I recently watched an interview with Patti LaBelle as she was receiving some sort of lifetime achievement award, during which she exclaimed: “I love my voice,” and continued to explain that when she started singing she just fell in love with her ability to express herself through singing. Her voice being an essential part of her, I imagine that in that small statement, she’s speaking volumes: “I love myself, I love who I am, I love what I have to say, I love my sound, my essence.”
This is powerful. I can’t say that I remember ever feeling this way, even with my flute playing. There are brief moments when I think “that’s a cool space/sound that I’ve just created,” but in general, I’m often paralyzed by the belief that others sound/look/do better.
I understand on a very deep level how detrimental this is—not only for my career, but also for my sheer existence.
An artist I’ve always loved is Mariah Carey. I grew up listening to her, and I became a super-fan almost instantly. I memorized her first album within a few hours of receiving it for Christmas (on cassette tape! I ruined the damned thing rewinding it all the time), and made it a personal holiday every time a new album dropped. I still follow her closely, even though my tastes have changed (expanded). Whenever I see her in an interview scenario, she seems erratic, uncomfortable, and she continually brings up the same things that obviously plague her (her weight, her difficult pregnancy, her previous situation with her record label/past marriage, etc.). I see her constantly adjusting her outfit, playing with her hair, avoiding eye contact. It is unreal, almost, to see somebody you idolized as a child and still think is amazing, pick herself apart in this very public way. I notice myself doing very similar things, which has been startling to realize.
Now, certainly, somebody who chooses to put themselves in the public eye, or pursues a career that involves being on stage has to have some sort of healthy ego that says “yes, you belong up here.” I think this is true of myself, and I think that the real conflict comes when these opposing forces interact. The same part of you that wholly believes that you “belong” in the position you’re in or that you want to be in also struggles with the completely logical realization that there are others out there who are amazing at the very same craft. Of course, there’s an aspect of that that isn’t logical, and that’s the envious part—the part of you that not only recognizes someone else’s achievements and abilities, but also says “I want to be like them,” or, “to be successful, I need to be like them.”
This is complicated, and even depressing, but right now, I try to keep in mind Patti LaBelle. This is a woman who appreciates what she has—that her voice has the timbre that it does, that she loves the music that she performs, that she is in love with her life.
I’m not exactly sure what the starting point of working your way out of these deep-seated insecurities is, but I hypothesize that it starts with taking stock of what you do have, and being aware and thankful for those things, however small they seem to be.
Did I mention I met Mariah Carey over 10 years ago? It’s true. I was crying in the photo because I was so damned happy. And my mom got a little tipsy in the club with MC’s manager. For real. Here’s proof:
And then Miss LaBelle, and Miss Mariah (the pure joy in this performance is how every performance should feel, no matter the genre):