“Ultimately, your musical progress will depend more on your skillfulness with the creative process than on any talent.”
The Musician’s Way, p. 313

We dedicated musicians invest heavily in growing our abilities because we know that the personal payoff is immense: Few things in life rival the joy of making music.

Why then do countless young artists who have talent and opportunities to excel nonetheless practice halfheartedly, miss application deadlines, avoid publishing websites, and otherwise dither?

Inner Conflict
One cause is inner conflict. Loads of musicians undercut themselves because their love of music is colliding with an opposing force.

Frequently, that force stems from fear that their musical ambitions will leave them disappointed – that they won’t “have what it takes” or be able to make a living from music.

Other times, family members ignite conflicts when they chide artists to do something “more practical” or, conversely, push them into music as children.

Conflicts also germinate when students’ musical dexterity isn’t matched by genuine zeal.

In such situations, students’ prowess earns them scholarships and attention, but they don’t feel internally driven. If relentless practicing then prevents them from exploring their other interests, those dormant interests will keep tugging at their heart.

Whatever the source of a conflict might be, if rising musicians don’t sort through their feelings and form constructive relationships with music, then the demands of their musical duties will chafe against their unresolved issues.

That friction can then result in, among other things, performance anxiety, depression, negativity, and self-defeating behaviors such as avoidance and substance abuse.

Unconflicted Artists
In stark contrast, unconflicted artists follow their musical passions tenaciously.

They practice daily, bounce back from disappointments, and perform regularly. You can hear their commitment in every phrase they perform. Fellow artists find them inspiring.

They also investigate diverse career avenues and entrepreneurial projects, ensuring that they’ll carve out rewarding niches for themselves in the music industry.

Recognizing and Defusing Inner Conflicts
Given that inner conflicts scuttle creativity, learning to recognize and defuse them is a key part of our gaining facility with the creative process. Here are some quick suggestions for doing so.

  • List your musical aspirations.
  • Examine your actions over the past month or so: Have you consistently acted in ways that support your goals – say, by practicing with enthusiasm, getting along with colleagues, seeking feedback, and pursuing entrepreneurial projects – or not?
  • Take stock of your emotions and self-talk over the past month: Have you been positive or negative about your life as a musician?

If your actions and feelings aren’t in line with your stated musical aims, then it’s probably time to recalibrate your relationship with music. And it’s usually best not to go it alone.

Career counselors, teachers, and mentors can help you reinvigorate your musical landscape. Licensed therapists and coaches can guide you to root out any possible inner conflicts.

Whatever steps you take, though, if you feel that you aren’t living up to your artistic potential, there’s no better time than now to reset your life compass.

For more about overcoming inner conflicts, see the following sections of The Musician’s Way: “Committing to the Creative Process” (p. 109-112); “Boosting Creativity” (p. 309-314).

Related posts
The abundance mentality
The big bag of experience
The growth mindset
Music: The practical career?
The self-motivated musician

© 2010 Gerald Klickstein

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