Ego. No one really likes that word, especially if it's directed at you. It's almost offensive, like an attack to your being and purpose in life. The more I observe my surroundings, especially the musicians around me, the more 'ego' I see and how common it is among musicians, and people in general. Ego, however, is important to an artist. You need it to gain confidence and drive your passion. It goes hand in hand with pride, and is perhaps one of the most vulnerable aspects an artist can possess.
I guess I wanted to bring it up, because it is so common. It's like the elephant in the room, and some people just don't want to admit it to each others' faces. It's due to the negative connotation we have with the word, and admitting it would be degrading our own status. I guess. People don't tend to talk about the negative things in life, but I do for reflection. So continue reading if you do too or if you're interested to know where this is going.
The point of this blog is because I went through quite a drastic change last year. Well, actually, across four years at my university. It only hit me the most in my last year, and I've become very aware of it. I'm talking about ego. Ego within myself.
I guess a lot of people watch movies or read books and assume ego to be the villain. It's usually the person who is blinded by their ego, which is the cause of their poor actions that lead to consequences. It could also be seen as someone being 'full of themselves', 'selfish', or usually someone at a higher status unable to acknowledge anyone below them. Or the dictionary puts it: ego (noun), a person's sense of self-esteem or self-importance. However, have you ever thought about ego in good people, or the hero of the story? I know that sounds quite ironic, but the more I see it, the more it's becoming reality and the truth. I believe some kind hearted people believe that doing something right, makes them a better person. Makes them the 'good' person. In a way, it can be selfish. Sometimes people continue to do good deeds to fill up their need for compliments and appreciation. I know this sounds a bit strange, but hear me out.
Have you ever thought about people who don't want your help? People who have been through something that you wouldn't understand? People that want to go on this journey alone, without you. Or simply people who don't think alike. It's something I realised in my first year at university. It was the first time I saw ego in myself, and in an extreme way. I always wanted to help my fellow colleagues, because it's what I've been used to throughout my education. Tell them what to practice, tell them what to do. Clearly, I became quite bossy, and pretty much a 'bitch' - excuse the language. I couldn't understand it properly until I placed myself in their shoes. Then it all made sense. Sometimes people don't want your help, and that's okay. Maybe you feel special helping people, and it adds to your value and purpose as a person. That's what happened to me, and this is just one aspect of the good people's version of 'ego'.
Now the word 'special'. It's the status we all want to indulge in. To be in demand, to be unique, to be what everyone needs and wants, because you're special. It's what artists crave for. We want to be versatile, we want to stand out, we want to be what everyone is looking at. The spotlight, the star, the change in people's lives. We live off it. Well, I know I do. It's hard to admit. First, to yourself. Second, to your peers. Third, to the world. Hi, my name's Anna, and I have ego. I do know people who are delusional of their own ego, and I also know people who embrace it and acknowledge they have ego. Both are people who can be interpreted as good, and also bad. It's a human thing, I guess. I think having ego is healthy, but too much is not. Self awareness of the positives and negatives in life is what makes a person balanced and healthy. There is no sides. There is just you and your perception of what you are, and influenced by the opinions of your peers too.
Now I know this all sounds bias, but I discovered this through my research for my honours dissertation. It is titled 'Fear of Expression: A Mixed Method Analysis of the Causes of Music Performance Anxiety in Improvising Classical, Jazz and Cross-Genre Tertiary Percussionists'. Evidently, it focused on music performance anxiety, and that includes 'ego'! The more literature I read, the more it made sense. I have ego. I have pride. I have vulnerability in my status as a musician, AND as a person. I feared it being degraded or diminished by what I perceived as threats in practice, performance, music and life. You know what? That's okay! It's quite normal, especially because as artists we express our heart and mind to others. We're vulnerable on stage, and to receive negative feedback for it actually affects us as a person too. Music is who we are, and we are the music.
I'm at heart a self-conscious, low self-esteem, negative and judgmental character. Through music I've developed a stronger character to hide these factors, but they still live within me. It's just who I am. At first, I hated it. I was so upset and angry that I allowed myself to become this person, but they balance my overly optimistic side driven by passion that at times can be unaware of reality. Being aware of these characteristics and using them to your advantage with balance can assist you enormously.
During my research last year, I attended counselling sessions at my university. That's something I highly recommend to anyone and even if it's for a tiny issue, because it probably isn't. It was recommended and brought to my attention through a teacher of mine, and I decided to do it. I had never done anything like this before, but it was so worth it.
One day, I was found crying in the hallway due to feeling like a burden. At the time I had sprained both my knee ligaments. I was disabled and unable to transport gear, to practice standing for long hours, or even walk to another place without pain. I felt incredibly powerless for the first time in my life, and a 'nothing' to people around me. Most of the time I got pity faces and sympathy, and I do not like that at all. By that time I also knew I suffered anxiety and depression. I'm vulnerable at heart, but I like putting on a strong persona to my peers. In public, you want to show people who you want to be, and not who you really are. I guess, I always see myself as the one giving 200% to everything I do, but it turned out to stress my health and pushed me back to 0%. I was in need of a recharge, a time to finally rest. Health, for the first time, became priority over everything, including music which was my life. I'm a workaholic and my work shapes who I am, and also my value and existence as a person. For people to tell me to stop and do nothing, I just couldn't. It was too abnormal to my life style at the time, and as you can see it was also due to my ego.
In my first counselling session, I expressed my feelings of being a burden. My counselor in response said, 'Is it because you feel special?' Special? I thought. What do you mean? I'm simply wanting to help others, and doing my very best at it too. She continued, 'Couldn't someone else replace your position? Do they really need you to continue doing what they need to do?'. I hesitated, and thought about it for a while. The answer was clearly, 'yes'. However, my ego needed a few minutes to let it sink in. Yes, I wasn't special. Yes, someone can replace me. Yes, they don't actually need me. It sounds a bit sad, but it's the truth. I guess, in a way it also meant you come first now. Your health comes first, and not the need to satisfy your ego. It was like the curtains opened, the fog lifted, the light shone in, and I finally saw it. I have ego and it happens to everyone, even those who thought they were kind or good at heart. I knew it was time for a change.
At my second and last counselling session, I expressed to my counselor that I want to do quality gigs from now on, not quantity. The number of performances is another factor of ego, and I didn't like that controlling and stressing my health. I want to put 100% and more to every gig I do, even if it's only a few gigs in a whole year. In comparison to a few percentages here and there in numerous gigs occurring simultaneously. That way the performances are likely to be successful, and valued with effort and appreciation. It will also positively influence my musical journey. It avoids being upset at terrible outcomes, and as a result, it will decrease negative thoughts and stop disrespecting myself. The counselor looked at me for a while, and then smiled. She could see change, and praised me for it. Of course, my ego was happy to receive it. Praise is something we also live off. Mostly cause of parents and education, but that's a whole other topic.
Anyways, this has been a very long blog, but it was something I wanted to get off my chest. It's something I've thought about for quite a while. For so long I've judged other people's egos, and now I'm working on myself and seeing my own. Not entirely changed, but definitely starting it. It's refreshing and healthy. Health is my priority now, and is the foundation to my approach in practice, performance, music and life. If you aren't mentally or physically stable and well, then you should stop and sort yourself out first. To live is to love, and to love is to live. Your pure existence comes first, because without it there wouldn't be a 'you'. Ego is perception, but life is real. From time to time, stop and step back. Look at your life and reflect, because it could save you one day. It did to mine.
Laugh, Love, Live, and Reflect.
This blog is a space to share my thoughts, past, present and future moments in my life. Feel free to leave a comment, like the blog or share it! - Anna