I heard it before I could see it; the low, plaintive wail of a trombone. The shaky tune was familiar, but just unclear enough to name. Unaccustomed to hearing such a noise on a walk in my neighborhood, I moved closer to explore the source.
A young man, no more than 17 years old was sitting on a park bench. His right foot tapped in time as he moved through his repertoire of songs.
He wasn’t particularly good, but it was a precious sight, nonetheless. Clearly tenacious, he continued on, seemingly enjoying himself in the warm summer sun. If he was nervous, hesitant or self-conscious, it wasn’t obvious. The experience was remarkable in both its novelty and his ability to be wholly in the moment, putting aside any concern for whatever anyone else thought of his abilities.
As I walked on, I was struck by how he was practicing in public, allowing himself to be seen before it was perfect, before he was certain the applause would come.
This got me thinking about the skills we coach and train. We know the skills are good and will ultimately be of benefit, but they must be practiced and assimilated. The learner must have opportunities to try them out, mess up, make adjustments.
What often gets in the way of this process is fear. Fear makes us think that remaining in our current state keeps us safe, impervious to any low notes. In actuality, it keeps us from experiencing the entire symphony. We long for the anonymity of the dark when we are new, but what we really need is to be in the light.
This is the great divide and one that will separate good from great. If one can’t get past the fear of performing in public before they have mastery, they can never play the set by heart.
So, what can we do to make practicing in public less scary?
1. Endeavor to always be learning. The more we become comfortable with trying new things, the less fearful we will be.
2. Let people know you are practicing some new skills. If you have ever encountered the customer service associate with the “I’m new” button or the car labeled “Student Driver,” you know that desire to help them out. It seems to be nearly universal to have more patience when you know someone is out there, without a net. Use this to your advantage and let people know so they can support you and cheer you on. Something as simple as, “I am practicing a new coaching technique so I can enhance my effectiveness in our communication” lets them know you are earnestly trying to develop yourself and your relationships (which is a complete win-win).
3. Remember that repetition brings competence, so the more we do something, the better (and faster) we will get.
4. Be unfailingly patient with yourself during moments where you are at your growth edge. You are going to get this! And soon enough, you won’t remember being anything but great.
Without doubt, it can be scary to put yourself out there, trying things, unsure if anyone will clap or not. The alternative is to remain stagnant, never knowing what more you could do or be, unable to grab hold of tools, skills or growth that could make your life better.
So, what happens next? Will the young man become a great trombone player or not?
While I can’t say for sure, I know his bravery alone makes him a star.
I for one, can give that a standing ovation.