Musician life coach Dave Sherman on coping skills and perfectionism
A recent issue with a number of my clients lately has been that they seem to be creating their own problems. It occurred to me that it’s kind of a universal theme and that to some extent, we all do it. So, I’m going to generalize a bit about how sometimes it’s human nature to make life more difficult than it has to be, and then try to tie it in to how musicians do the same thing, only on a much larger scale.
How many of you have dated people that, in hindsight, you said to yourselves, “What the hell was I thinking?” (I’m guessing the vast majority of you have your hands up right now.) How many of you blame yourselves for other people’s emotions? What about feeling guilty about a situation that wasn’t that big of a deal? I’m guessing some of you get nine compliments in one week, one criticism and what do you obsess over for the next two weeks. Why do we spend so much more time on what’s going wrong in our lives instead of all the stuff that’s going well? Is it easier to dwell on negativity? I don’t think so, it’s just that we don’t know how to get out of our own way. That’s the phrase I use for when we make our lives harder than it has to be.
How about perfectionism? Let’s define that. My take on perfectionism isn’t that it’s about doing things perfectly. I believe perfectionists are so afraid that they won’t get it perfectly that they give up. Sound familiar? What about going a little easier on yourself? What about all the shades of grey between not doing something and getting it perfect? What about embracing the fact that we’re human and fallible and sometimes we get things wrong, and that it’s okay?
The only time I struggle with life is when I take myself, or a situation, too seriously. I’ve actually learned more about myself from the bad decisions I’ve made. “Okay, that was a bad idea. That blew up in my face. Don’t do that again.” But frequently we are so afraid of making the wrong decision that we don’t make a decision at all, and then nothing happens. I was just talking to a band that had some success, but then things leveled out for them. They got dropped by their label and their manager wasn’t doing much for them. They needed to make some moves, but were so afraid of making a bad decision that they weren’t making any at all, leaving them stuck in the middle. I call it the paralysis of analysis. People tend to talk themselves out of making decisions; they listen to all the negativity going on in their heads and stop following their gut. This is giving in to fear and letting it keep them from being happy. A big part of getting healthy is learning how to stop listening to “the voices.”
Because the reality is, to make it as simple as possible, every feeling you have is triggered by one of two base emotions--love or fear. Every negative emotion we have at its root is fear, whether it’s the fear of losing something we have, or the fear of not getting something we want. Spend a minute reflecting on that. Trace your anxiety, depression, or whatever back to its root cause. It might just be a revelation.
Anger, resentment, depression and every other shade of negativity is just fear. The funny thing about fear is that so much of it is irrational. Sure, there are rational fears. When you’re out in the woods and there is a bear, it’s perfectly rational to run, because he could eat you. That’s not what I’m talking about. I’m talking about irrational fears like, “If I ask her out and she says ‘no’ the universe is going to come to a crashing halt.” Or, “I completely suck at life and there’s no point in going on.” Or maybe thinking that any of those negative emotions is going to be solved by something outside of you, like cutting, a relationship or maybe even drugs. Nothing outside of you is going to kill the fear.
A very wise man once said to me, “Faith is the absence of fear.” I’m not talking about religion or spirituality, although if you have either one of those that’s certainly not a bad thing. I’m talking about having some faith in yourselves. The vast majority of people that I know have pretty good instincts, and talk themselves out of listening to them. And the smart people I know that don’t have good instincts have some people in their lives that they implicitly trust to bounce things off of. So many of our problems can be solved just by letting people into our lives. To be perfectly honest, I believe it’s almost impossible to look at ourselves objectively. I think we need other people to give us some insight into what we’re doing wrong and/or right.
I’ve seen self-doubt and self-sabotaging behaviors disrupt so many peoples’ lives and it doesn’t have to. To tie in the bands I was referencing earlier, what if you had a bunch of success? What if you sold 200,000 records, ended up on the cover of a magazine, made a decent amount of money and got to tour non-stop for a year and a half…and then had to do another album. Think about how hard it can be sometimes to make relatively simple decisions and then extrapolate that to, “What if this next album isn’t as good as the last one?” You get used to that lifestyle and don’t want to lose it. That’s a lot of pressure, and then the band members start giving in to the fear, and they start taking it out on each other. Most bands I know live in a bubble; it’s pretty hard to be on the road and learn how to mature and evolve as people. You don’t pick up many coping skills living that way. It stunts people emotionally. You never really learn how to communicate and without that there is no way that 4-6 people are going to be able to create together. I’ve watched it cause bands to break up just because they couldn’t or didn’t know how to communicate on an effective level. They just lacked the coping skills.
Something I’ve always wondered about was that in school, you have classes on all kinds of stuff that you most likely won’t be using in the future. You have to memorize facts and dates and details that you will probably forget right after the test. Yet I haven’t heard about any school anywhere offering a “coping skills” class, where you would actually get some life skills and learn how to deal with stuff. Wouldn’t that make sense? I’d like to see part of the (R)evolve Movement address this issue, and get some groups going on in every school in the country where you could just talk about what’s bothering you and get some feedback. That would have been a lot more useful to me than calculus (and I’m not just saying that because I bombed my calculus final.)
It all comes down to staying true to yourself. It’s really lonely if you don’t know who you are, and don’t you want to find out who you are?