Play to Your Creative Strengths (& Do What Feels Good)

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While I was in Marrakech, I was at the Clock Cafe for a music "jam session", hoping to sit back and enjoy the local talents. The piano became free, and the new friend I was with prompted me to go up, knowing that I enjoy playing, and recently was sharing posts on Instagram of little compositions I'd done.

I instantly felt resistant. I didn't want to play. I wanted to sit back and relax. 

To them, they thought it would be relaxing, "it'll be fun" they said, "look, no-ones here but the staff, and me, there's nothing to fear." 

To me, it would feel excruciating. Painful, in fact.

We then argued, a lot, because they wanted to hear me play live, not on Instagram. They couldn't understand how I could feel good sharing a video of me playing on Instagram, but not want to play to less people here.

They thought I was being "selfish to hold back my talent" and that if they could play, they would get up.

But that was them. In all their glorious extrovert opinions.

It may seem selfish to hold back your creative talents when someone asks you to perform, but it's also an assumption to think all musicians are natural performers, and enjoy playing live in front of people.

For more than 15 years I trained as a violinist, violist, pianist, flautist, even as a singer.

Always pushed to perform publicly, leading orchestras and quartets, doing the solos, taking music exam after exam, conducting and directing junior orchestras and groups.

Yes, I sometimes got a thrill out of a concert that went well, or an audience who loved what they heard, but more than anything, I often felt nervous, and sick before and sometimes during performances. I was exhausted by endless hours practising on my own, or in unsociable hours, with conductors with egos.

No counselling, prescribed beta-blockers, or reframing the fear at the time could help me enjoy the performance element.

Eventually, my body couldn't take the resistance and anxiety any more, so, I said "enough", and I quit my path towards a performance career.

Yes, in the past there was part of my resistance to perform that was initially a fear or a "stage fright" if you will, and a self-limiting belief that "I wasn't good enough".

But, over the years, I've reflected and challenged myself on this many times. I knew there was more to it, than a fear of performing live any more.

I learnt, that I love music, and I love to play, but I like to do it when I feel comfortable – when I know and enjoy the music I'm playing, when I'm playing in a trusted environment I feel safe in. Also, when I'm actually in the energy zone or mood to create!

Importantly, I realised I prefer being a recording musician – playing behind the scenes, than being front of house.

I proved this when I was asked to do 2 days playing for a demo recording at Abbey Road a few years back, and after 7 years of not practising, and being 1 of 2 violins, I wasn't nervous. I got on with it & did my job well. Some of that was because I knew this was a lifetime opportunity to play in this famous studio, but it was also, because the conditions to play felt right.

I also knew, that I had always felt more of a natural writer, than a musician. Even if I excelled and enjoyed both art-forms.

So on this night in Marrakech, hearing that I was "selfish" for not sharing my musical talents, I heard myself say, "you don't understand, not all musicians are performers, or extroverts, or feel energised by playing live – some prefer playing in studios, or at home, with a camera. Yes, they might be seen or heard, but it's in a place they feel comfortable in."

My friend still didn't quite understand, and even questioned, "how can you be a coach who helps other people have courage to do something if you don't have courage to play?"

It hurt to hear that. Did I really not have the courage to play or was it that I didn't have the desire to?

When people label you, it's always important to question, "how true is that?".

I decided it was more the latter. 

I know what I enjoy, and it isn't performing in public, unless I'm in the right conditions, and even then, I am happier & feel more alive behind the scenes.

So, next time anyone seems to push you to create, perform or do something in a way you don't feel naturally drawn to do, stand up for your right to do what feels good for you. Even if they don't quite understand your why.

And, if you don't quite understand why you're not taking action, you might want to read the post I just wrote today about 3 reasons you're breaking your own rules.

Love, Marie x

Marie Milligan

Marie Milligan, Painted Lady Canalboat, Blomfield Road Moorings, Little Venice, London, UK

I'm the Founder of Wild Women Do, a coaching network and movement for creative, entrepreneurial women needing support to create and launch something inspirational. A Holistic Business Coach, Entrepreneurship Educator and Writer, I love nothing better than helping you release your creative spirit, and get your ideas expressed and done.