Daring Greatly—The Vulnerable Performer

Vulnerable SingerI recently watched Brené Brown’s 2012 TEDTalk called Listening to Shame.  I am one of 2,785,867 people who have viewed this video since.  I don’t know how many of those nearly three million viewers were performers so here I am passing this message on to you.

Brown is a research professor who has spent the past ten years studying vulnerability, courage, authenticity, and shame.  She poses the following questions:

  • How do we learn to embrace our vulnerabilities and imperfections so that we can engage in our lives from a place of authenticity and worthiness?
  • How do we cultivate the courage, compassion, and connection that we need to recognize that we are enough?

If you are a performer or a teacher of performers, read these two questions again.  What did you think when you read them?  Did you think, “ME FIRST!  Please teach me first!”  Or if you were like me, did you feel like you were punched in the gut?  Performers need answers to these questions.  There is such truth in Brown’s message.  It is incredibly important and is especially vital for performers.

Vulnerability:  emotional risk, exposure, uncertainty

Some of the most exciting performances are those played or sung by performers who have taken risks and exposed themselves—dared greatly in spite of uncertainty of one kind or another.   Performing takes faith—walking to the edge of all the light you have and taking one more step!  This is a kind of faith that we call trust.

According to Brown, vulnerability fuels our daily lives and is our most accurate measurement of courage.   To be vulnerable is to let yourself be seen, to be honest.    Performers need this fuel to excite and empower their playing or singing to create honest, authentic performances.

The following is based on my contention that performers need to become more vulnerable:

Lesson #1:  Vulnerability is not weakness.

Most of us are afraid to be vulnerable because it can feel scary.  Maybe the last time you were vulnerable on stage, it didn’t turn out well so you concluded that being vulnerable is definitely not the way to go.  Most of us conclude that being vulnerable can be an indication of weakness.  Just think about it, . . .you’re about to perform—go out on stage and take an emotional risk, expose or express a sonata or aria in a new way.  You are certain you can do it, but totally uncertain how it will be received.  You probably don’t feel empowered at all.  You may even think there’s got to be something wrong.  Taking risks—being vulnerable—takes courage.

Lesson #2:  We need to understand the relationship between vulnerability and courage.

At the core of courage is a willingness to become vulnerable.  When performers step out onto the stage and go for it—really risking emotionally and musically—it makes them vulnerable to messing up, to falling short of the mark, to rejection, criticism, failing, embarrassment, or simply to the disappointment that comes when we don’t achieve what we set out toward.  Maybe the risk you need to take is to rely on and trust your preparation instead of perform with that ever-present analyzing, correcting voice.  There is no courage without risk of one kind or another.

Lesson #4:  Risk failing TODAY!

If you have every been to, listened to, or watched a TEDTalk, you know that TED lives up to its slogan:  Ideas Worth Spreading by showcasing the work and research of some of the most remarkable people on the planet.  Surprisingly then, Brown refers to TED as the “failure conference.”  TED is so amazing, she says, “…because very few people here are afraid to fail.  And no one who gets on the stage, so far that I’ve seen has not failed.”

It is the same with you.  There are times that you WILL mess up.  You will fall short of the mark or be rejected or be criticized.  There will be times that you will feel embarrassed or be disappointed or even fail.

Join the rest of us—admit it and accept it.  Admit that you still view perfection as a reasonable goal and accept the fact that you will NEVER be good enough to perform perfectly—no one is.   You see, it is NOT playing or singing perfectly that excites us and our audiences.  It is vulnerable authenticity!

I would love to hear about your experiences with feeling vulnerable.  Would you be willing to share a story that shows that there is life after risk?


Would you like to learn how to develop your own unique pre-performance routine and your most effective performance mindset?  Then, check out The Relaxed Musician:  Mental Preparation for Confident Performances.   Download Day 1 of the workbook and audio to see how the program can work for you.  With purchase, you will receive 2 great bonuses—Your Pre-Performance Checklist and the e-book, Letting Go of the Need to be Perfect!

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