The Olympics are over, and true to form, they were surrounded by controversy: stray dogs, hotel issues, judging bias, and more. But there were still plenty of Olympic moments that can teach us life lessons.
One Olympic moment that resonated with me was Jason Brown‘s figure skating performances. The skating world wanted him to repeat his amazing U.S. Championship performance, and they hoped he would win a medal. But that wasn’t his goal. He simply wanted to skate well and to have fun. The look on his face when he placed 9th was priceless: he smiled and his coach hugged him. He was so happy–not to win a medal, but to PLACE in the top 10! Some critics in the skating community were disappointed. He wasn’t; nor was I. No, his performances were not the performances of a lifetime, and that’s what resonated with me. He made mistakes, but he was still happy with how he skated and he sill skated beautifully. He went out there and had fun!
We tell children to have fun when they’re playing sports. My mother told me that all the time. Somewhere along the line, I forgot that lesson. Instead, I worry about making mistakes and looking stupid. This is especially true playing a musical instrument.
I have been playing violin since I was four years old…well, until I switched to viola when I was 17. From there, viola became my go-to instrument for classical music. My violin became my “fiddle” and came out when I showed off my Swedish folk music. On viola, I have played in several symphony orchestras: amateur and professional. On violin, my symphony playing ended in college in Tucson, AZ when college work got to be too busy to continue playing. I picked it up again in Cheyenne several years ago, but I continued to play viola through graduate school and beyond.
Last fall I got a surprising call from Powder River Symphony. They were in desperate need for a violinist, not a violist. The repertoire included songs I had played, so I said yes. I soon realized I was a bit over my head. I had played those pieces, but that was in high school and some of them I had played on viola. But I was committed to playing the concert.
I practiced. I was ready.
The concert came, I walked on stage, saw that large audience and froze. My fingers were stiff. I could barely play one note.
Somehow I managed to get through, and amazingly enough, the director asked me to come back!
The same thing happened. I froze.
I thought I had put those demons to rest. The demons that continually repeated, “You suck! You can’t play this! Those people are watching you and wondering why they’re paying you to play!” They were loud and clear, and those voices affected my fingers.
Again, after the concert, the conductor asked me to return.
As I smiled and nodded, my mind screamed, “Seriously!? Didn’t you see how much I sucked!?”
The next concert was Feb. 23rd. I practiced more and more…my fingers were black from practicing.
I was scared to death. That fear drove me to practice, so it was a good thing. But something else happened.
And this appeared on Facebook from Sarah:
Suddenly, I saw these two mindsets everywhere: my students, my co-workers, athletes, and especially, the Olympians. In particular, I recognized that Jason Brown was coming from a “growth mindset.”
I recognized that I was behaving in a “fixed mindset” rather than a “growth mindset.” That little diagram changed everything. I realized that I had a choice: I could approach this concert with continued fear or I could learn from it. I decided to learn from it.
I went to rehearsals with the idea to learn from my mistakes–not to worry about making them. It amazed me at how quickly I learned.
The concert date arrived and I breathed, thinking of Jason Brown. My mind settled in and instead of the demons, I heard the music in my mind as I played. The audience disappeared. My fingers relaxed. I played, and I played well. It wasn’t perfect, but it was good, and it was better than the rehearsals.
All in all, I have learned to quiet those demons again.