Just the other day, I finally held my first headstand during my yoga practice. (Yes!) After almost a year of building strength in dolphin pose and more than a month or so of holding my feet against the wall, I was finally able to pop up in the middle of the classroom. It took so long for me to develop the strength and balance to hold the pose that it started to feel like I would never get there.
I know, I get it. You didn’t come here to hear someone brag about holding a headstand in their yoga class. But just bear with me. If you’re reading this post, you’ve probably got some kind of musical goal that you’ve yet to achieve. Maybe you want to learn a challenging piece, start a band, or sell platinum records and tour the world.
Whatever your vision for the future may look like, most of us (myself included) have at some point said, “well, I’d like to do that, but I just don’t know what the next step is.” Well, I hate to break it to you, but… That’s a big pile of bologna. Vegan bologna. Which is even more processed than normal bologna. We all have a general idea of what to do next, and even if we don’t, there are hundreds if not thousands of sources on the internet available at our fingertips. There are entire websites and programs dedicated to helping passionate and talented musicians like yourself figure out what the next step is. Actual knowledge of the procedure isn’t the problem… So what is?
The answer is fear. Fear of judgment, fear of failure, fear of imperfection and embarrassment.
As much as we’d like to think that we are reasonable and rational beings, our emotions are the driving force behind everything we do. Life-changing decisions and actions aren’t born in the brain; they come from the heart. It’s the reason that so many people logically understand the horrors of the animal industry, but continue to eat meat. It’s why cigarettes are so popular despite our growing knowledge of harmful they are. It’s what keeps us up on Facebook when we know we should go to bed. Even if you have a logical idea of what you should do, you will not take action until your emotions agree.
This tendency we have to make decisions through the heart isn’t a curse. Your emotions aren’t against you, and they’re not some kind of wild beast that you must tame. Your emotions serve as a sort of internal compass; fear is a natural emotion that arises when we’re about to enter uncharted waters: when the path ahead looks unsure and unsteady. It also happens to be a sign of where your biggest opportunities for personal growth await.
The fact is, many of us are much more emotionally vulnerable and sensitive than we’d like to think we are.
My whole life, I’ve been surrounded by the statement, “man, people are just SO STUPID,” as a means of explaining away the various problems that we see in modern society. But in fact, we’re not “stupid” at all. We’re just human. We’re angry, afraid, and disconnected from each other and ourselves. We’re bursting with uncomfortable and unprocessed emotions because no one ever taught us how to handle things like fear, embarrassment, failure, and disappointment in a healthy way. As Mark Twain said, “when we remember that we are all mad, the mysteries disappear, and life stands explained.”
Being an emotionally driven species isn’t inherently bad: it’s what drives us to accomplish seemingly impossible feats like harnessing electricity, landing on the moon, or making building a career from your passion to play music. The problem lies in the fact that we don’t understand emotions and dismiss the dramatic effect that they have on our lives.
It’s easy to miss the connection between our emotions and our actions because as a culture we don’t place much importance on maintaining emotional well-being. We’re taught to be tough, strong and courageous. We learn to disown parts of ourselves that are sad, shy, angry, and jealous; essentially, we don’t want to be seen as vulnerable or “bad” by others. The paradox here is that vulnerability is an essential component of courage. An act of courage requires uncertainty; courage is making the right choice despite your fear and doubt.
If you’re having difficulty moving forward in your music, you’re not exceptionally stupid, lazy, or untalented. You’re just a little bit afraid like the rest of us. And the sad truth is that when we’re growing up, we’re not given many tools to help us navigate these uncomfortable emotions. But you have the power to change that by committing to your goals and your dreams and going out of your comfort zone a little bit every day.
When I struggled for so long to get my feet away from the wall during my headstand, I had countless teachers tell me that my upper body was strong enough, I just needed to get away from the wall. But none of it clicked until one teacher told me this: I’d been leaning against the wall for so long that all I had to do next was get into the middle of the room and just fall. By falling in the other direction, my muscles could finally learn how to balance in the middle. Even though it was scary, I had to be OK with falling in order to achieve the balance I’d been striving for months.
There are all kinds of reasons I could’ve given myself to stay glued to the wall: my muscles aren’t strong enough yet or I might injure myself. But in the end, I was just afraid. And that’s ok. But we have to recognize the fears that are holding us back before we can move through them. So, I went into the middle of the room, I fell a few times, and then I finally did it. I held my first headstand!
The bottom line: when we aren’t in the habit of pushing past our comfort zones, our fears cleverly disguise themselves as rationalized excuses. Only through emotional vulnerability can we confront our fears head on and grow into the person that we’d like to be.
So be afraid, get angry, lose your balance and fall over. What matters is that you keep getting up after you fall. The next step, whatever that looks like for you, will always be scary and uncertain. But oftentimes the spaces in our lives that occupy the most fear also have the greatest capacity for growth. Lots of people will tell you to follow your passion and joy, but don’t stop there! If you’re willing to listen, your fears will tell you more about where you need to grow and which direction you ought to head than any one blog post ever could.
Lots of people will tell you to follow your passion and joy, but don’t stop there! If you’re willing to listen, your fears will tell you more about where you need to grow and which direction you ought to head than any one blog post ever could.
What’s something that you’ve always liked to try, but struggle to take the first steps towards? I’d love to hear from you! Share your story in the comments below: