I have two sons that started taking piano lessons at the same time. They have taken all of their lessons together and have received the same amount of instruction. They have progressed to the same level of skill and they have both become accomplished musicians in their own right.
My boys are as tight as brothers can be and, in many ways, are both complementary and supplemental to each other. They have their own unique personalities, but their similarities and their differences somehow always meet at just the right spot.
My oldest son experiences some butterflies in his gut during the day leading up to a performance, but he is otherwise very comfortable performing in front of others and he never lets those butterflies cause him any anxiety.
His brother, on the other hand, virtually turns inside out at the thought of performing in front of others. He experiences dread and anxiety in the days, and even weeks, leading up to a performance. His fears have even caused him to contemplate giving up the piano even though he greatly enjoys playing and does so very well when he is not worrying about an audience.
Every six months, they get to demonstrate what they have learned and recently, my youngest son was tapped to close the show. This is a highly coveted spot and he was understandably honored to be asked, especially since his older brother had already done it twice. As much as he was honored, however, the pressure of being the last performer only served to heighten his anxiety. Whatever difficulties he had faced in the past paled in comparison to what he was now experiencing.
Everyone in our family was nervous, not because we didn't think he could do it, but because we knew what he was going through and how nervous he was. No one was more aware of this than his older brother.
The order of the performers that night was such that our oldest son played about 4 spots in front of our youngest son. When his time came, he calmly introduced himself and his song and proceeded to perform beautifully. I was watching from the back of the gym and I was fortunate to have a clear view of the stage as well as where the performers were sitting.
When my oldest son finished his song, I noticed that he walked straight toward his brother instead of taking his seat several chairs away. He quietly bent down to talk to him and briefly whispered something to him. I was too far away to hear him and my curiosity was immediately piqued.
When it was finally our youngest son's turn, he stood up, walked to the piano, announced who he was and what song he would be playing and sat down at the piano. I didn't notice if he did anything any differently or not, but I did notice that he played his song beautifully and movingly and I could not have been more proud.
Because his was the last song, I was able to talk to my boys right away. I found my oldest son and asked him what he had said to his brother and he proceeded to tell me that he told him if he shifted his shoulders just a little to the right, he would not even be able to see the audience. He knew this would help his brother concentrate on the music and forget about the audience and he had the foresight, even while performing his own song, to note this and share it with him. He gave him just enough of a diversion to help him get through his performance and play his song to the best of his ability. My younger son confirmed that his brother's tip gave him the confidence to face his fear and perform.
As a parent, I was proud of my sons for the job that they did. I was even more proud of their demonstration of brotherhood and friendship. What I haven't shared is that the song our youngest son had chosen was "Fix You" by Coldplay. Chris Martin had written that song for his wife when she lost her mother. The reason why our son chose that song was because he wanted to play it for his mom. You see, her mother had recently passed away and our son wanted to do what he could to make his mom feel better and to honor his grandmother.
When you find a way to face and conquer your own fears, you just might give someone a beautiful gift in the process. You might make a significant impact beyond the already valuable step of opening new doors for yourself.
In this case, ignoring the audience by making a slight adjustment proved to be very valuable in the development of a skill set and the ability to overcome a very real and potentially destructive fear.
These small steps or adjustments are exactly the moves that you need to make on your path of self- improvement. Rarely is there one thing that you can do that instantaneously erases your fears, doubts, or worries, but if you take the time to understand the root cause of those fears and worries and then identify steps that you can take to address them, you will eventually push past them and they will no longer present themselves as the obstacles they have previously been to you.
This article is part of Scott Arney's educational series, entitled The Serial Decision Maker.