Updated: Dec 12, 2019
Try to google “anxiety on the stage” and tell me how many times you find articles that suggest dealing with your stage fright/anxiety/panic, by accepting the fact that "it’s ok not to be perfect".
I found A LOT of them.
My perception was that (maybe) I was reading articles written by exceptional psychologists…who have NEVER been performers.
Seriously mate: do you really believe what you are saying?
At the beginning one thinks “Oh, ok…if a psychologist says so, it must be true!”.
Then you try to apply this advice to your situation, to the past performances you had and how this tip could have improved them.
Also, you try to figure out how to apply this “incredible revelation” to your future performances; but you realise that there’s a HUGE gap between what you actually do and what they suggest doing.
In my opinion, “it’s ok not to be perfect” will NEVER be effective for performing artists, for the following reasons:
1. Performers aim for perfection!
Performing arts are the celebration of beauty, of harmony and nature through an artistic technique. As performers, we are taught from the very beginning that the most incredible performances are the ones that combine the greatest ideas with the most impeccable executions.
So, this advice is a contradiction to what we aim to do! It’s like saying to a chef “it’s ok if your food doesn’t taste much”.
It sounds like a message from someone who speaks another language from ours, it just doesn’t fit our world!
2. You are not your mistakes!
One thing is saying “it’s ok if you do mistakes” because the message is “you still have to work”. Any reasonable performer accepts the fact that there is still room for improvement.
But saying “it’s ok if you are not perfect” can be very demotivating, because to some performers it sounds like “you are not good enough to aim for perfection”.
I’d rather say: “Be patient, it might take you more time to achieve the results you want”. That’s a PLAN and keeps the focus on your ACTIONS and not your IDENTITY!
3. It doesn’t explain the difference between rehearsals and live performances.
Any performer who looks for remedies to stage anxiety doesn’t do it because he/she is anxious all the time. Or because he/she doesn’t accept the fact that we’re “just” human beings.
The problem is that, during our rehearsals, we DO reach perfection (or get very close to it), but for some reasons, we don’t achieve the same quality of the execution during our performances in front of an audience.
So, this advice doesn’t give a real solution to our problem, at all!
4. Why is it a problem to be a perfectionist?
Someone really has to explain to me (with valid points) why it is such a big problem to aim for perfection (meaning EXCELLENCE).
I’m not talking about the popular, conventional model of perfection: I am talking about a genuine drive to give one’s best, to be the best version of oneself.
We are all different, we all have different strengths and limits, and I love the idea that each of us has a unique purpose on this planet.
This doesn’t mean that you can’t be a perfectionist!
You can – and you should – always aim to the highest level you can achieve. Not for others, nor for a social idea of what is “perfect”, but because you owe it to yourself, and because it feels SO GOOD when you feel that groove during your performance when everything goes together perfectly, and you did everything you could, and the result is absolutely exquisite.
That’s what I’m talking about, man!
Ok, these are the reasons why I completely disagree with those who say that “it’s ok if you’re not perfect”.
What do I suggest then?
Well, if you want a better control of your anxiety on the stage, you have to work on your performance skills! Examples? Self-talk, motivation, visualisation, relaxation, goal setting, focus…
It’s a process, it takes time, consistency and method.
Studying performance skills is like studying a score: at the beginning you learn single sections of it, you get confident with each small step and then you put everything together.
Some points to keep in mind:
Rule 1. The more you practice your performance skills during your REHEARSALS, the easier it will be to control them on the day of the performance. If you are not practising them at home, do NOT expect to manage them effectively on stage.
Rule 2. You can’t put everything together from day 1! Focus on self-talk first; then add your visualisation, then your motivation… There isn’t an order for it, you can start with any performance skill you prefer. Avoid rushing into all of them: give it time, you need to “digest” one before you start with the next one, otherwise it will only get confusing and overwhelming.
Rule 3. If you practice on your instrument for a year and you get to a certain result, but then you stop studying it for 6 months, do you really expect to have the same results that you had before that pause? Naaa, come on! You need to keep studying, practising.
It’s a learning process, not a miracle!
Most important rule: where do you find all these performance skills?
In Upgrade Your Performance, of course!
Every month I publish a different performance skill on my Patreon profile: what it is, how it works, how to practice it, case scenarios, etc.
If you like this article, share it with your fellow performers, it might help them!