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When People Tell You You Can’t…

We've all been there... (most likely)

mindset coach, flutist, Chelsea Tanner
Photo by Taylor Rossi

If you are a classical musician, you’ve likely been told this before. Or rather, you’ve probably interpreted feedback in this way. And that really makes all the difference.

When you’ve decided to dedicate your life to music, you’re going for it, you’ve decided to go to music school, take auditions etc., you put your trust in teachers and mentors to lead you in the right direction. But what happens when they say something hurtful, discouraging, or negative?

We can stop believing in ourselves, we can get really down, or it can sometimes light a fire under us to work harder in order to prove them wrong. I’m going to break down how to handle negative feedback, harsh criticism, or the drastic opinions of others. And how to overcome past criticisms that still bother you.

All humans have opinions based on their genetics, familial conditioning, social conditioning, their nervous system wiring, and their self-concept. This is what creates someone’s thinking, not the sound waves you create with your instrument. Let that sink in...

We’re often told that if we play a certain way we can be the undeniable winner or someone who advances in auditions as if we can somehow control the thoughts of a judge, committee, or teacher. But we can’t. We can’t control thoughts, and neither can our sound waves.

People feel emotions based on how they are thinking and perceiving the world. Our sound waves have no control over that. I saw Emmanuel Pahud play a recital when I was 14 years old and had no idea what I was actually seeing or hearing. I just thought my mom dragged me to another flute recital again. I saw him again when I was 26. I thought it was incredible, and it wasn’t because his sound waves got better, it was because I was thinking differently.

You can give a performance that you didn’t think went well AT ALL, and then someone can come up to you in tears because they were so moved by your performance. You didn’t like your performance because of your thoughts, they loved your performance because of their thoughts.

This works the other way too. Someone can not like your performance, and you’re still allowed to like it. It’s not about who is right or wrong, because there is no right or wrong. Where this can get tricky is when you’re a student. We look to our teachers for guidance, but when we get really harsh feedback, it can be hard to not make it mean there is something wrong with us or that we aren’t good enough.

I want you to think of that time someone said something negative, didn’t choose you in a competition, or just something that sticks with you.

Let’s separate out the facts…

The fact is: Your teacher said words to you. (You can also quote them if you remember the exact quote- an interpretation of what they said is not a fact, it is a thought) The committee didn’t choose you.

Then ask yourself: Why is this a problem that they said these words to me? What am I making it mean about me? My playing?

This is where you learn all of the limiting beliefs YOUR brain is holding (because after all, these thoughts are coming from you, not them).

Do this exercise, notice what you’re thinking about this situation. If you find yourself not going after opportunities or auditions like you’d like to and you’re blaming what other people said, this means you’re not taking responsibility for your own thinking. You’re believing what other people have said. I’m not saying this is easy or comfortable to do.

If you believe the people who doubt you, it is easy for your brain to buy into that. Your brain always wants to protect you from putting yourself out there. Your brain thinks that if it feels embarrassed then you’ll be kicked out of the group and die alone in the woods. Literally, this is why it feels like death to put yourself out there. Your brain will automatically doubt you always, that’s its job, to keep you safe from pain (emotional or otherwise). If it doubts you enough, you won't put yourself out there, you won't believe in yourself, then: mission accomplished. You stay "safe."

So, here’s the thing. When you’re able to see this negative feedback story that you keep telling for what it is, just thoughts, just a story. You can start to question it.

Is it 100% true that I’ll never "make it"?

  • What does “making it” mean?

  • Would everyone in the world agree?

  • Could the opposite be at all true?

  • Do I want to keep believing this?

  • How do I react when I think this, is this creating the kind of feeling and action I want?

When we take responsibility for the stories we tell ourselves, we stop using them as an excuse to hold us back, and that’s scary in a different way. It’s scary to not believe our old stories because then we have no reason to not put ourselves out there. Then we don’t have a reason to not take that audition or do that competition.

We also have this assumption that we’ll feel ready to take an audition or put ourselves out there. But here’s a spoiler… It never feels amazing to do something new. It will always feel scary. However, if you’re dedicated to treating yourself with kindness and love through the process, you can help yourself through.

If you know you’ll beat yourself up afterward, you’re much less likely to try and fail (because it will be too emotionally painful). But trying and failing is how you progress in anything and everything. Not beating yourself up, no matter what, is what I call: having your own back. When you have your own back, people can say things, people can criticize, people can judge, but you know you have the last say. It can still hurt, but you then know how to comfort yourself through having your feelings hurt.

Brain experiment, try these questions on:

What would your life be like if you decided not to believe that old story anymore?

What if you were free of it?

What would you go after?

Who would you be if you didn’t have that story?

If you want to totally change your story, have your own back, and become resilient in the face of harsh criticism, let’s connect. I’d love to chat about how mindset coaching could help you achieve your professional goals (or personal goals!) because this is the stuff you don’t learn in music school. Schedule a free consultation here!

All my best,

Chelsea Tanner



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