Everything is going wrong on stage. Your band is not performing as tightly as it normally does, tempos are fluctuating wildly, mistakes are being made. Your guitar player looks to be in an ugly mood, and your drummer appears to be asleep on his throne. The audience is joining him in his siesta. You are flubbing passages that have been on automatic pilot for years, and you’re so distracted by the seeming chaos on stage that you can’t seem to regain control no matter how hard you try. What can you do to make everything right again?
Smile. I know, you don’t really feel like smiling at this moment … but do it anyway. Fake it. You’ve lost control, and no matter how hard you work to get it back, matters are just getting worse. So stop working so hard at trying to regain control. Let go and smile.
Chances are things aren’t as bad as you perceive them to be. I tend to record my performances, utilizing a little application that comes standard on my iPhone. After a particularly vexing set, I’ll go backstage and listen to it to find out what happened. I call it my “Performance Post Mortem”. What I’ve found by doing so is that things often don’t seem as catastrophic on the replay as they did while I was playing. Even when there are mistakes to be heard on the recording, they often don’t seem all that bad when listening to them offstage. And the things that can be fixed or corrected or improved can be addressed in simple communications with my band mates either backstage or during rehearsal.
That look you got from your guitar player? The one filled with anger and disgust? When you talk to him about it, you may find that he’s fighting a bad case of indigestion. Or maybe his back is hurting. Perhaps he’s just upset with himself for not playing up to his personal standards. What about the sleeping drummer? Well, if you talk to him, you may find out that he was just focusing on trying to keep things together. Whatever the reason may be, you can always talk to your band mates after the performance or between sets to find out if there truly is a problem … or if you just misperceived the situation.
Here’s the deal: If there is really something bad happening onstage that seems to be spiraling out of control despite your best efforts, then it is out of your control. There is nothing you can do to fix it while onstage. So you might as well smile and try to enjoy the ride.
I have found that when I do this, things tend to get better. It may not be a perfect fix, but it does seem to help. I can have a lot of fun laughing at myself onstage, and the mere act of doing so seems to liberate me from the angst of looming catastrophe.
It’s much the same in life. Life is, after all, just a much bigger stage. Things go wrong, efforts misfire, family and friendships get a little rocky. No matter what you do to fix the situation, it just gets worse. So let go of your expectations for a perfect life at that moment, take a deep breath, smile, and settle down to enjoy the ride.
Nobody’s life goes completely according to script. Unless, of course, you are writing for a Soap Opera. Even then, life throws in a few surprises and cliff hangers that you didn’t necessarily plan. It makes for some interesting times. As a musician, it is also fodder for some very creative and poignant writing.
The solution to losing control over any situation is to give up, let go, and enjoy the ride. You can always try to fix things a bit later when your emotions are less pungent. But that is for later. Right now, all you can do is make the most of a bad situation by smiling and enjoying what you can. You’ll be amazed at how this can alleviate the pain and distress, and even in some cases make the problems magically disappear.
No one is ever fully in control of Life. But everyone can control how they deal with it. Decide to make the most of a bad situation and smile. It sure beats the alternative.
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