Two weeks ago a wonderful, spirited young man took his own life. I was honored to coach this fantastic clarinet player this summer. He was passionate about music and music-making. Each individual with whom he collaborated was richer for the experience. I do not know what led him to take his life, but I feel compelled to write, publically, on mental health issues in our community.
To pursue music as a career is to be overcome by this field. We do not passively enjoy a turn of phrase, or a good beat; rather, these idle occurrences dramatically change our mood, our heart, our being. Similarly, we obsess over re-creating these moments for audiences.
Perfectionism among musicians is consistently discussed and studied. This is an area I have researched off and on for over 15 years. If you find your perfectionist traits to be helpful … you are right. If you find your perfectionist traits to be harmful, you are right. Perfectionism is linked to intrinsic motivation, increased effort, and higher achievement. It is also linked to depression.
Many perfectionists have learned a coping skill for the overwhelming burden of “trying to be perfect.” Don’t. By procrastinating tasks, an excuse for imperfection arises “I simply didn’t have time.” The lower grades and less than stellar performances that result from this coping mechanism can lend to depression.
Still others balance their time wisely, but set a standard that can never be met. Music defies perfection. Bassoon encapsulates this further than most instruments: reeds are an organic substance, some WILL FAIL. Similarly, as our instrument depends heavily on our bodies (affected by health, fatigue, hunger, hydration), mistakes WILL HAPPEN. Perfection is an invention of the mind. The more one aims for this, the further it will seem from reality.
Changing our language is a moderate step forward in changing the demands we place on our selves and one another: In lieu of “perfect,” work towards:
Musical, Clean, Precise, Confident, Consistent, Improved, Detailed, Accurate, Enjoyable.
Setting realistic, short-term goals also aids in creating new “success” models. Work towards week-long, or month-long goals. These projects work in tandem to excel your long-term goals.
Finally, if you need help, please reach out. Talk to your mentor, your friends, or seek professional assistance.