Failing at a perfect performance
Yesterday I played piano for a guest singer at the Center for Spiritual Living. She was a wonderful singer and gracious person. The music director and I have become very good friends. But then I screwed up.
Now, in reading that back to myself, I’m imagining your thinking, “What, did you storm off the stage in the middle of the performance? Did you yell at the minister? Did you not show up for the gig?”
Actually, no, I skipped two beats on a vocal break and came in early, so the band had to follow me and ignore the sheet music. And I also couldn’t quite get the right chords in the right places at a few spots. Not just once, but in all three times that we played the set that morning.
Fatal error, right? Well, it felt that way. I guess I have learned somewhere along the way that I can’t trust other people to deal with the fact that I make regular old mistakes. I bust my ass to be perfect because I think that’s what people need from me.
But I discovered some magic yesterday. It’s the mindset that people need me to be perfect that stops me from opening up to people and connecting, and has contributed to me feeling isolated in my life. It’s almost like in Star Wars or Star Trek where I am directing all resources toward the rear deflector shields. Suddenly I have a glimpse of life without those deflector shields, and...I don’t even know what to say about it. It’s like blinders coming off, and my heart opening up.
Opening to connection through mistakes
Between the performances the band had a pow wow. The music director was stressed by the mistakes and we talked through where they were. Unfortunately they were all mine to fix. I felt an instinct to point out a number of factors that explained my poor performance, none of which were my fault.
Yet, instead of defending myself I tried to look at it through his eyes. He wanted to address his worry, he wanted to feel more confident in the band, he wanted to trust me. If I argued or defended myself, he would feel alone, like we didn’t share the vision of solving the issue. He would not believe that I had the intention of doing everything I could to make things right. So I carefully listened to his concerns and acknowledged that they were indeed tricky issues. I could feel that that would build trust.
It’s so strange to me that telling people where I’ve screwed up builds trust while maintaining confidence in the face of evidence to the contrary erodes it. I guess people see what they see regardless, so when they see a mistake in what I have done, me denying it doesn’t help anybody. It leads them to believe that I can’t see what they see, that we don’t share a common vision, and so it erodes trust.
On the other hand, if I acknowledge their perspective on my mistake, even if I don’t agree that it was a mistake or with their assessment of the severity, it establishes that we are both seeing through the same pair of glasses and looking for the same outcome. I always thought that what mattered was how good I was, how talented, how funny, how likeable; yet admitting to flaws in those categories builds the trust that is the foundation of working together, the foundation of friendship. It still doesn’t make any sense to me. But I know in my gut it is true.