Back to School: Dealing with Competition, Jealousy, and Self-Confidence

Now that you’re back to school (ugh) your All State practice and preparation has undoubtedly taken a turn. Your schedule is different, you are also in a different place with your music. Hopefully, your notes and rhythms are all learned, your language and diction is progressing, and you’re starting to really make music.

But it’s not just your schedule and your music that feels funny…now that you’re back with your classmates and friends, some of the emotions and group dynamic may have also changed.

I teach  a lot of students, so I inevitably have students who are competing against each other. This year, I have two who both made All State last year and are duking it out once again. When asking one of the students what her major goal was this year, she said “Well, I’d like to get First Chair…and I’d also like to beat (other student)!!!” When I told Austin, he said “Wow, they really said that to you? They know you teach them, too, right?” And I replied: “Oh yeah, and I am totally cool with a little bit of competition as a motivator!”

Is competition healthy?

All of my students who have made All State have been not only extremely talented and hard working, but also fierce competitors. That doesn’t mean that they create tension and competition where there aught not to be any, but that they are constantly hoping and wishing for success, even if the only competition they have is themselves!

Once you reach the top, say, 1st chair all the way through, what else can be your motivation? You probably wouldn’t have gotten there if you weren’t already intensely critical of yourself, so after getting straight through, you’ve gotta dig deep to compete with yourself.

So, yes, competition is very healthy and I do encourage it…but mostly only when you’re focused on beating yourself and not others. The students I described earlier are friendly, they know each other and, luckily, attend different schools. And as former All Staters, they already have a healthy dose of self confidence that the other person can’t exactly rattle to the core.

What about jealousy?

If you’ve ever felt like competition is getting unhealthy, maybe your own sense of competition, maybe the competitiveness of those around you, then you should examine if competition has turned to jealousy.

What’s the difference? Competition can be measurable, fruitful, and motivating.  Like it or not, All State is a competitive process, there is no denying it. People are ranked, eliminated if they are not at their best, and rewarded if they are (or sometimes not.) If you are looking for a less competitive environment, Solo and Ensemble to some extent is less so. There are scores, sure, and even eliminations and rewards if you’re thinking about TSSEC, but there is room for more than one person to get top marks and everyone has the opportunity to receive them. To some extent, it is even made less cutthroat by the fact that everyone has the opportunity to select a song that shows them off, as opposed to being bound to the music selection of that year, like with All State Choir.

Jealousy has no real benefit, unless you can convert it into something useful…maybe you realize you’re experiencing jealousy and you decide to work harder. Maybe you’re jealous of someone who is so fabulously talented that what you need is humility and acceptance of where you are in your own progress.

But what if you are not the one who is jealous, but one who is on the receiving end of jealousy? There is really no better advice than what your mother has already told you:

Jealousy says nothing about you and everything about the person who is jealous. The best thing you can do is be kind and humble but ignore it.

I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve had a student come in to their lesson and complain about how “stuck up” an All Stater is. How they “think they’re better than everyone else” or the like. I’m a straight shooter, so often I’ll ask them if maybe they aren’t a little bit jealous. Normally, they’ll come clean and admit that they are.

Let’s flip the script. Imagine you make All State as a Freshman. People around you might think that you are over the moon, feeling invincible…and you probably are! But teenagers don’t stop there….they will also feel an immense amount of pressure the next year to do it again, and bigger and better.

The slate is wiped clean every year, so while experience is valuable, nobody gets an automatic boost from having made All State before. You don’t feel invincible when you go back to summer camp, you’re still checking over your shoulder, listening to the people around, and wondering who is going to beat you this year. Yet the haters are still thinking that YOU THINK your stuff doesn’t smell.

Listen, haters. You know what you should be doing? Practicing. You should be sitting next to the All Staters and listening to what they do. You should be asking them to help you practice and watching their every move. YOU are welcome to be the person who beats them, but you won’t do it by sitting back with some tea.

All Staters, you need to eat some humble pie, too. I know, it is very likely that you DON’T go around bragging, or maybe you do a little. It’s okay to talk about All State, it’s okay to wear that letter jacket and big ol’ patch (when it’s cold) because you earned it and nobody can tell you that was easy. But you’ve made the choir, so now your job is to bring other people up to your level and show them the way. Get off your phone during rehearsal, you aren’t too good for this. Be the BEST choir member at your high school, as well as the best All Stater.

In closing, I’ll say this, because I think it’s the same attitude students need to have. Some of my students have asked me “Why do you write that blog? Why are you giving away the secrets only your students are supposed to know? You’re helping our competitors!” And I respond “Because you need to work for and earn what you get.” I don’t want the All State choir to be MY best students, I want it to be THE best students. So when you make it, you’re surrounded by the best and have an amazing experience.

So stay humble, stay hungry, and go practice!

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