But competitiveness has a dark side. Remember Tonya Harding? That’s an extreme example, certainly, but it shows how the desire to win can completely cloud a person’s perspective. Even on a smaller scale, competitiveness can cause unnecessary and unhelpful negative feelings that overwhelm us and prevent us from enjoying our achievements.
Picture backstage at the student recital. There are numerous students waiting their turns to perform. But among the group, two or three students seem different. They are advanced high school students, and they are the “special” ones. All the younger ones know that these students are the best, the ones they want to be when they are older. Perhaps those two or three are good friends who wish the best for each other. But sometimes the competitiveness becomes divisive, and the air is charged with nerves, envy and jealousy.
Maybe you have seen this situation among your students. Maybe you have been one of those students. Those feelings are so painful, so hard to put aside. I would like to suggest some strategies for alleviating those feelings and turning that negative energy to some positive uses. Three of those strategies are directed outward, toward the person or people envied. The other three are directed inward to oneself, to learn and to grow.
Outward actions These are based on the “contagion principle:” Generosity is contagious. When we act generously toward others, we feel more generous to others and ourselves. It is hard to continue to feel negative when you are handing out positives.
1. Praise. Compliment the envied performer on their achievement. Make the compliment sincere, gracious and meaningful. Don’t merely say, “Nice job, ” or even worse, “Nice dress.” Elaborate just a little. “That was really great. Congratulations.” And smile.
2. Help celebrate their success. Offer to take a post-concert photo. Share it on Facebook with some congratulatory words. Or send them a short email or text to tell them they did a good job. Trust me; good will like that will come back to you many times over.
3. Ask them how they did it. Ask how they learned that tricky passage, managed that difficult section, played so evenly and fast. They will be flattered, and you may get a valuable tip. Warning – this strategy only works if you are sincere!
Inward actions These are based on the “action principle:” We feel better when we are taking action. We feel more in control and less powerless. The positive energy begins to flow.
1. Practice. Do you want to play that well or better? Then do the work that only you can do. Shut the door and practice.
2. Learn a new piece. You could even learn something similar to what you heard, perhaps by the same composer. Or learn the same piece you heard. This will give you the opportunity to put your on personality into it, and make it a part of you.
3. Make a plan. Write down three things that you admired (no matter how grudgingly) about the performance you heard, and plan how to accomplish at least one of those things yourself. Perhaps you wish you had a fast and fluid technique like theirs. Ask your teacher about etudes and exercises you can study to develop your own technique.
One last reminder for harpists: we can fall prey to the “only child” syndrome. We are so often the only harpist in our little corner of the world that we get somewhat spoiled and then resent it when another “child” comes along. Be generous – we can all be special together!
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What helps you deal with the dark side?