Deeper insights 3: Fearless optimism


Turning a bit of a corner, as time went on as a teacher I realized that there are essentially two types of confidence.

What got me initially thinking about this was a thought that there are two types of players that persist with auditions. One type is very confident, so confident that failure does not phase them. I think of that being something cultivated as part of a “fearless” approach to horn playing and to life. The other type of person that persists with auditions is someone who is persistently optimistic. In spite of low odds, difficulty, they stick with it, failures and problems are quickly forgotten. That is me.

In terms of horn playing I knew I was a “fearless” performer by the way people would think of it, but also knew that was not it at all. I am no stunt man. It is more like I get into my zone and trust that things are going to work. That trust is based substantially on preparation and being warmed up and ready to go. I think to others it looks like it could be fearlessness, but really the approach is based on optimism.

Some things you will never realize about yourself until you are in some specific situation where it becomes clear. I certainly did not think myself to be an eternal optimist, but instead more of a realist. But self-perceptions can be and are often are off.

Fearless optimism

The point when I realized the high level of optimism in my heart was an interesting one. He is doing better now, but the time frame where this became clear was around the time my son turned 19 and we were having all sorts of issues. He refused to go to school any longer, would not see therapists or doctors, and his anxieties and obsessions had really ramped up. We had many difficult days in a row. Some of the worst days his meds were clearly not right and he was barely sleeping and breaking things every day! Not to mention hitting us, etc.; I kept my left up at all times, to defend my face and glasses which he constantly went for. It was tough and not a way to live. But at the end of a tough day, talking with my wife, I was the always the one that looked at tomorrow as a new day that was going to be better.

And what got me though 25 auditions for full time jobs before I won third horn in Nashville? What got me beyond that to ASU? Honestly, I think you might be better off cultivating optimism and faith in your life rather than “fearlessness.”

How are you wired?

Fine horn performers are often described as being fearless, but I wonder if that really is the case. It would be interesting if someone did a proper psychological study on this topic, but I believe thinking in terms of optimism might be a better fit for many horn players.

I don’t know if there is a way to package and market optimism such has been done with fearlessness. Maybe you have to be born with it, but I think we as teachers can foster an environment that promotes a sense of optimism in performance over pessimism or realism. This is not to knock fearlessness either, but for some the idea of fearlessness simply does not resonate, it does not fit your personality. Fearlessness just seems like a fake, manufactured opposite of pessimism.

If you are feeling optimistic one thing that will be absent from your thinking is bitterness and envy. I will say, with James I can’t detect any hint that he is bitter about his life or envious of others in any way. The closer we all can be to that way of thinking the better off we are.

A final element of optimism I want to mention is encouragement. I am not perfect on this, but certainly try to be encouraging in my life activities in spite of all the negative thoughts that can fill our world. We can all apply this to our teaching and performing. More on that as the series continues.

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