Many of us grew up with the idea that artists were tortured souls and that if we were to pursue our art, we some how must become tortured souls as well.
I’m here to tell you that it doesn’t have to be that way.
It can be hard to live up to our own expectations and goals of how good we want to be. Becoming excellent or good at something doesn’t happen over night, and it’s just that - a becoming. It’s a process and a flow. We are becoming the drummer (artist, musician, parent, friend, person) we want to be. We may not be there yet, but we are on the path. It’s through continued work, as best and as often as one can, that we progress in our pursuit of our goals.
Kenny Werner has an affirmation in his book Effortless Mastery that completely changed how I view practicing:
When I work towards learning something new, I am cultivating a relationship with whatever it is that I’m learning. The reason I am unable to play it, is because I’m not yet familiar with it. Using this idea, practicing then becomes a sort of “date night” with the exercise, pattern, rudiment, or song that you are trying to master. This isn’t about not being good enough, or not having been born with the right skills. This is about relationship building.
There is a myth that in order to get good at something, we need to torture our self - beat ourselves up, shame ourselves into becoming good. Break ourselves down, to build us back up again. Thinking like this makes practicing a sort of a tortured activity, a constant reminder that we are not good enough. If allowed to grow, this mindset eventually shuts us down from maturing creatively. We get stuck in a cycle of negative self talk that impedes our progress towards our goals.
Negative self talk is a killer, but I’m here to tell you that you can be free of it or at least make peace with it.
And your drumming (and you!) will be better for it.
Practicing can often be the trigger, but these negative voices and feelings are rooted in us at a much deeper level. Learning to be curious about the negativity will aid us in having more compassion towards ourselves and free us to continue pursuing our goals wholeheartedly.
Richard Rohr writes about addressing our “shadow self”:
One of the great surprises on the human journey is that we come to full consciousness precisely by shadowboxing, facing our own contradictions, and making friends with our own mistakes and failings. People who have had no inner struggles are invariably superficial and uninteresting. We tend to endure them more than appreciate them, because they have little to communicate and show little curiosity.
If you (like me) struggle with negativity as you pursue your goals, pay attention to what is going on inside of you. Learn what you can from it, but don’t be consumed by it. Your shadow self can bring you inspiration and insight, and help you find healing and peace. Many artists struggle with their shadows. You are not alone.
Becoming more aware and learning to love our “shadow,” allows us to become more present in our life and in our drumming and music making. This in turn gives our art more depth. When we take the time to do the self-work, our playing becomes better for it, because we have become more grounded and at peace with our self.
Far from being tortured, we become artists, musicians, parents, friends and people who are whole hearted and fully present with ourselves and others. Listen to your shadow self. Make peace with it. Become the artist you already are.
You don’t have to be a tortured soul to create art that moves, inspires and communicates.