Balancing Ego With Art

So you love to sing? You feel you have something to say and want to share your voice with the world? On the journey from singing in the car, backyard, shower, school or church choir, to having that whirlwind, worldwide tour for adoring fans, your presence will grace and wreck many stages along the way. That journey will likely be a roller coaster ride of spiritual ups and downs. Your heart will get broken, bruised, and hopefully healed. Through it all your ego will be humbled and inflated until it eventually explodes via out of control tirades and tantrums if you do not learn to keep things in perspective.

The Good Doctor

Dr. Susan O’Doherty is a clinical psychologist in New York and is no stranger to helping performers, singers, writers and other artists navigate the mine field of potential pitfalls that are faced on the road to success. She understands that the road is not an easy one to run without facing enormous challenges to the ever-sensitive ego.

“Creating in any field is hard, and there’s not a lot of encouragement out there,” she said.. “Often, in order to do the work at all, we need to convince ourselves that what we’re creating is of supreme importance, not just to us, but to the world. And of course, while we’re writing, we have complete control over the material, and over the imagined responses.”

What Goes And Flows From Within

That same holds true for singers and live theatre performers. Encouragement must initially and ultimately come from within in order to run the risk of rejection that is often faced, especially when auditioning, getting an agent or manager, or seeking that first big break. Trying out new material or playing a new venue invites the ego to alternately dance on eggshells and fire as vulnerability and confidence fight for control. Putting yourself out there for the sake of the approval of others fuels the fire.

“After we’ve polished and perfected what we must believe is our masterpiece, we’re asked to jump off our pedestal and humble ourselves before mere businesspeople and technicians who lack the sensitivity or wit to appreciate our genius, and who may wish to make changes we believe would cheapen our work,”  she notes. “I think a lot of writers get lost in that gap between the egotism necessary for creative work and the humility and team mentality needed to get the work out there. It’s not an easy transition for anyone to make.”

Deliver The Message

Singers are no different in that you deliver the songwriter’s message as if it is your own. If you don’t write your own material you may also be understandably taken to task by composers, lyricists, publishers, and others who may not approve of the way their songs are presented. In a live performance the crew or band or backing vocalists may hinder or challenge your performance in some way that you feel compromises the quality of your work. But it’s not an impossible situation to work through as well as learn from and grow.

“Sometimes it’s helpful to use your writer’s (or singer’s) imagination to try to get inside the heads of the people who seem to be holding you back–unfeeling commercial people, screw-up technicians, whatever,” O’Doherty said. “What might they have been like as children? Imagine what their current lives are like when they’re not at work. Make up stories for yourself about how they got to be the way they are–what disappointments and hurts have conspired to make them so annoying and difficult; what gifts and enthusiasm they bring to their own work. What might their vision of their work be? How have your work and possibly your attitude interfered with that vision?”

Shift Focus From Self To Others

One of the keys to having a healthy ego is to become other-oriented or other-focused. In fact, that shift away from self-centeredness invites compassion, understanding, and can help you find ways to reach your audience. It helps to put things in perspective in terms of a bigger picture. Think of it this way. Your audience is collectively the person you want to please or engage or impact. Focus on being there for them and not on the audience being there for you. Think of the business people, studio and stage personnel as being there to help you make that connection with your audience, to help you be a point of light that helps to color and focus that bigger picture.

“As we make others more real to ourselves, and give their motivations and interests greater substance and weight, we shift from a narrow focus on our own needs to a broader, more compassionate one,” O’Doherty adds. “This shift can make our professional lives smoother, more successful, and more rewarding. It can also deepen our understanding of human nature, and thus our work.”

For More 411

Susan O’Doherty is a clinical psychologist who practices in Brooklyn Heights, New York. Her specialty is helping clients realize their creative potential. Her popular advice column for writers, “The Doctor is In,” appears each Friday on M. J. Rose’s publishing blog, Buzz, Balls & Hype.

CLICK HERE for more information and insight from the good doctor Sue.

Keep your ego in check as you engage your gifts for others. It is one critical key in unlocking the treasure of your singing success.