The following is adapted from a scholarship essay I wrote on the prompt of “What are you average at and how does the Lake Wobegon Effect (a natural tendency to overestimate one’s capabilities and see oneself as better than others. Research psychologists refer to this tendency as self-enhancement bias and have found evidence for its existence in many domains) affect that?”
It was weird to write this, but also enlightening. 🙂
I come from a musical family.
My dad played french horn and trumpet in marching band, but also plays piano and guitar, and, thanks to Amazon having a deal on them, ukulele. He taught my mom to play the drums a little when she was pregnant with me, and that’s my theory of where I got my passion for proper rhythm. Mom was never classically trained outside of playing clarinet in high school, but she has a great ear for right and wrong, so she’s helped me train my voice. My stepdad is a complete music nerd and we own way too many guitars and mandolins and octave mandolins everything inbetween. I took piano lessons for five years and played percussion in a Christian homeschool concert band for the past two years. All my sisters and I also sing in the same organization’s choir.
All of this to say, music is a huge part of my life.
So, understandably, most people tell me that I’m good at music. But I’m scared to believe them because I don’t want to be wrong. What if they’re just being nice? I’m afraid of having this false idea that I’m quite good when I’m really not, because that would be obnoxious to other people who actually are good. I’m so scared of the Lake Wobegon Effect that I overcompensate by telling myself I’m average, if not slightly below.
To help keep myself in this “humility,” I hold myself to impossible standards and compare my skills to others’ around me. The internet gives me an infinite amount of people to compare myself to, but I’m also surrounded by very talented people. I feel like if I can’t play guitar effortlessly like my stepdad, piano delicately and powerfully like my dad, drums and mallets perfectly and confidently like our band’s first-chair percussionist, or sing accurately and melodiously like the competitors on The Voice, why am I even advertising myself as a musician? There are so many people better than me!
I don’t want people to think that I think I’m as good as those incredibly-talented stars.
But then I run into people who are amazed that I noticed that a song on the radio is in ¾ time. Since I think I’m average, I’m shocked at their lack of knowledge. Instead of understanding that not everybody understands what I do, my first mental reaction is that they must be unusually uneducated. Which. Is. Not. True. Instead of having a realistic appreciation for how much I actually know, I grade people on a curve, putting myself as something like the 67th percentile. This makes people seem much less savvy than they are, since I really do know a lot about music theory.
Every time I do well in an audition, I assume that it was just easy, or that the judges don’t have very high standards. I’ve chained myself to this idea that I am unable to do hard things, that I am relatively unskilled, and that anyone could do what I do. That there’s nothing special about me or my abilities. I hear the people complimenting me, but I also hear them complimenting other people who may or may not have done well. The insecurities rise!
But this attitude ignores my own hard work and the hours I spent crying at the piano when I was eight years old because I couldn’t figure out Three Blind Mice by ear. It ignores the afternoons I spent playing the guitar and refining my strumming pattern even though my fingers were turning blue. It ignores the moments when I’m in a room with a piano and feel my soul being drawn to it inexplicably. I have a connection with and passion for music that I can’t ignore, lest I go crazy.
If I ignore the power and beauty of the music I love, I will never be able to take advantage of all I can do with it in God’s service.
And to tell myself these lies, that what I do isn’t special, isn’t good, or isn’t worthwhile, is to discredit God’s work in my life. He is the one who gave me my passion for music. He is the one who inspires me to bless people with my music and singing. If He’s calling me to devote a bigger part of my time to getting better at some instrument, and I just point at someone else who’s better, then I’m no different than Moses reminding God that Aaron was a better speaker. I’ve always yelled at Moses to man up and trust God. If He calls you, He knows you can do it! It’s through His power anyway, dummy! Well, I guess I need to take my own advice.
There’s always going to be someone better, who is legitimately good (in my estimation) at what they do, but that doesn’t mean I should stop trying to get better. The idea of minoring in Music isn’t out of the picture just because someone else is way more talented than I am. If I can bless someone with my music (which, praise God, I’ve already been able to do), then it’s all worth it! Whatever training I can get, God can use. And I trust Him on that.