One of my favorite people on Instagram is a psychologist from L.A. named Dr. Shadeiyah Edwards who posts a lot about, well, various things, including parenting and female independence. Lately she's been posting a lot of quotes about validation. Here's a sample:
"It takes a strong person to do their own thing and not wait for anybody else to validate their existence." -Steven Aitchison
"Seeking validation will keep you trapped. You don't need anyone or anything to approve of your worth. When you understand this, you will be free."
"If you persistently seek validation from others, you will inadvertently invalidate your own self worth" -Dodinsky
"The only permission, the only validation, and the only opinion that matters in our quest for greatness is our own." -Dr. Steve Maraboli
Now, I'm not really one for inspirational quotes. Often they sound hollow and superficial. These, however, ring true for me. It feels like my whole adult life I have experienced some kind of crisis of confidence on a weekly basis. You'd think I would have grown out of it by now, but some days I still have very little faith in my own abilities. I know that sounds crazy, like I have terrible self-esteem, but I think it comes with being a woman in my line of work.
Lemme 'splain it to you. Music performance is a field of fierce competition and constant scrutiny. Performance happens in real time, which can be both exhilarating and terrible. You're not allowed to make too many mistakes because they can't be undone. And if the stakes are high (an important audition, a high-profile performance), the pressure is intense.
I work as a collaborative pianist. I teach and do some editing, too, but the bulk of my work is freelance accompanying. I play for high school students in various contests and auditions, where the stakes are high for them but not necessarily for me. I play for college and graduate students for juries and recitals, where the music is much more difficult, but at the same time much more rewarding. I rarely play gigs that are purely professional, but it does happen from time to time. I have found a path where I work in education on many levels, from pre-college to post-graduate, and I love it.
But boy oh boy, does this have the potential to mess with your head. For one thing, I spend a lot of time in one-on-one lessons, where the student is critiqued on every move he or she makes. Literally every breath you take is being observed and evaluated because if you're a singer or a brass or woodwind player, there is definitely a right and wrong way to breathe. If they do it wrong, they are more likely to fail. If I do something wrong (play the chord wrong, or come in late, fail to breathe with them), they are more likely to fail.
When things go right, it's amazing, truly. It's partly why I've stuck with this for so long. For me, nothing feels better than a performance that goes well. But when things go wrong, it can be devastating. And often, for better or worse, this all usually happens in front of an audience. Even public speaking is a thousand times easier than a perfect music performance. (Perfection is rare, and ephemeral.) So now maybe you can understand the drive for perfectionism that comes with this work, and how it can scramble your brain.
Let me add some more layers onto this. I'm a woman. I'm a mother. I have family responsibilities that prevent me from being available at all hours of the day and every weekend. Most (but not all) of the freelance accompanists I know have no one to be responsible for but themselves. A few are partnered/married, but almost none of them have kids. It means I have to work twice as hard to maintain my reputation for being reliable and for being worth what I charge. And I do work, I work fucking hard. I might have to cancel or reschedule if someone is home with a fever, and I might not be able to play for studio class on a moment's notice when I have to get the boy to his cello lesson. I do make that clear from the outset, but it still feels like a liability compared to the young hotshots who are willing to work 24/7.
I know men in this town who do the same thing I do - freelance collaboration. They have less education than I do and charge more. They show up to perform in jeans and sneakers. They do not have kids. (I have never once taken a sick day for anyone other than my kids.) They play for high-profile stuff and I get referrals for people who try to bargain with me because "the nice young woman who played last year was a lot cheaper".
They probably have more talent than I do, so they deserve the fawning they get. Can you blame me for always looking for validation? Can you see why I often feel like I'm mediocre?
And yet. I persist.
Maybe it's foolish.