More Than Good Enough: Overcoming the Pressure to Perform

The Pianist

There was a time when practicing the piano was a part of my daily life. That time spanned most of my life thus far. I forget that sometimes. But when I randomly sit down at my keyboard and play some Chopin, it all comes rushing back. I feel like I’m breathing in real air with actual oxygen in it and can’t understand how I considered myself fully alive before.

Recently someone’s prayer touched a tender spot deep inside my heart that hadn’t been touched in some time. Their prayer had to do with comparing myself to others in the context of music-making. They used words like “insecurity” and “feeling inadequate.” They weren’t referring to classical music, but suddenly a rush of memories of piano recitals and competitions growing up flooded my mind, and I almost started to cry.

More than distinct memories, what I remembered was a certain feeling, an underlying dread mixed with doubt I used to feel as a pianist. As I pictured the recital hall I used to perform in as a kid, I remembered the feeling of knowing failure was only one mistake away, knowing I would never measure up to my peers, knowing that criticism was imminent, knowing the incredible fragility of everything I had worked for.

It was a feeling I had almost forgotten.

As I was reflecting on it later, God said: The identity of “not good enough” does not belong to you anymore.

The Perfectionist

Piano was never something I was pressured to do. It’s something I freely chose. I was naturally averse to the competitive aspect of classical music, but I chose again and again to push myself to the next level as a pianist, all the way to the “Master’s” level, simply because I loved it. There really was no other reason.

I always thought piano was a good part of my life. And it was––it is. But after that prayer I realized that there was a small part of it that had been poison to me.

It wasn’t the competition, judgment, or critique in and of itself. Evaluation by others is a fact of life we must all accept. Competition can push you to your highest potential if you will let it. Feedback can help us improve and grow. The poison, however, was a lie that crept in and took up residence inside me, a label that I allowed to lodge in my heart: Not good enough

Suddenly I wondered if maybe this was the reason for my classical music hiatus. Perhaps this was why God had removed it from my life. So I could be healed. So I could separate myself from this feeling of inadequacy.

I don’t know if that’s the case. I’m not certain exactly what God has in store on this adventure I’m living (which is what makes it an adventure) or all the reasons why God has me where He has me right now. What I do know is that hearing those words from God was powerful. It was like having poison sucked out of me and feeling the blood rush through my veins again with renewed vigor.

The other thing I know: I do love classical music.

The Music Lover

This week I started working on Chopin’s Ballade No. 4. (Once I master this one, I’ll have learned all four!) After asking God if it would be a waste of time to practice classical pieces rather than devote my time to song writing and worship music, God reminded me how many times He has told me over the past two years to keep practicing and not let go of classical music. So I decided to start practicing piano regularly again. It’s really hard to keep up this kind of goal without a classical music community to spur me on, but by God’s grace I’m hoping to make this a habit.

The night after my first practice session, I had a dream. I was at a music school for an audition. I needed a practice room to warm up in, but I searched and searched to no avail. Typical piano stress dream. Except in this dream, I wasn’t stressed. Incredibly, even though I was dropping my coat and books all over the floor (as I often do in real life), I felt no anxiety!

I woke up remembering what I had realized the night before. I love classical music. Classical music is powerful. It’s beautiful. It’s a vehicle of transcendence and revelation. That’s the reason I do it. Not to prove something about myself to anyone. Not even to prove something to myself. It’s not about that at all.

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Elizabeth is a teacher, preacher, musician, and writer. She has a Master's of Divinity and a Master's of Music, which represent her two great loves: Jesus and the arts. A half-Korean, half-white American, she spent seven years in South Korea teaching English. Elizabeth is a perpetual learner, a deep feeler, and a pursuer of beauty and truth.

5 thoughts on “More Than Good Enough: Overcoming the Pressure to Perform

  1. This is a beautiful post, Elizabeth!! It really touched me…I know the stress and “not good enough” feeling all too well. I have been struggling with feeling burned out for a while. You are an amazing pianist and I’m sure you will play the Ballade beautifully…that’s a great piece! Best of luck to you with everything!

    1. Aw thank you, Cynthia! It’s good to hear from you – can’t believe it was so long ago we used to have those intimate, all-female studio classes, haha. Keep making beautiful music!~

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