Monday, January 25, 2016

Question Everything: Are you any good?

When you read the title, you probably answered the question in your head.  For this post, however, the answer actually doesn't matter.

What I want you to think about isn't WHAT the answer might be, but WHERE it came from.

Is ability measured in terms of how long you've been playing, how many pieces you've learned, how many groups you've played with, who your instructors are?  Is ability measured in how strong, dexterous, smart, flexible, creative, loud, or energetic you are?  Is ability measured in how quickly you adapt, how far you've progressed, how well you teach others, how supportive you are?  Is ability something that requires others to compare to?  Finally, who determines the value of those factors?

There's your teacher(s), other instructors, your peers, your friends, the audience, and yourself.  Obviously each of those has different perspective, and also different weight.

For example, the audience after a show is likely to give you a lot of positive feedback.  But do they have the ability to tell a skilled player from a new one?  A professional vs. an amateur?  Maybe your instructor tends to give you only critique instead of praise, but does it mean you're not improving, not stronger?  Is the positive opinion of 1,000 strangers equal to one critical comment from your teacher?  What if a guest instructor gives you a compliment on something your main teacher says needs improvement?  How does that affect your feeling of ability?

Imagine a situation where you have two different classes with two different instructors.  In one, you're told you're at best doing ok, mostly getting critique and even at times being chastised.  In the other,you're hearing praise, compliments, and constructive comments.  Assuming both instructors are of equal skill, how do you determine how good you are?  Do you believe the one you like more?  Do you try to balance between the two?

Or what about when you feel like you're really getting better and one comment from a peer shatters that feeling?  Were they being observant or disrespectful when they made it?  Why does their opinion have such an effect?  Would that same comment from someone new have the same impact?

What if someone you really respect gives you a snide comment that makes you feel like you lack skill, but they were having a really bad day?  Maybe they don't remember to apologize or don't see you for a long time, so that comment sticks.  So now you feel like you're less talented than you might really be, because of a comment that wasn't really authentic.  Or let's say you get a comment from someone who has a bias either way, because of your ethnicity, the group you're in, your gender, or an assumption made about you.  The comment either inflates or deflates you because of this bias, but again, this wasn't an authentic comment and your sense of ability is now unfairly adjusted.

Then there's how we feel about ourselves any given day.  As our moods fluctuate, so does our sense of ability.  After a really stressful day, are you going to feel like you're better than you were a week ago when you were having a great day?  Maybe, maybe not, but it's easier to be harder on yourself when you're not in a good place, as well as the opposite.  Our internal ballast is subject to change depending on biology as much as environmental factors.

So I'll ask you again, how good are you?  Maybe you're a lot less sure, but DON'T think you're suddenly less or more able than you thought you were.  Just think about where your sense of ability comes from, both internally and externally, and think about all the factors that can affect where you think you are!

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