All of our heroes go through some sort of peril. They are confronted with an obstacle, burden, or challenge that appears to be insurmountable. Typically, when despair seems to be the only option and defeat is all but certain, the hero finds something deep within and restores order through victory.
Would we even know of the phoenix without the ashes whence it rises? Who is Rocky but your average no-name boxer without Apollo Creed, Clubber Lang, Drago, and yes, Thunderlips? Frank Sinatra, at one point, transformed from superstar to washed-up has-been. Personal issues, a shift in the public’s musical taste, and his inability to perform at his established level spelled doom for the greatest vocalist in American pop history. Yet, his most defining years were still ahead of him. Frank’s second act defined his career and established what we now recognize as the Great American Songbook.
These stories are endless and, yes, as old as time. The rescue. The reinvention. The resuscitation. The recovery. The resurrection.
Let’s go back to Rocky. He’s a poor, humble boxer. He’s the underdog preparing to face the champion. His journey is one of personal pain and uncertainty. Yet, he perseveres, claiming one incremental victory at a time. He wins the heart of Adrian. He convinces Mick that he has the stomach to train. He catches the chicken! And in the most moving scene in movie history, he stands by Adrian’s side, waiting for her to come out of the coma. Neglecting his selfish needs to train and his desire to take on Apollo Creed, he remains bedside with his ailing wife. Then, supported by the low thunder of the string and the clang of the bell, Adrian awakens from her deep sleep and intently encourages her husband to WIN!
The championship fight becomes a micro representation of Rocky’s life story. The ebb and flow of both boxers landing critical blows. Each trading the upper hand yet still facing the long fight. The cuts and swelling. Fatigue and blood. The falling and stumbling. The apprehension that our hero had finally met his match. The extreme suffering that causes even Adrian to look away.
Yet, as we all know, Rocky prevails. He wins. He becomes the champion. He makes enough money to buy a robot (a 1983 robot, mind you).
Understand that struggle is part of success . You cannot avoid uncertainty, doubt, and fear. It’s real in life and performance. It will affect you.
However, there is no shame in feeling these emotions. There is no shame in being affected by these emotions. We all must learn to recover. To press on. To understand that, most likely, our audience will not see nor hear our errors, and even if they do, it’s ok. They will forgive us for being human. Let that bad note pass on by and sing the next one better. Forget that you stumbled through the opening joke to no laughter. Move right to the heart of the matter. Win them over with your purpose.
"Allow your message and song to rise above your imperfections and wobbles. Win them over with your purpose."
Do not be surprised when punched in the mouth. Expect it and hit back. Allow your message and song to rise above your imperfections and wobbles.
When I struggle in a performance, I do not suffer by ruminating over my mistakes after making a recovery. I’ve learned I will, more than likely, get in my way with wandering thoughts of doubt, anxiety, and insecurity. Rather than aim to entirely rid me of these thoughts (Don’t think about an elephant right now! You just did, didn’t you?), I accept them as flashes. Flash and move on, feeling no shame. Sometimes, I have to endure the burn of the flash. Yet, when the heat cools, I am bolstered by my ability to have taken the heat, remained engaged, and committed to my endeavor. I’ve removed the emotion of surprise. I will not be blindsided. There will be a punch. There will be a flash. There will be heat. Even so, I will withstand and recover. Yo, Adrian! I will triumph!
THE WASH TECHNIQUE
I made one of those things! You know, an acronym. I think it’s helpful. Remember the Base Level theory, and the water, and the flooding (Hook #4)? Well, when you can feel the water’s approaching and the pressure is mounting, don’t get flooded, just let it WASH away.
- Welcome the adversity in whatever form it manifests (fear and doubt are the big ones, usually). Don’t be surprised. Don’t fight it. Expect it. You are human; these things happen.
- Accept the discomfort. Getting upset that your palms are sweaty, thoughts are racing, and breath is short makes things worse. These reactions will pass.
- Stay on task. Continue to do what you have trained to do. Don’t bail out! Remember, picturing something that gives you joy can divert your attention just enough so that you can get out of your own way (Hook #5). Breathe deeply through the nose.
- Harness the confidence and pride that follows overcoming adversity. Channel that resilience into poise, which is defined as a stably balanced state. Pretty cool, right! •
MATT WILSON is a professional performing musician and writer. He first gained national exposure as the “Piano Man” in the first national tour of Billy Joel and Twyla Tharp’s Tony-Award-winning musical, Movin’ Out. In 2005, the Texas State Senate honored Wilson with a resolution for his achievements in Fine Arts, and in 2016 he was accepted to the Texas Commission on the Arts Touring Roster. His band routinely tours, headlining numerous public, private, and social events of all sizes. His original music has been placed in TV and film, such as Shameless and Once Upon A Time. In his recently released first book, Hooks: Lessons on Performance, Business, and Life from a Working Musician, Wilson shares life lessons from decades of experience as a performing musician and business owner. •