An Artist Unblocked

Confession time: I bombed an audition in November and it was the best thing that ever happened to me.  

I moved to Los Angeles last summer, and moving to a new city means growing a new network.  When you’re brand new to the scene you want to grow it quickly, which means making some big leaps out of your comfort zone.  That’s exactly what I did one day in November last year, when I arrived at a prominent musician’s house to meet him and “take a lesson”.  

Some context:  “taking a lesson” from veterans in the scene means you’re giving an informal audition.  You meet and get to know them, and if they like what they hear, they’ll refer you or hire you as a sub into whatever group or scene they’re a part of.  

I was nervous, but I had not done something like this for a while, so naturally that’s what made me nervous, right? Hm…(more on that later)

I played ok.  I showed him I was the real deal, but I wouldn’t say it was magical. We worked together, and made loose plans to be in touch and have me play for him again at some point. 

I knew it could have gone better, but I wasn’t devastated.  Afterwards, I called my partner, Bill. 

“How was it?”

“I feel alright, but I definitely didn’t play like I could have.  It kind of felt like I didn’t have control over my hands to play really sensitively, because I was anxious.”

“I see.  So you’d say your mind got in the way of you having physical control on the instrument.”

“Pretty much.”

A long pause followed. 

Bill: “Can I ask you something?”

“Go ahead.”

“Would you like me to help you with this?”

It turns out Bill had some tricks up his sleeve around performance and practice mindset – observing what goes on mentally that would enable or block you from having your ideal performance or practice session.  

It also turns out that he’s really good at teaching this.  Like, REALLY good.

So there I was, sitting in my living room with Bill, about to take a MINDSET music lesson with him. What did that mean? At this point in time, your guess would have been as good as mine.

I was weirdly nervous.  Why would I be anxious about this?

Bill first led me through a meditation.  Sitting comfortably, eyes closed, observe the breath, scan your body for any tension, notice just being in the space.  Easy enough, I’d done this before, nice and relaxing, ahhh.  

Then his next direction: “pick up your cello and do the same thing.” Ok, sure. 

I picked up the cello and closed my eyes. Breathe in. Pangs of terror and anxiety shot up my back like lightning bolts. 

What the hell? 

My breathing was shallow and strained.  I couldn’t relax.  I sat there gasping for air for a couple minutes until I had to stop and put the cello down.  I was getting emotional. 

That’s when the chasm started to open. When I really got to discover my FEAR around the instrument. 

We tried the exercise again, and this time I let myself feel what was really there.  What all the years of training, competition, auditions, juries, rejection, hustle, and financial struggle had done to my love of being an artist.  I felt the FEAR that filled the void because love was taken out. 

I was terrified of the cello.  Like, fight-or-flight, survival instinct terrified. In that moment, flinging myself off a cliff might have felt safer than letting go of this toughness that kept me from feeling vulnerable in the presence of my instrument. Shaking and sobbing, I let myself feel it, as scared as I was.

As the years of protective layers began melting away, I then experienced overwhelming grief.  I had chosen music as a child because I was an artist who wanted to express myself.  And while music had provided me with many, many extraordinary things, it had not been an outlet of my creativity.  My creative soul at this point was a dried husk.  The artist child had been locked in a closet for years, poor thing.  I missed her deeply, and was so sad I’d put her there in the first place.   

I let all these emotions wash over me.  Bill, bless him, held the space for me to process everything.  

Some time went by like this. Then, with tears still streaming down my face, I actually began to giggle.  What struck me all of a sudden felt both absurd, hilarious, and utterly freeing. 

All that had happened, the actual events that had transpired, was that I was sitting in a room with Bill with my cello.  NOTHING WAS HAPPENING TO ME.

Why was this so freakin funny? 

What I came to realize, when I saw that nothing was happening to me, was that ultimately it was my mindset that had created the perceived block in my creativity.

The perceived wall between me and my creativity was all in my head.  It didn’t exist. Just picking up the instrument and having a meltdown was enough evidence to show me that. 

Now wait Caleigh, you might say.  Didn’t you JUST cite the training, competition, hustle, etc. as having been the culprit in your creative block?    

Yes, those things certainly had an impact on me.  A lot in life impacts our mentality.  Our circumstances, society, parents, bullies, well meaning but tone-deaf mentors/friends/family members, all create an impact that can have far-reaching consequences on our psyche. 

BUT, if we can recognize that WE are the ones who feel the hurt, create and believe the stories, and live life through the lens of victimhood, we can then give ourselves the OPPORTUNITY to step out of that story and author our own futures.

Wait. Isn’t that placing the blame on yourself?? There you go, twisting my words again. 

It’s not your fault you felt or feel trapped by what’s happened to you.  It’s our basic human nature to react strongly to perceived threats. We believe VERY strongly that we’re under attack in certain situations in order to prevent ourselves from feeling that hurt, or “threat” again.

It takes true courage to face those threats.  You’re going up against your hard-wired warning signals that tell you to turn back.  It’s much, much more comfortable to live in compliance with long-held beliefs, even if they hold us back. 

But at what cost?  I buried my artist child for years.  If I hadn’t seen that, she’d still be in hiding. 

I can’t change how I lived in the past, but I can rejoice in the opportunity to be creatively free for the rest of my life. 

The result so far?  Three awesome things: 

  1. For the first time ever, I’ll be releasing my original music, starting at the end of this month.  
  2. I run an Artist’s Way group and have an awesome tribe of like-minded, curious and courageous individuals around me.
  3. I’m proud to announce that I’m a mindset and professional coach for musicians.  I help musicians break free of their blocks so they can clarify and move towards their biggest goals. 

Here’s the kicker to my story – had I not had the coaching support from Bill, I wouldn’t have been able to see the limiting belief I had around my creativity and music.  Because I was IN IT, I couldn’t SEE it.  

Remember when I assumed I was nervous because I hadn’t taken an audition in a while?  Do you see what I was REALLY nervous about?  

If I’m vulnerable in music, I will be in harm’s way.  Something dangerous will happen to me. 

As preposterous as it sounds, subconsciously I BELIEVED that.  And let me tell you, that is a LOT more intimidating than showing up to some kind stranger’s home to play music for them. 

I didn’t know it at the time, though.  It was a blindspot of mine.  I wasn’t able to see it without support.  

Are you curious yet about what blindspots are getting in your way?  I’m running a masterclass that will help you identify what’s holding you back so you can move towards more freedom and clarity in your creative dreams. 

It’s happening Saturday, May 23rd at 10am PST, and it’s absolutely free.  Sign up here,and let’s free up our lives together.

From Breakdown to Badass: A Metamorphosis

Much love,