Today I want to discuss being uncomfortable because that has been an ongoing theme for me the last few weeks. Many of you readers know me in person. You will probably see me as a confidant, gregarious and extroverted individual, and I think that is accurate. But it also just one side of the coin. I don’t know if this is all extroverts, or just some of us, but for me as often as I appear confident, equal times I feel nervous and out of place. I may appear fearless but inwardly I am second guessing every word, every decision, every move. It is a constant mental struggle which results in living a life that is always uncomfortable. But I think this is a good thing. For progress to happen in your life, things have to change. Change, even when leading to something better, is not easy. So, for fun, let’s check out a few things that have made me uncomfortable lately.
At the end of 2018 the Helix Collective approached me to be involved in their “Pulling Back the Curtain” concert. I was thrilled because it had been a few years since a concert work of mine had been performed. I set about writing a new piece for this particular event. It would be awesome, I thought. I get to write Whatever I Want. No director telling me what to do. No picture to serve. Just my music.
After doing some work on the piece I was completely freaked out. This was terrifying. I was solely responsible for all the music choices! No director to hide behind. No way to rationalize your musical decisions by saying “well it was what the movie needed”. It was all on me. To make matters worse, the primary audience for this performance was going to be Fellow Composers. They are the worst! They listen with a critical, knowing ear. What had I gotten myself into?! After writing it, sending it by a few people I trust, and receiving positive feedback I found a way to be OK with what I was doing, finish the piece and send it off. For a while I was feeling fine. Even through the rehearsal process I was positive. It was coming together. Everything would be great.
Then the day of the performance came. I proceeded to drive myself crazy in the hours leading up to the show. I was anxious about everything: my music, my outfit, the after party which was hosted by Joy Music House. Everything. This was such a brilliant opportunity and I knew in my mind that it would all be well, but somehow I just couldn’t convince myself.
I would love this next paragraph to be about how I found a way to chill out, really enjoy everything and just have the best time with all the wonderful people who were there. But I have decided to be honest with you and say that while I wish that were the case, I didn’t make it to that place. While the Helix Collective played so well and my piece was performed beautifully (as was everyone else’s) I did not relax. Not this time. It was a constant mental battle for me. And it didn’t end that night.
I woke up the next morning exhausted and not in a great emotional place. As my dear friend and fellow composer Joseph Carrillo told me, I was completely overthinking Everything. At this stage my emotions had fully taken over and reason was being drowned out by All The Feels. It took me journaling, crying, talking with some trusted mentors, and hearing their positive feedback on the piece to start feeling better. Which was annoying. Again, I wish I could tell you that I was able to be at piece with my work, confident in my abilities as a composer. But no, I needed certain individuals I admired to tell me it sounded good to feel OK and finally find some peace. Other dear friends told me to breathe and let go. By the end of the day I was starting to do that. Finally. After 48 hours of driving myself crazy.
What we do is really emotionally intense. The thing that can keep us engaged in this work, and writing great music, is to be vulnerable about what we feel and put that into the art. To get excited, or passionate, or frustrated, or anxious. The feelings are what make the music wonderful. But the feelings are what can also drive us to distraction. How does one cope with that?
Another thing that has made me uncomfortable lately is creating music for people I admire and want to work with. You know the deal: You get along with them, you have the same work ethic, a copacetic vibe; it is shaping up to the best collaboration possible. But the moment arrives when the talking stops and you have to prove to them that you can actually produce the goods. You share the music you created and prepare for judgement. These last weeks have involved arranging music for one composer, sending off music I had written to another, and writing music for a project where stories of women in my home were being told. In all these situations the stakes for me were sky high. I really wanted it to work out. And as a result I was Incredibly Uncomfortable.
I had the privilege of orchestrating, score supervising and running recording sessions this last week for a wonderful composer I have worked with now for almost seven years: Miriam Cutler. We were discussing how we felt before the sessions. She said to me how I seemed confident and calm. I revealed that while I appeared that way, I was always very concerned going into those sessions. I work extremely hard to prepare everything from orchestrations, to the organizing of parts to what snacks are purchased for the musicians, so that we have a seamless and enjoyable session. But I rarely sleep well before a session and I am exhausted and useless once we have wrapped. It is most uncomfortable. But that discomfort drives me towards excellence.
If my career continues to go the way I want it to, these uncomfortable situations will continue, hopefully more than ever. So how do you live with this? Being an emotional wreck daily does not seem like a sustainable situation. Moreover it can be a total time suck. That’s not an option. There is only one way through that makes sense to me and that is to become comfortable with being uncomfortable. I need to get to the stage where if I am not feeling uncomfortable, that will be a red flag. It will mean that I am not being challenged, I’m not exploring new ground. Same old, same old.
I think to thrive in this state we need to acknowledge the discomfort. Welcome it in. Make a place for it in our creative process and then just keep going. If we are doing what we are supposed to be doing, discomfort isn’t the enemy. It is a travel companion on our journey, making things ever more interesting, challenging, and taking us to greater heights than we ever thought we could attain.
So my friends: get uncomfortable, stay uncomfortable and keep doing great things. Happy creating.