Music is a mission not a competition
Competition can be a good thing. It makes us give it all and walk that extra mile. Without competition evolution would not have occurred in the same way or at all. So it’s pretty save to say competition is a natural thing. Competition can be the fuel for progress. But is there a flip side to the coin?
In my musical career competition has played quite a big role. Positively and negatively. When I started playing bass at the age of 15, I wanted to be the best bass player in the world. And that competitive mindset made me practice day in day out. My ignorance of knowing what being the best bass player in the world really meant saved me from getting demotivated.
Later on, when I studied music in the Netherlands the competition had the opposite effect. I still wanted to be the best. Not necessarily the best of the world, but at least in my school. I was a lot less ignorant then. So I eventually realized, that it was impossible. Every competitor had his or her own unique strength that set them apart from everyone else. But I didn’t see the big picture, yet. So I tried to beat everyone in their element. Even if that meant playing music that I didn’t enjoy. Naturally, I started stressing out. Because, how can you get better than someone else, if you don’t enjoy doing it in the first place?
Joy, I learnt a lot later, is one of the most important factors when it comes to learning. And I wasn’t enjoying myself one bit. My focus was entirely on my shortcomings. No time for gratitude of what I had accomplished. I was calling myself names when I failed to execute an exercise perfectly. My self esteem shrank day by day. Until my physical health was affected. At first it was just a little sting in the wrist that came and went. But one month later, my plucking hand was in such pain, that I couldn’t play another note.
I was booked for exams, though. And I am pretty good at tapping. So I didn’t listen to the signs and went to all the rehearsals playing with my left hand only. Until that hand gave up, too. In total I wasn’t able to play for three months. From there it took another 3-5 months to play like I used to. I had to change my technique completely.
That time off the bass gave me some space and time to reflect. And I was digging really deep. For all I knew I might have not been able to ever play again. So on one hand I was trying to analyze how it all happened, so it would never happen again. On the other hand I was thinking about alternative career paths. Slowly, I realized how stubborn and closed minded I had become.
It’s good to be really focused on your goal. But it’s bad, if your goal is a longterm goal and you don’t break it down into bite sized bits. It will drain you. You will never feel like you’re getting anywhere. All you see is the workload in front of you. I needed to get off that downward spiral.
Epiphany number one: ‘It’s ok not to be the best.’ The best is actually quite subjective and strongly depends on the perspective. Logically, there is no way of being the best at anything. Because, everyone will judge you differently. Epiphany number two: ‘Life isn’t over, if I can’t play bass anymore.’ This insight took almost all pressure of my shoulders. All of a sudden I remembered how many other things I enjoy doing. Not that my love for bass was diminished. It actually grew. Because, my life didn’t depend on it anymore.
The big picture is this: If you see a “better” player than you, you can go two ways. Either I throw away my bass, because I am never going to be as good as that player. Or I decide to be inspired and appreciate the existence of this player like I do with all other musicians. I am never going to be just like fill the blank. I am always going to be myself. No matter who I copy, the “me” will always come though. The only competition I take serious is the one with the myself from yesterday. I aim to become a better me every day!
Love & Bass