Tag Archives: Mistakes

Stop Being Your Own Worst Critic

Worst CriticI gave my very first keynote last month and big thanks to all of you who came and cheered me on. I got it all on video, and though you’d think I’d be anxious to view the tape, it took me a month to get myself to watch it. Why? Because I am my own worst critic.

Though I’ve logged over 20,000 hours of speaking and performing, this time felt different. This was my own material, performed for the first time, so I had a lot at stake. I was prepared, the audience was receptive, and overall it went pretty well. I even got a dozen folks to give testimonials on camera at the end of the night.

But still, I procrastinated a solid month before I could force myself to watch the performance. Because I knew, inevitably, there would be moments that would cause me to cringe.

The Disease of Perfectionism

Everyone does this to some extent, but we Manic Impressives tend to outdo most folks when it comes to perfectionism. We know we’re capable of great things, so seeing ourselves being less than perfect is hard to take.

Reasonable people don’t expect perfection the first time out. And we creatives know that performing in front of an audience is an iterative process. We get better each time out by learning from mistakes and striving for better. But it’s still tough to view our mistakes, no matter how much good stuff there is in between.

We become our own worst critic.

I’ve seen perfectionism destroy people. Like my friend Josh, a brilliant guitarist and singer. He would obsess over the tiniest flaws in his performances, and drive himself nuts. He couldn’t live up to his own impossibly high standards. In the end, he quit performing altogether. It was a shame.

Your Own Worst Critic

Many of us are overly harsh when critiquing our performances. Have you ever done this to yourself?  You overlook the good things you do and dwell on the negative. The missed lines, the mispronunciations, the flubs, the glitches, and the miscues.

It’s natural to want to do better. But many of us are too critical of ourselves. We need to be as gentle with ourselves as we are with our friends. Or our kids.

Otherwise, getting back out on stage becomes too difficult. And even if we don’t realize it, we can subconsciously avoid opportunities to shine. Or worse, when we are performing, we focus so much on past mistakes, that we drive ourselves to commit the same mistakes when we try again.

Olympic Failure

Like speed skater Dan Jansen in the 1988 Winter Olympics. Dan was the world champion and gold medal favorite when he lined up for the 500-meter race. But to the shock of everyone, he fell in the first turn and did not place.

Four days later in the 1000 meter race, Dan was leading the pack in world record time. But with just one lap to go, he fell in the exact same place on the ice where he’d fallen in the 500-meter race.

I remember seeing this as it happened  – it was heartbreaking. Dan had psyched himself out. He obsessed over his earlier mistake to the point where he couldn’t avoid making that same mistake again. He was his own worst critic and it cost him dearly.

Getting Over Yourself

So to balance your need to be critical with your need to feel good about yourself, I suggest you take the following approach.

Know that no matter what you do, some of your audience won’t like it. You’ll remind them of their 8th grade bully or their condescending mother in law. You can’t do anything about their bias, so don’t worry about them.

A percentage of your audience will love you no matter what you do. You’ll remind them of themselves or who they want to become, and they’ll rave about your performance just because you’re you. You can’t count on their objectivity, so take their adulation with a grain of salt.

Focus on the rest. The ones who are impartial enough to be honest. Value their feedback, and look for ways to improve in the areas they point out.

If you can’t get enough feedback from them, hire a coach. Someone honest enough to be direct and give specific feedback to help you improve. And knowledgeable enough to validate what you do well and encourage you to continue.

If you outsource this, you won’t have to be your own worst critic.

Practicing What I Preach

So in the spirit of killing my perfectionism, here is a link to the video of the maiden voyage of “Do You Know Who You’re Dealing With?”  Consider it a rough draft, and enjoy the flubs and glitches.

I welcome your honest feedback, so don’t hold back. And don’t worry about hurting my feelings. I did that to myself already…

5 Mistakes You Should Make While You’re Young

800px-spruce_trees_covered_in_heavy_snowGeorge and Jacob were successful men looking for a little adventure in retirement. They’d done well in business and decided to relocate their families to sunny California. They packed up their possessions and savings and prepared to head west.

They chose to travel overland, and built themselves the biggest, most luxurious vehicles money could buy. They outfitted them with expensive furnishings, the best gear available, and hired a team of professionals to handle the driving.

They were going to arrive in style and bring their high standard of living with them.

450 miles into the trip, things were going great. George’s wife wrote this to a friend back home:

“The trouble is all in getting started.” 

But in fact, the trouble was just getting started. George and Jacob’s success in business made them overconfident. They failed their due diligence, assumed they knew more than they did, and made rookie mistakes. They packed way too much stuff and put their faith in all the wrong people.

And too late in their lives they made a mistake from which they could not recover. Somewhere in southwestern Wyoming they decided to take a shortcut. This is where all the trouble started for George & Jacob Donner. Continue reading 5 Mistakes You Should Make While You’re Young

Why It’s Better to Fail Outloud

trumpet-2Mrs. Caldwell was my elementary school music teacher. She had the  quintessential look of a spinster school marm. Long black wool skirt, white blouse, black cardigan sweater, long braided hair coiled on top of her head, pinned in place with a sharp pointy thing.

Reading glasses perched at the end of her nose, held by a chain around her neck, Mrs. Caldwell had a stern look and an air of prim authority.  She was intimidating.

Despite all that,  I liked her. She was a great music teacher.

Though I come from a family of musicians and teachers, it was Mrs. Caldwell that taught me to read music. She patiently and clearly explained music theory, how to subdivide measures, to read key signatures, and to play scales. I use what she taught me to this day and I’m a darn good sight-reader because of her.

Sure, I was embarrassed the day she pulled a nail clipper out of her purse and forcibly trimmed my fingernails in front of my classmates. But she was right, my nails were interfering with my violin playing.

So when she told us things I listened. She urged us to work on our tone. To make a pleasing sound with our instruments was the whole point of music.

She often told us this – “Play loudly so I can hear your mistakes. If I can’t hear them,  I can’t help you correct them.”

I took her advice, graduated to trumpet, worked on my tone and developed a good sound. Over time I got pretty good, good enough to win a spot in a college jazz ensemble, then be recruited away to another school.

I arrived  a week before their spring concert. I learned the charts and was ready for my debut. Halfway through that first program it happened. My test of Mrs. Caldwell’s theory on mistakes. Continue reading Why It’s Better to Fail Outloud

What Kind of Mistakes Do You Make?

    Marcus Aurelius A man does not sin by commission only, but often by omission.  

Marcus Aurelius

There are two ways to get in trouble in life. Either you do something you shouldn’t, or you don’t do something you should.  In biblical doctrine they call this Sins of Commission (doing) or Sins of Omission (not doing).

Manic Impressives make mistakes differently than other folks because of our extraversion and impulsiveness. I know for myself, it’s what I do that gets me in trouble. Sins of Commission.

This matters, because to grow, we must be willing to make mistakes. We must take risks, overcome perfectionism, get out of our comfort zone and learn from our missteps. Knowing your mistake tendencies can help you clean up your messes and get to your learning more quickly.

Half of my troubles come when I don’t keep my mouth shut. I cause myself a lot of trouble with words. The rest of the time I seem to take action before I’ve gotten all the permission I need. Sometimes I just don’t see how complicated a situation is and I act without thinking how others may be impacted.

Like the time I was delivering to a large group in New York. There were two women in the audience acting out – talking and laughing loudly during my presentation, generally being rude and disruptive.

Late in the presentation they finally got interested and stopped being rude. But by then they had gotten under my skin and I’d had enough of them. When one asked a question, “Is this foolproof?”, a sure buying signal, I could not help myself. I blurted out, “No, I get fools in here all the time.” Continue reading What Kind of Mistakes Do You Make?