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The Joy of Mistakes

April 1, 2012

Jonah Lehrer, the author of the new, critically-acclaimed book ‘Imagine: How Creativity Works’ on creativity, neuroscience, and anything and everything interesting in between has been making the rounds promoting and marketing and was on ‘Fresh Air’ about a week ago. Aside from other things, some of which I touched on in an earlier post, I remembered and liked something he said about the Yo Yo to the Ma, Julia Child, and mistakes. Lehrer recalls hearing about Yo Yo tell a story about one of the many beautiful things about the late, great Julia Child. While taping, on-air, Julia dropped a piece of chicken, or whatever it was, and calmly picked it up and continued without any semblance of embarrassment, change in demeanor, or subtle self-conscious behavior. I wonder if self-consciousness, especially related to fear of failing, making mistakes, etc., and the subsequent type and degree of scorn/shame/embarrassment has increased in the ‘everything-is-recorded-and-uploaded-to-the-world-in-seconds’ world that we live in now. These are some things I want to delve into more at some point, as well as the different levels of self-consciousness; societal/cultural (and among/between different societies and cultures), racial/ethnic (and among/between, etc.), age dependent, income dependent, and just plain ole personal, identity self-consciousness, in all it’s wonderous shapes and sizes. Back to Julia’s “well I don’t give a f*ck” mentality. So, Yo Yo uses that as an example to illuminate how he deals with performance pressure/nerves/anxiety along with playing up to his potential, finding his best ‘stuff’, and how a mistake actually increases the quality of his artistry (but applicable to anything, e.g., accounting). His point is especially prescient in the context of a performance — from a practice/jam session to Lincoln Center — and the hidden, counter-intuitive beauty of mistakes. Playing with a certain fear of making the most minute of mistakes, even if no one else in the building notice, including other bandmembers/members of the orchestra, can be a debilitating force on the sum all of the performance. Taken further, life itself is a certain kind and shade of ‘performance’ and the analogous ideas play the same roles albeit in a different context. It can debilitate a/o stifle OR, if you follow the lead of a one Julia Child, it can unleash the beast. Pressure can break pipes or create diamonds people, so sac-your-sac-up, and do that thing. Yo Yo actually felt an incredible relief after his first mistake, relief from an overwhelming external (e.g., playing on the most global of stages, on the Inauguration of President Obama), and self-made pressure as the best musicical artist on the planet, etc., the list of pressure sources for Yo Yo could go on ad infinitum. After the first mistake, the nervous energy can be harnessed to push the limits and boundaries of artistic creation and license, whether a set piece, or a piece spliced with bits of spontaneity and ad lib free form. Under the constraining fear of failure, the spirit is cautious, extinguished, and doubtful; when mistakes aren’t a punishment, confidence, vigor, and creativity abound. One problem is a semantic one: the terms ‘mistake,’ ‘failure,’ and ‘imperfect,’ tend to be things people are acculturated by society to reap purely negative attention, connected to expected shame, scorn, and embarrassment. So it almost behooves one to make a mistake, or more accurate: to play (or perform whatever activity, personally or professionally) without fearing mistakes, the meaning society usually assigns to ‘mistakes.’ Better yet, attack the activity the best you can at all times, confident, robust, and imaginative. That is truly success.


From → Creativity

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