Fearless Performance by Jeff Nelsen

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May 23, 2018

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What to do

It's been a while. I haven't written for a couple of years actually. I have a pretty good excuse, I promise!  Last time I wrote to you, our family was about to grow in size by one.  Ta daaaaa!  Introducing Blair Alexander Nelsen, with his big brother Rhys.
 
Our 2 boys
We're having a blast together.  What an adventure. 
 
Another exciting update as well.  Stars aligned with timing and life, and I am excited to tell you I've rejoined Canadian Brass!  I had a crazy busy first month of concerts and recordings, and we're getting ready for some concert tours around America and Europe. Definitely living the dream!
 

Ok, let's dive into some thoughts I want to share. My hope in writing, as always, is that something you read here might guide you to see things a little differently, a little more clearly, and maybe even end up inspiring you into acting in new ways.
 
What to do
 
In order to improve, musicians of all levels must be able to learn.
 
"Wow, Jeff. Thanks! Good thing you wrote this to me. I hadn't thought of that before?"
 
Ah yes, I too can overstate the obvious. However, this, ability to learn concept has been proving to be less obvious than I had earlier believed. Sure, you probably wouldn't argue the fact that learning is important. We all have learned a lot, but we also have a lot left to learn.
We can learn better.
Consider something you've done that your friend told you they didn't like. Maybe they asked you not to do it, or maybe you simply decided you wouldn't do it again. Have you been able to learn optimally, and never again engage in your friend's less-favorite behavior?
 
How about obvious learning that pays off in massive benefits for you? Do your eating or drinking habits reflect your knowledge of what's best for you? I know we all have sleep habits, but how good are they?
 
We all have things in our life about which we could learn more by collecting more knowledge. That's different learning than what I'm writing about here.
 
Imagine if we didn't collect any more knowledge, but we did live in congruence with what we already knew was best. We know much more than we act on. Who doesn't know not to smoke, not walk into traffic, and not have Cheetos for all three meals...at least not every day?
 
While typing the previous paragraph, I found it interesting that my list consisted of what we should not do. This is such a universal part of the musician's lexicon.
 
Take a look at a typical Musician's To-Don'ts list. Wild, eh?!
That's a list of what our success goals are. Sure, we're saying DON'T do these things, but even so, that still means that when we succeed, we've only succeeded at NOT doing those things; we still haven't DONE anything. We've only not done things.
 
What am I celebrating when I've succeeded at not being boring, or having not missed notes? (I won't even go into the not checking the box for not unbreaking a leg.)
 
Successful Don't-ing
 
For example, if I'm trying to lose weight and get healthy, I can put post-its on my fridge that say:
 
Don't eat pizza.
Don't drink ice cream.
Candy is not FOOD Jeff!
Don't open that 3rd bag of Cheetos!
 
Even if I gloriously succeed at nailing that list, all I've done is not done things. I haven't done anything!
 
A better approach is putting post-its that say:
 
Eat Spinach.
Drink Water!
Good food is Good fuel Jeff!
Close that 3rd bag of Cheetos before it's empty!
 
As musicians, we're frequently told the same Don'ts.
 
"Don't miss."
"Don't Rush!"
"You're gonna want to not play too loudly there."
 
I can think back many years, to a time when I was much less learning-obsessed. Often when someone would point out that I rushed, they would be the fourth person to do so. I'd say, "yeah, I know. I get excited! Hee hee." On my music, I'd even have written, "Don't RUSH!" above and below the section where I rushed! The person would give me a patient smile. I would think I got away with rushing again, or worse, I wouldn't ever think about my missed learning moment again.
 
My consistent experience
 
Along my learning path, I think I would have succeeded at making positive changes to my results much sooner if I more clearly knew what TO do.
 
Have you ever gone through a time when you ended up doing exactly what you just told yourself not to do? For a while there, I would miss EVERY note I told myself not to miss.
 
"Ok Jeff, you got this. Ahhh nice. Sounding good and now just don't mi---------ugh!!!"
 
Instead of thinking, "Don't miss." I think "Make this note beautiful." I'm approaching the same note with different definitions of success, and with much better results too.
 
I remember near the end of a Canadian Brass concert, I realized I hadn't missed a note yet.   I thought, "Hey you're doing great! You haven't missed a note y----CLANNNNNGGGG!"
 
Your solution is simple.
 
Everything we should not be doing can also be worded in the form of what TO do.
 
Do that.
 
This is simple. It might not be easy at first, but that's ok. Keep going. It really is easy for me now. Trust me. It's so worth it!
Your To Do
 
I'll give you 2 things to do this week.
  1. Catch yourself well - The next time you hear yourself think or say "don't", give yourself a calm "ah-ha" moment. Not a punishing, "ah HAA!! BUSTED!!!" Just a kind slow-down from your usual chattered-thinking and confident don't-ing.
  2. Replace with To Do - Consider what your "don't" was, and figure out what it's opposite could be. It could take a bit of creativity at first. Do remember you're new to this. (I just did it!!!! I was going to type, "Don't decide this is difficult." Heyyy? See what I did there?!)
Bonus inspiration
 
Just to keep you believing you can do this, check out one of my favorite writer's ideas on "a little more..."
 
Plasticity 
by Seth Godin
 
It's possible that you're the way you are, that you do what you do, that you react as you react, and that it can never be changed.
Believing this is incredibly sad, though. Each of us is capable of just a little more. A little more patience, a little more insight, a little more generosity.
 
And if you can do a little more, then, of course, you can repeat those changes until you've done a lot more.

Registration EXTENDED to JUNE 1


For more information and experience being solution-based, and guiding yourself well, please check out my Fearless Performance for Musicians seminar. It's 5 days of inspiration and instruction on figuring out how you fear and how to choose better in both preparation and performance.
 
June 13-17 at Indiana University Jacobs School of Music.
 
It's coming up soon!!  I hope to see you there.
Jeff
August 30, 2016

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Constructive Panic

Hi everyone,

 

As we work well toward eliminating fearful choices from our performance arena, we can still be inspired by fear in our preparation arena.

Fear is not bad.  Negative results from our fear are bad.

Fear itself can be used for good.  I just watched a fantastic TED Talk about procrastination given by Tim Urban. I highly recommend you watch it today.

I think his talk fits well with the concept of working in our Learning Zone without getting into Panic Zone. 

Tim shares wise words and funnily-true stories about how and why we leave things until the last minute, and how we can still hit our deadlines.  Time passes as our deadline comes closer...until we get the ultimate inspiration, The Panic Monster!  I love it.  More often than not, that's how I "work". I often say, "I do nothing without a goal."  Setting a goal gives us a deadline or two, and some motivation to grow.  When we have deadlines, our panic monster can come push us to our next level.  But I've heard of people who actually plan their work and work their plan WELL.  I wake each day with renewed passion and determination that I can do that better TODAY.  Doing so isn't a mystery.

We can get our work done in a timely manner, so the Panic Monster is less urgent and more of a timely nudge. Let's help ourselves with this today, together.

This week's To Do

Think of a project you want to have finished by September 1. Set a week (not weak!) goal and a today task that take you closer to having your project finished.

- By the end of 7 days from now I will have completed this goal : ___________________

- By the end of today I will have completed this task : ________________________ 

Many of you have school placement auditions coming up.  Take a look at your repertoire list, and pick a passage that you could be performing way closer to what is written.(That's a good way of saying, "pick a passage that's driving you crazy!" eh? ) Plan your specific tasks for today, like "find my real tempo and work at that tempo for 10 minutes." Real tempo is the tempo that you can play all the notes accurately and in tune, with musical shapes and colors.

If you want to knock off more tasks today, here are some ideas: listen to 3 recordings of today's excerpt, read a biography of my composer, listen to my favorite performer on my instrument, listen to music I love, walk for 20 minutes, drink 6 big glasses of water, only eat until 8pm, plan 5 tasks for tomorrow, get to bed by 10pm, get up at 6am tomorrow...

An example goal for the week is, "I will have worked all my repertoire at least once, have clear ideas of how all my repertoire can sound amazing to an audience, and have clear plans on my work for next week."  

It's all about task management.  Once you START doing this well, your goals and projects fall into place.  Do not expect to nail this by day 2.  Just dive in as well as you can, and you will see, with the next day's planning, how you can improve both your planning and execution.

Good luck with changing your Panic Monster into your Timely Nudge Assistant...or something like that?!  Heh...

Keep breathing!

Jeff

June 17, 2015

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What's Driving Your Performance?

Just as the light turned yellow, I considered my distance to the intersection and speed, and lifted my foot off the gas and hit the brake.  My car slowed to a stop as other cars began crossing in front of me.  I was suddenly curious and thoughtful of the harmonious chaos involved in traffic.

A different person, or a running-late-me would have sped up instead of stopping for that yellow/red light.  Either way, not much would have changed...or would much have?  Hmmmm...
You're Driving Your Performance
We have hundreds of choices to make each day.  (If someone thinks sitting on the couch all day keeps them from having to make choices, they're wrong.  They're just making a choice to sit on the couch a few hundred times a day.)  I'm constantly reminded of a thought I came to with my best friend in high school, Jay Baydala. 
We were talking about how some people were ok dropping a gum wrapper on the ground but, of course, one would never drop a hamburger wrapper. It's all about intent. Do we do the right thing so we don't get in trouble or do we do the right thing because it's the right thing?  We settled on this idea:
This is not a new idea, I know.  
"There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle."
- Albert Einstein
 
Jay and I didn't obsess about everything we possibly could, but we did make an effort to take our choices seriously.  It was more of an approach that anything could matter at any time...so now what!? 
Driving a car involves some serious worst-case scenarios for thinking nothing matters...but we've all seen drivers who drive like nothing matters.  I was driving near a big tractor-trailer truck and he just changed lanes a few times, without signaling, and then stayed in the passing lane. He was obviously just trying to get where he was going, regardless of others.  Another huge truck signaled to enter my lane and I slowed down and let him over.  He flashed his lights, passed a car and moved back over to let everyone else past. After I passed him, he flashed his hazard lights in appreciation.  I flashed back. In driving grain trucks on the farm, we learned about the cool-trucker etiquette. 
What kind of driver are you?
I'm writing about drivers' choices as an example of the choices we make when we're preparing for, and engaged in a performance. Are we just trying to get where we're going, or are we caring about the details and driving with awareness and care?  Both approaches play out in performance.
 
Oh, there will be accidents.
 
There are minor and major accidents on the streets all the time. The same goes for performances! Does this mean we slam on the brakes whenever we're anywhere close to a yellow light? How you're driving matters a LOT when you're in your performance as well. This was my other thought when I slowed down for that yellow light today.  How does it all end up working out most of the time? There's so much flow in the chaos EVERYWHERE around us!  It's truly amazing.
 
When I stopped for the light, I was aware that if it was one second later and I hit the brakes, I would have loudly screeched to a sudden stop.
 
I thought about all the moments in Fearless Performance seminars when I'm coaching someone to public speak and they keep stopping.  Even for the smallest of 'mistakes', we can see them thinking, "No!" or "Wrong" or "get the perfect word" and repeatedly slamming on the brakes in performance. Musicians stop for missed notes too...creating the same destructive stop-happy hazards on their roads to success.
 
Task for this week - Let Go and Find the Flow
 
It's useful to critique yourself in the practice room or wherever you're doing your preparation for your upcoming performance. Keep that critique as constructive as possible! But once you walk into your performance, let go of the past and focus on what you're doing.  Don't focus on what you've done.  Focus on what you're doing. Flow...
 

Thanks for the above quote mom!  The art of optimal performances is a skill.  To find that flow, you have to keep driving forward.  The idea is that when you are engaged in performance, execute.  Turn off the critique and self-awareness and turn on the recording device, record yourself, and learn later.
 
The only learning allowed during performance is to learn how to:
So for your preparation and performances this week, try to remember that it takes 2 bad drivers to have an accident...and you can be a bad driver, or you can be a great driver!
Sometimes you're the great driver, able to choose to go that optimal speed and direction that best serves your getting to your goals.  And sometimes you're the bad driver that goes too quickly and ends up skipping details and building messy reckless habits and/or the bad driver who slams on the brakes and stops for every mistake so as to never find that flow.
Stop the Wrecks - Stop the Texts
While preparing, turn your phone to silent! I very often hear people complaining about being bothered by calls, texts, Facebook notifications, etc.  Nope.  Turn your phone off.  Focus.
Remember that you are driving your performance at all times.  You must keep your learning in the fast lane! You need to be the best driver you can be, as often as possible, because you're going somewhere great.
You can do this!  Let's get there. 
Jeff
My best friend from high school Jay Baydala has been driving his own good intent in beautiful ways.

 

Please check out his world-changing efforts here

I'm very proud of you Jay.  Thank you! 

June 03, 2015

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In What Shape is Your Performance Training?

 

I heard a great story today about Alan the English dinosaur. The storyteller mentioned that Alan, "would have looked like a Brontosaurus, rather thin at the front and at the end, and fat in the middle. It sounds like I'm describing a Monty Python skit, doesn't it?"
 
Apologies to readers who don't know about Monty Python, but also congrats!  You get to watch them for the first time! Their humourous skits would start with a thin plot, get very dense-to-absurd in the middle, and then end a bit thinly as well...
 
So the shape of their sketch comedy looked like a Brontosaurus, if you can imagine...
The Shape of things to come
When he mentioned the Monty Python analogy, I started to think about the shape of our progression of performance training. Think of a visual representation of our training evolution while we approach a big performance.
I just tried to draw what I think is a pretty common shape of performance training that I have often seen and done.  It looks like a wavy vase on its side.  
Here is the idea:
  
Timeline starts on the left, and progresses along, with swells and thinning of training quality. We ramp it up right before the big performance at the end.
What would be much better is something that is wide throughout. We also need room for a few dips of intensity along the way. But during our preparation, we fall off our path to successful performance during those large dips in training quantity and quality.
When the shape of our training is too much in the shape of wide-and-thin waves, we can't be sure we'll hit a good wave during our important performance.  This topic is a large dinosaur-sized (but hopefully not shaped) topic we can explore deeper in the future. We're surrounded by books, courses, and consultants specializing in this.  You're reading a newsletter right now that is devoted to this topic too!  I'll research and obsess much more before I try to draw an optimal shape of performance training.
For now, please dive into the inspiring words my dear friend and mentor John Ulmer wrote in response to my rough sharing of my "Shape of Performance Training" idea.
My rough email to myself and John:
(FYI, this is how I collect thoughts each week for newsletters: I write emails to myself with "Newsletter" in the subject - I copied John this time)

Are you in shape?

In what shape is your performance ?

Dinosaur Brontosaurus?
Thin at beginning and end, and fat in the middle?? Like a Monty Python skit?

Or Tyrannosaurus!? Thick throughout??

Most times we ramp it up to close to the event.......and sometimes have no tails...
John's Response:
Hey Jeff,
 
I love this thinking.

Runners are always in shape-that is, a basic shaped that is their "B" game standard. That's the foundation, and it takes a long, long time to develop. That foundation is actually built not out of intense effort, but out of habits, which themselves emerge from devotion. The intense effort comes in the weeks before the race, when we rely on the foundation we have built (the breathing, the form, the muscle training and nourishment habits) to construct a race strategy that is tailored for the body we have built on our foundation.  Sound familiar? What it means is that a victory almost never comes "out of nowhere". It's not a fluke-it's prepared for, and almost never does a runner win in a way that is unaccustomed or surprising. The time might surprise. The margin of victory might surprise, but those are just transitory measurements of the PRACTICE that has been built on the foundation that the runner's devotion has poured. 
 
John.
 
Task for Today - Pour some Devotion
Amazing writing, eh?! Wow...to construct a race strategy.  Let's do this!  I'm excited to have shared with you this idea of keeping the shape of our training progress to more of a steady growth shape, gradually getting wider as we improve. Through daily devotion in the form of our investment of time, energy, and choices, we shape our knowledge and skills.
 
When we perform we share our knowledge and skills.
 
When you trust your process, you move steadily forward.  Keep doing well on this matter.  
Find a way today to pour some devotion into your training in a way that wides its quantity and quality.
 
Slow and steady wins the race.
 
 
 
 
Ok, so you don't have to move slowly, but you do have to move steadily. Devote yourself to this process of steadiness. You cannot move steadily forward if you do not trust the process. Keep doing what you know will serve yourself and your dreams.  
 
Be steadfast today. 
 
Shape your learning well, in a steady shape of expansion. This is the most interesting man in the world...so he knows.  Trust him:
 
Let's get in great shape today! 
Jeff
"Have no fear...YOU and HERE"
-me.
May 27, 2015

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Who's it going to be?

As I write these newsletters, I'm conscious of the fact that I'm sharing what I think, and that what I think guides and creates who I am. It's the same think/am sharing when I play my horn.  It's the same when I speak to my friends, my students, my wife, my child, and beyond...and speaking is performing.
 
Performance is a constant circle of building and sharing, as well as possible, of who we are.
 
I should qualify that.  Performance is a constant circle of building and sharing of who we are.  Good or great performance is this circle of building and sharing being done as well as possible.
 
Just performing, versus creating good or great performance is up to you.
 
 
 
When we perform, we share who we are. 

During lessons that I'm teaching, often there are moments when things are very simple, yet very complicated.  This is fine. This is life. But when the person speaks with hopes of a black and white answer or agreement and they don't get one, sometimes they dislike the complication.  
"Just tell me what to do here." has been said. 
Are those the words of a creative hire-able or marry-able solution-based person you would want to join forces with? Yeah not so much...

 

Personally, I love the muddy middle-ground! This is where regurgitation ends, and YOU appear.  This is where you get to choose. Un-Black-and-White-ness means you're free to figure it out for yourself, make that mix of creative choice and high standards as good as possible, and go share that!!  ...and then repeat the whole Build/Share circle again and again... 

Question - "Should I take time on this note or that note?"

Black and White Answer - "This one."

Freedom-and-Opinion-Creating Answer - "Well, you can do that on either note.  It really depends on how and why you do it."
You choose
 
When you hear a possibly ambiguous answer, there is still a critical moment of choice in your hands.  Is this a problem that you didn't get the clear answer you wanted, or have you just been given an opportunity to choose for yourself?
 
THIS moment of assessment is when you REALLY get to develop who you are.
I'm writing about about this topic this week because I spent some time with a good friend and colleague, mezzo-soprano and arts advocate Carla Dirlikov. I watched her thoughtful interview about her extensive experience performing as Bizet's Carmen and was moved by her comments.  I was especially inspired when she mentioned that Carmen really knew who she was.
 
"I honestly admire her. I admire her sense of value...and that's something that people don't really understand because people think, "Ohhh, she's a femme fatale and she's this home wrecker."  But actually no, she's someone who really knows who she is, and she's someone who stays true to herself."
 
Carmen really knows who she is. And Carla brings that to her portrayal of Carmen.
 
Task for Today - Make it YOU.
 
Do you know who you are?  
 
This is who you bring into every performance, and what you share every time.  For every performance, it's not "What do you have for us?" but it's something that goes way deeper.  
 
"WHO do you have for us?"
 
And then all you can do is share that!  So yes, it's about "What's it going to be?" but you can and must go deeper.
 
Make it YOU
 
Today, in preparation, answer yourself the question of, "Who am I in this idea?"
 
Answering that question will take you down new avenues in your pursuit to:
 
 
 
Learning what to Love Well and what to Let Go will equip you to know who you are and enable you to share that.
 
The more you try to act, the less real it is. Don't go out there to try to be who you think they want.  No matter how much you know about what they want, you must go be you!  That's what you're doing anyway, so know this during preparation too!  When you prepare, you can include things you know they want in what you Build...so you build a you that is who they want, but when you cross your magic line from back stage to onstage, the goal is to be yourself. 
As Carla says in her interview, "I think that that is the purpose of life. I think that's the mission in life, is to know who you are."

...and if that doesn't end up being hirable or 2nd-date-able, keep building.

Less is more.  
 
Your final pre-performance question is always "Who's it going to be?"
"It took a tremendous amount of confidence for me to believe that I didn't have to do anything." - Carla D
 
It took Carla confidence and a ton of good preparation.

 

My life's goal since high-school has always been to exist as I am, and have that be enough.

 

"I exist as I am, that is enough, 

If no other in the world be aware I sit content, 
And if each and all be aware I sit content. 
One world is aware, and by the far the largest to me, and that is myself, 
And whether I come to my own today or in ten thousand or ten million years, 
I can cheerfully take it now, or with equal cheerfulness, I can wait."                                   Walt Wittman - Leaves of Grass 

In your next performance, for both your audience and your peace of mind - clearly answer this one simple question:
Who's it going to be?
I look forward to seeing YOU soon,
Jeff
"Have no fear...YOU and HERE"
-me.
Here is a valuable book for you. 
  • Dweck's definition of the difference between Fixed and Growth Mindsets 
    • "In a fixed mindset students believe their basic abilities, their intelligence, their talents, are just fixed traits. They have a certain amount and that's that, and then their goal becomes to look smart all the time and never look dumb. In a growth mindset students understand that their talents and abilities can be developed through effort, good teaching and persistence. They don't necessarily think everyone's the same or anyone can be Einstein, but they believe everyone can get smarter if they work at it."
May 20, 2015

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Just Play...

Do you know what time is iiiiiiit!!??
 
I wrote to you in a newsletter a few months ago about my experience of hearing those words yelled by a DJ in a club in Cuba. Those wonderful words mean to me that it is time to play!
I know, it's always time to play.  But seriously, how often do you? How often do you let go, and just play for play sake. This is the deepest most powerful gift of having a 4-year-old! He reminds us to get present, and play.
 
The performers we admire most, often remind us how simple a great performance can be. Those performers are present and have done the backstage work so that they can be in a state of play during their performance.


With my obsessive goals of learning and teaching how to consistently give a Fearless Performance, I've spent much time considering priorities.  In my preparation work, I often switch around my priorities.  Sometime excellence is the most important thing, while other times I focus more on creating a performance that I believe would be an enjoyable experience for an audience.  
 
By the time I'm walking on stage, I've looked into excellence and enjoyment enough to have made a habit of both, so I can walk on stage and just play...
 
I played a 20-minute horn concerto (James Beckel's "Glass Bead Game") five times in April, including a few live online broadcasts. I invested a large quantity and quality of work into these performances.  I believe I was in a wonderful state of "Play" during my performances because of how I mixed my work between excellence and enjoyment.
 
While considering enjoyment, be sure to consider both your enjoyment and your audience's enjoyment.  Both matter...so your decisions are based on how well you know your audience. Successful performance depends first on how you define your success goals.
 
Task for today - Just play.
 
If you're a musician, set a timer for 10 minutes and just make sounds...no critique. Sure, play your best if you want.  Or not.  Play for the enjoyment of playing.  No good.  No bad.  Let go. Just play.
 
Take note, so to speak, of how it feels to just play, and mix more of that into your serious excellence work.
 
If you're studying fearless performance for your business ventures, speak to someone today about your business and your products or services in the most most playful manner you can imagine.  Grab someone you deeply trust, and I dare you to be too playful with what you usually take very seriously.
 
Not only do you not have to be serious to take something seriously, but you don't have to take something seriously all the tiiiiiiiime!!!
 
Play your part!
 
Please check out the video links I've included below.  They can inspire very playful states of mind that you can take to your next serious work session.
 
I remember the first time my sister opened the case to her borrowed bassoon.  She didn't even know how to put the thing together.  After some fumbling around, she had it together and got ready to make some noise.  My grandfather said, "ok, now play like you've never played before!"
 
Her eyes got all scared, yet even more childishly excited, as she bubbled out an excited, "I haven't ever played before!"  
 
Then she giggled such a free giggle, and just played.
 
Go now and just play...for the first time.  Embrace this free spirit of play today.  It really can be the first time, because it really is.  What you do in a few moments from now really is the first time EVER that this version of you, at this age, on this rotation of the earth, with whatever this audience is for you, with this purpose, has ever performed what you're about to share.
 
Enjoy!  You might as well...because you're doing it to just play.
 
Thank you, and congrats...
Jeff
May 13, 2015

1 Comment


It's Not a Competition

So I'm walking into a sushi restaurant last weekend after having performed an exciting concert. I was feeling really good about the event! It was with the Los Angeles Philharmonic and I was with a good friend I hadn't seen in a while. I had just got out of the car and was walking past some teenage kids who were hanging out in front of the restaurant.
 
One of the kids said with distain, "Geez, it's not a competition!"
 
I was already in the restaurant when I realized the girl had said that to me. I had forgotten that I was still wearing my formal-wear tails and stuff...
 
My thinking went from finding it funny, to being angry at the quick uninformed judgement and attempt at insulting a stranger who was having a really great night, to wanting to walk back out there and just say, "You're right.  It isn't."

You are not what you do. (...or what you wear.)
 
I didn't go say anything to the kid.  (I figured they probably needed a hug if they're saying hurtful things to strangers, but that'd be too weird.) But I have been thinking about how we compete too much. 
 
I'm competitive...at times.  Being competitive serves me well when I set my goals and need to motivate myself.
 
Unfortunately, competing can lower our standards when we set our standards relative to other people or to our past.  Competition can have us prepare and perform relative to beating others.
 
Another potential negative result from competing can happen if I get destructively emotional about how I compare to others.  When I do this, I usually need to reassess things.  Often when I feel bad about how I compare, it's because I'm comparing some sort of external value judgement about a specific aspect connected to me, against my self-worth. DANGER DANGER!!
 
You are not what you do!
 
That idea would have helped me a ton while growing up. We constantly compare ourselves to others. This is a big part of most of my painful memories from high-school.  Comparisons can be healthy.  Competing, though, can make things more about winning than being our best.
 
Mozart. Beethoven. Shakespeare. da Vinci.  Picasso. 
 
Were they competing?  Maybe.  But consider how much of what they accomplished was from competing, and how much was just a result of their efforts to be the greatest pillar of excellence they could possibly be.  The heights of their excellence pillars were endless (well, ok...until they died) and that constant choice of standards resulted in incredible creative output from them.
 
Meryl Streep. Ella Fitzgerald. Joni Mitchell. Focusing on connection, communication, story telling...

 
Ok, these next ones get a bit more creative, but I think my idea still applies.  Basketball great, Michael Jordan. Tennis great, Serena Williams. Competing, for sure! But also simply putting the ball in the hoop regardless of who's on the court...serving an ace, regardless of who's across the net. Relentless excellence, not relative in their minds, to anything but their best.

 Task for the Day - Just do your best
 
Raise your sensitivity to competition.  For today, notice when you think competitive thoughts about someone else.  Replace those thoughts with high standards in what activity you're thinking about winning, and act optimally toward those standards.
 
Consider this.  If you're thinking about an audition, and you aim to beat Bill and Jane, what if you train well enough to do that but Erin shows up at the audition?  Erin is way better than Bill and Jane. You've just realized you aimed too low in your preparation, and it's too late now.  
 
It's much better to train to perform an incredible Mozart and Beethoven...and the bonus is you end up winning. 
 
Replace competition with high standards - Construct a high pillar of excellence. 
 
You build the best version YOU can imagine (with help of your peers and mentors), and then you go share that inperformance.  For athletes, your preparation is the same, it only includes different types of process that largely depends on the actions of others as well as your own.
 
Competing is not always a negative pursuit. If competing is a thrilling experience for you, doing so drives your work and standards, and you consistently win, keep doing what you're doing!But if you have a hard time competing, and/or staying positive when engaging in activities that are regarded by most people as "competitive", consider the option of taking yourself out of the competition.
 
You just might take yourself out of the competition, and rise above it all.
 
Just be the best you can be, over and over again.  If you do that well, that best version of you can be the last one standing, after everyone else has finished competing.
 
Letting go of the competition will have you more invested in the process of learning and loving well, so you'll get to your best quicker...
 
It really doesn't have to be a competition. Get to your best quicker today, and repeat...
 
All the best,
Jeff

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