This is the third of four installments in Perfectionism, Acceptance, and Compassion in the Performing Arts.
When it comes to setting and achieving—or not achieving—performance standards for ourselves, acceptance is a toughie. It is very true that part of healing, growing, improving, and just generally keeping a balanced head requires acceptance; but just what is acceptance?
Many performing artists are puzzled by the notion that they should accept their suckitude. I think this is because the word acceptance is often mis-understood. Does acceptance mean that we are supposed to think that falling short of our performance standards is a good thing?
First, let’s establish what acceptance is NOT, by inserting some words which people commonly equate with acceptance:
I’m willing to bet that none of those statements are –ever- going to result in your improving your craft.
I warned you earlier that I might ruffle a few feathers in the process of writing this series – so bear with me and know that all the good warm fuzzy stuff is yet to come, in the next installment on Compassion. For now, I am wanting to examine our use of the word acceptance in the context of pursuing excellence in our craft; not in the context of making ourselves feel warm and fuzzy.
When we blat, splat, fudge, or crack, the next step for any dedicated artist is to look at why that happened, and then take steps to hone the craft so that these things are less likely to happen in the future. Further down the page, we’ll look at a more healthy way to frame ‘acceptance’, but first, let’s examine that last point a bit.
In order to improve our game, we have to be aware of what is really in our hand. Not what we wish we had, but what we truly have, in objective reality. One thing that has always puzzled me is that so many performers who play mock auditions for their peers and ask for feedback, yet only want to hear the positive stuff.
Buddy #2 is not accepting his flaws. And guess what? If he doesn’t accept them, he can’t fix them… and if he doesn’t fix them, chances are, he is not going to land his big gig.
What acceptance is:
Now I would like to offer you a few words to use in place of the word acceptance, in order to really drive home the fact that accepting a flaw does not mean reveling in it.
That’s quite a bit different than reveling in, settling for, and celebrating sub-standard performance. Implicit in those statements is, “Right-o. Now, what shall I do to improve this flaw?”
Great. Now that you’ve admitted and acknowledged the sub-standard aspects of your performance, what next? How is this going to help you improve and feel good about yourself? (Remember, there is still more to come in the Compassion section.)
In counselling, one type of therapy is called Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), and I think it is a great way of looking at how to grow and improve as an artist. In a nutshell, the ACT approach takes the position that the first step to healing (or improving) is to accept the problem. Let’s use a person with money-spending problems as an example:
This does NOT mean that the person is joyful about this in any way.
This means that the person is admitting that something very significant and problematic is on their plate, and recognizing that there is work ahead in order to adapt and deal with it. That’s the acceptance part. Then comes the commitment part:
Now this person will commit to working on a budget with their credit counsellor. It will mean some real lifestyle changes, and it will be hard, but the problem is very real, and they’re going to stay grounded as they work through this. They may have a slip-up now and then, but will stay connected to the original issue and will soldier on until they’re out of debt and on their feet.
See how nicely this translates into the pursuit of optimal performance? To re-cap from the previous post on Perfectionism, nobody wants to give a bad performance. We always want to aim for or utmost; so we prepare to perfection, and when we deliver less than that (which is nearly always!), we accept what we just performed. That does not mean that we love our mistakes!
Prepare with the highest standards of perfection that align with your current skill set.
Perform with focus and joy – and yes, while we are always focusing on excellence in execution, this is also the time to flow freely, express your artistry, and forgive your flubs.
Accept those flubs. Yep. Acknowledge and name them. You don’t have to love them or hate them – just acknowledge them. Then put them in proverbial pile to deal with on a practical level. Oh, while you’re at it – go ahead and acknowledge those expressive artistic things you did, too.
Commit to honing those flubs in your next practice phase.
We really have to tend to all aspects of our artistic garden. Sometimes we’re so concerned about one aspect of our craft, that we neglect another aspect and it grows over with weeds. Look at the clarinet dude in the drawing above, who was falling short on his rhythm and dynamics and at first didn’t want to admit it. Now that he has accepted that he has those flaws in his playing, he will come up with a plan to hone these aspects of his playing for next time.
The trick is, of course, to do all this without beating yourself up. We’ll address this in the next installment, Self Compassion.
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