The importance of self-compassion and looking in the mirror

This is not the place where I reveal the magical secret to accepting all of your perceived flaws, but I found surprising insight today that is worth sharing. A student came to her voice lesson this morning, very nervous about an upcoming high school audition. She told me all of the things she’s worried won’t go well. She told me that she’s planning on taking some of her song down an octave so that it stays in a comfortable and “safe” range. This really surprised me. Many girls who listen to a lot of pop don’t have access to their head voice, but while her chest voice is very strong, she does not fit into that category. She continued to talk about the audition requirements, and mentioned that her mom is pressuring her to cram for the music theory test. She’s encouraging her to learn things on her own that she’s never encountered before. I asked her to pause her story and I took a moment to gather my thoughts.

Of course I want her to do well. I want her to show the audition panel her capabilities, but she does not have to do every single thing they ask her to do better than every other person who auditions. I reminded her that it’s a school audition. If she does her best, they will see her strengths and they will see what she still needs to learn. That’s their job. If we try to hide our flaws, we aren’t open to what we still need to learn. While we’re pretending to know things, we miss the opportunity to learn the very things we’re faking. I know. I’ve done it. The best way to learn is to be honest about where we are in our development and to do so without judgment. Who are we comparing ourselves to anyway? On top of all that, when you’re giving your attention to what probably isn’t going to go well, good luck with the things that have the potential to go very well. When we were done talking, I asked if she would be willing to sing it for me as written. When she wasn’t worrying about making it “safe”, she connected to the story and her strengths came through. Was it perfect? No, but it was much more interesting than the time before. There I saw someone teachable and someone with great potential.

It’s something I tell my students all the time. If something doesn’t make sense to you, ask for clarification. Why are we ashamed of what we don’t know? How will we ever learn? And why are we afraid to try the things that we haven’t yet learned? Nothing is great at the beginning. There may be natural skill, but there’s always room for growth. We should celebrate both.

Several hours later, I was at the gym struggling to complete my run in a very specific amount of time. I had a goal in mind and as I pushed myself toward it, I realized that I was my student. The run that I scheduled for today was meant to be a gauge for how accurately I’ve estimated my marathon running capabilities. Tomorrow is the first day of the 16 week training program that I’ve chosen, and I needed a 5k time to set my estimated marathon pace. Why would I struggle through it instead of being honest about my current ability? What would happen if I set a pace based on a run that I didn’t enjoy? What would I gain from doing it that way? Today’s conditions were in no way ideal, and isn’t that likely to be the case somewhere along the course of training? If I set times based on what I can do even under less than ideal conditions, aren’t I setting myself up for more realistic growth? To whom was I trying to prove something? In the end, I wasn’t far off from where I had intended to be. I was a nice, round 10 seconds from where I thought I “should” be at this point. 10 seconds. It’s enough to have to revise my plan, and I can accept that. Those last 10 seconds showed me something about myself.

Alexandra Kassouf