Why I Sing in a World of Critics: Confessions of an Awkward Artist

Recently, I had the opportunity to perform at a charity event alongside a variety of talented people. I love to watch anyone who is brave enough to put him/herself out there and be seen. Live performances are scary, and they are rarely if ever perfect. That’s probably my favorite part about them, the raw, imperfection of them, their honesty about where we are in our journey to be our brave selves in a scarce and critical world. In a scarce world, we often feel like we aren’t ever enough, never good enough, ready enough, polished enough, creative enough…feel free to fill in the blank with your own word(s). In a critical world, our fears come alive in the critics from the crowd who love to point out where we have failed and where we could have done better.

If I’m being honest, while I love to watch other people’s bravery, I rarely enjoy the process of trying to be brave myself. Most people are surprised to hear how much I dread the stage and the spotlight because I’ve been in that position a lot. If I’m so afraid, why do I put myself through the risk? (By the way, my fears usually have to do with not being good enough or hearing the judgments and comparisons from others, and I can’t let those fears win and keep me from being seen.)

My why is the answer to the question. My reason for sharing my journey in these contexts is what motivates me to get up there and be myself come what may. I may forget the words to the song, sing a note wrong, or play an awful-sounding chord on my guitar. It’s happened before. I’ve fallen on my face countless times. I like to think of myself as an endearingly awkward artist. No matter the outcome though, music and sharing my story, are what move me. They get me excited about life in community with other people. Whether it is writing, speaking, leading, or performing, the stories God has given me to share are worth telling. I tell the story because if I don’t, I will explode!

After the event, my oldest daughter, one of my fiercest defenders and most loyal fans, was a little frustrated that there weren’t enough woo-hoos for her mom as she felt were deserved. She wanted the crowd to be as big a fan of her mom as she is. (A caveat: she didn’t want other performances to get less applause. She just wanted more for her mom.) Isn’t she sweet? She asked me later that evening, “Doesn’t it bother you, Mom? I can see it doesn’t? How do you do that?” In a sense, she was asking, “How do you overcome comparison and lack of recognition when you try?”

Don’t get me wrong, I still fall prey to the comparison game from time to time; however, those episodes are fewer and farther between, and it’s all because I work very hard to keep my eyes focused on the why. I have to hold onto the why in a culture that prizes comparison and competition so highly that fame, productivety, perfection, and achievment are the end goals to art. Those are false goals that never lead to fulfillment. My goal on stage is never to be better than anyone else. My goal is never to be the best but to do my best to share the story I’ve been given. For me, personally, when I choose to sing a song or speak/write a message for the world to hear, it must come from the heart. It must be a genuine, authentic message that speaks to me and my journey that I think will speak to someone else on their journey. It’s not about me or how well people think I did or didn’t do or how talented they think I am. The opinions of others are subjective and say very little about my actual value and worth.

Did I encourage someone? Did I inspire just one person to continue being brave, to not give up on themselves no matter how hard the process? Did I communicate the story honestly? Was it authentic? These are values that mean the most to me. The last thought I want anyone to have is, “Wow, she is so good.” Rather I want them to think, “Wow, she really meant what she sang. She really meant what she said.”

Remember, we are brave for trying. We are courageous when we put ourselves out there for the world to see. Just simply being willing to take a chance by letting others witness our creative effort, is a huge step, and it is enough, whether it’s for the eyes of one or one billion. By the way, you always have an audience of One who gave you the talents and gifts you possess, who delights to watch you use them. He already loves you as you are. God, Your Father, is already your biggest fan, and He gave those good gifts to you to be shared with the world.

You have to start somewhere. Excellence and great works of art, aren’t produced in first tries. They’re achieved when we try and mess up and learn and try again and again and work harder and harder until each small step results in our own creative masterpiece, our own uniquely beautiful story. So, dear reader, tell your story; share your gifts. Be brave. Don’t compete. Don’t compare. Just be you. One day someone will listen, and your courage will inspire others to share their gifts, and isn’t that a far better goal than simply being better than someone else?

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