Pressure to be Perfect

Suicide is such an extreme solution to what so many don’t see as a temporary problem most of the time. It is always shocking and so incredibly sad especially when the individual is young. There is an incredible amount of pressure in current American society to appear beautiful, intelligent, and fun, carefree and happy, to be able to “do it all.” The reality is that no one really has all of that. There are individuals who are driven to be successful, but they are not the same people who are carefree and happy. We all have strengths and weaknesses. As teachers, as parents, as anyone in authority or in a position of mentor or role model, it’s so important to be positive and to hold students to an expectation, but also to help them understand that they must make mistakes and that it is okay.

There is a video floating around social media of Rick Rigsby giving a speech at a college and he said, “I’m not worried that you’ll be successful; I’m worried that you won’t fail from time to time.” As someone who had to learn that failure is okay and reading the article about some of these young college students, I thought that this was really relevant. My dad is a perfectionist and although he loves his children very much, it was hard for him not to put that same pressure on us growing up. I knew when I was practicing the piano when he was home that he would hear every single mistake I made. Sometimes he would comment and sometimes he would make a noise or a face. Even if he didn’t, I knew he heard it. As a result, I practiced hours and hours trying to perfect pieces, but when I would perform, sometimes I would get so nervous that I would make mistakes anyway.

This continued through my adult life and whenever I played the piano, I knew that sometimes I would play according to my practicing, and sometimes I would just become so nervous that the notes would swim in front of my eyes or my hands would be sweating and shaking so bad I would mess up. It wasn’t until I started playing for the Soldotna Middle School choir director that I began to understand my problem and learned to become confident in who I was as a pianist. He had an expectation of excellence for his students and himself and everyone involved, but he also had a really great way of dealing with mistakes. He told his students that they would make mistakes, but to own them and to learn from them. He had a confidence in their ability that accepted them where they were, expected them to work hard to do their best, and taught them how to recover from mistakes. As a group, we have had to stop and start again because words were forgotten or the students moved to the wrong part of the song or something. If this was because the students were not focusing in practice, they have a discussion about it, with the students giving their opinions and thoughts about it all. Then they would move on and forward.

As an accompanist, I have made some pretty noticeable errors in playing from time to time, sometimes it is because I didn’t have much time to practice the songs and had to do my best, and sometimes I was just having a bad playing day. Musicians know that other musicians hear the mistakes. It’s just an ear thing. You can’t help it. Mr. Moore never berated me or stopped calling me to play. He had a confidence in my ability, appreciated my efforts, and shrugged off mistakes, jokingly saying things like, “Yeah, the rest of us NEVER make mistakes.” This helped me to be more relaxed when I played, which helped me to   make fewer mistakes and to enjoy what I was doing more.

I didn’t realize before working with Mr. Moore, that I needed to have permission to fail and understand that it wasn’t the end of the world. Getting a B in with all the A’s isn’t so bad. This is something I will try very hard to help my students understand. You will and should fail in life, because that is how we learn. You can not be perfect, and that is okay. Be yourself, not who others (including your parents) think you need to be.

I think it’s important to help students understand that they need to work hard and do their best, but they also need to take breaks, have fun, and try to figure out what works personally for them. It’s also good to have conversations with students and with parents when you as a teacher notice certain behaviors. Even if you think it won’t be acted upon, you have to do what you can to support and to guide.

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