Last Saturday I performed a solo gig at a local annual festival. That festival is a quite big affair in my town, with a number of performances of various artists spread over several venues. The events celebrated the versatility and talent of local artists who have made of this town a cultural powerhouse over the decades.
I turned up early at the event and prepared myself mentally as I usually do. There was no clear schedule and time was passing while I watched musicians, poets, authors and storytellers come on stage and do their thing. My tiredness was growing, yet I felt calm inside.
Due to some last minute changes, my performance ended being the last one of the day. Most previous performers and their entourage had already left by the time I came on stage. The venue was half empty and the organizers had started to get nervous as the event had overrun its scheduled time.
After a brief line check I introduced the story behind the first track and started to play the piano. Then, something disastrous happened. As soon as I started playing, I felt a tremor taking over my hands. After one minute or so, the light tremor at the start had turned into a veritable seismic shift. Then, finally just past that minute mark, my playing grinded to a halt.
I apologized to the perplexed audience and started again. However it was impossible to resume the first track as tremors overcame my hands as soon as I started playing. I stopped and apologized again, and said that I was too stressed to play this track, and therefore would try another one.
The second track was performed impeccably. I ended the set with a new track which I had never performed before. It was an experimental and noisy piece which wasn’t really fitting in the vibe of the evening, where performances were all-in-all quite middle of the road. I did however stick to my guns and ended my set with this piece.
As I got off the stage, a sense of shame and fear of impending ridicule overcame me. I expected the audience to turn their backs at me, afraid of meeting the eyes of the performer who had fallen from grace in front of them. Instead, the first comment I heard was “I loved your second and especially the last track, so powerful!” This was followed by more positive praise about my compositions.
My wife had made videos of all the tracks I performed. Watching them with a clear head the next day, they looked and sounded great (with the obvious exception of the part where I aborted the performance). However, the introduction I gave to that track was lovely and the story behind it compelling.
Yesterday I spent a part of the day sharing the live videos as well as my introductory story on social media. The response has been excellent, and it has given me the opportunity to promote my new track as well as remind my audience of the old ones. It’s pretty safe to say that what could have turned into a total disaster, ended up being a personal win.
What did I learn from this experience, and what can you learn from it too for your business? I think there are a number of lessons to heed here:
- When you are reaching a dead end in your business, stop and start again. There is no point continuing on something that feels wrong from the start, especially when you are in the process of messing up
- However aborting an unsuccessful project is not the same as giving up. Choose another project which has more chance of succeeding and continue. The second track I played is one of my most recognizable tunes and I have performed it so many times that I assumed that it could hardly go wrong. And I was right.
- Where possible, document your performance. You can learn a lot from reading your reflective notes of a counselling session, watching a video of your beauty treatment, or listening to an audio recording of a sales transaction. Most importantly, recognize that there will be parts in your performance, no matter how disastrous you deem it is, which are good or at the very least useful, and can be repurposed on your social media for future learning or promotion
- Learn from what went wrong, and use previous experience to connect the dots. I only had once a similar experience in the past, when I had uncontrollable tremors during a public piano exam in front of a jury (I still managed to successfully complete my performance despite these circumstances). Before my second public exam, I went to my GP who prescribed some benzodiazepines. The medication helped me to perform without any external signs of stress at the exam. I would rather avoid the use of heavy medication nowadays, but I know that CBD oil has a similarly relaxing effect on me and I am planning to use this to my benefit before any future public solo performances
- Which external factors can you control? Find out what you can control and change it to your benefit. In my case, the long waiting until my performance clearly didn’t help with my stress. I discussed this with the event organizer and we agreed that I will get an earlier slot at future events.
- Don’t be afraid of being bold and different. My last track, which I deemed too experimental and different to the vibe of the evening, saved the day as it was the track that got me the most kudos! Performing it also gave me a great opportunity to start promoting the track before my new album is even announced, let alone released.
Some people say that ‘failure is not an option’. I do not subscribe to this point of view. I believe that what they really mean, is ‘giving up what you love doing is not an option’. Failure is not only an option, it is desirable. It is a great learning opportunity and it forces us to confront and push our comfort zones. Accept and adjust what went wrong, decide on your learnings and feedback and continue doing what gives you freedom and joy in your life and helps you grow on a personal and professional level.