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The Story We Tell Ourselves

I have played duets with people over the years - people I haven't seen for a while, friends who are in from out of town, colleagues at school, students of mine etc....When selecting which duets we want to read and was the time I would start to think "I am a more lyrical player than a technical one" and try to select duets where I didn't have to play fast notes. I am already in panic - I wanted to sound good, to be thought of as a "good trombonist." Inevitably, we would play something with lots of moving notes - something more "technical." I took those opportunities as a moment to prove myself and my worth because the I believed I had something inherent to overcome. Throughout the experience I would be on high alert to read into every interaction with my duet partner as proof that I was in fact not a technical player. I was convincing myself that the story I told myself was the story others had about me too.


Brené Brown, a shame and vulnerability researcher writes, "The goal of the rumble is to get honest about the stories we’re making up about our struggles, to revisit, challenge, and reality-check these narratives as we dig into topics such as boundaries, shame, blame, resentment, heartbreak, generosity, and forgiveness.” (77) in her book Rising Strong.

I have heard this quote mentioned a number of times through wonderful musicians like Karen Cubides and Jeremy Wilson and every time it is mentioned I discover new questions I have for myself about my own internal story. I start to think about my students' internal stories that come out in small snippets during our time together as well. I feel passionate about this concept because I believe that people who tell themselves stories that are rooted in reality and positivity are happier and can live more freely.


But more than that, I believe that musicians can have very loaded internal narratives. We are told that we have to 'fake it until we make it' and 'live as a starving artist' before we make it big, which not only puts a lot of pressure on us to achieve a narrow definition of success but implies that we can't enjoy ourselves until we are there.


I want to give examples of some of the stories I tell myself in effort to demystify self doubt and highlight the importance of Brené Brown's "rumble".

Here are some of the stories I have told myself over the years:

- "I just can't play a double F"

- "I am just more of a lyrical player than a technical one."

- "I could never run a 5k - I am not a runner!"

- "I just grew up eating this way, so it is the way I eat."

- "I am too young to be qualified for xyz…” - "But no one else I know has ever done that how could I?"

- "Clothes will never fit me right, I just have to accept it."


I am learning that when we are confronted with scenarios where we don't have the full story, it is so much easier to fill the gaps with any "I" statement like something from the list above than assess what is truly happening in the scenario and respond accordingly.


In an effort to get the full story, I play a little game with myself. When the story I tell myself is different from reality, I have found it helpful to gently play the "why" game in order to get to the root cause behind the narrative.

When I read duets with people, thinking “I’m more of a lyrical player than a technical one” I’m limiting myself before I even start. It helps me to ask myself “why are you more of a lyrical player than a technical one?” because it stumps me. I simply don’t have an answer! I have played plenty of technical passages at a level I am proud of. Gently, I have to suggest to myself that the story I have about my technical playing is not rooted in reality, and I am in fact as strong a technical player as I am a lyrical one.

The story we tell ourselves can be limiting, and often times, they are stories we write ourselves. When I gently challenge these stories in my own life and with some of my students, it can be incredibly freeing. We get to choose our narrative rather than feel victim to the repetitive tape playing in our heads.




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