and vice versa. We also have very little clue what they are experiencing in their own life, what it took and what sacrifices were made to get to the level they are at. On top of this, music is certainly not meant to be a competition.

The only person we should be comparing ourselves to is the person we were yesterday. All that matters is that we are making progress relative to THAT person. And if we are making that progress, then we are on the right path. A little bit of work everyday/on a regular consistent basis is all we need to keep moving forward. We can absolutely look to others for inspiration and for direction, but don’t judge yourself by or hold yourself to the standards of others – that way madness lies.

Keep your perspective and good luck!

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