When I toured with The Phantom of the Opera, the actress who played Madame Giry (Patti Davidson Gorbea) said something simple that really stuck with me.
She said, “There is no such thing as a perfect performance. You are always going to make mistakes.”
The reason it stuck with me was because Patti always seemed to deliver a flawless performance. She was always centered, focused, and present. She gave the same excellent, consistent performance eight shows a week, and I think she only missed a performance when she was on vacation.
I have been telling my clients lately, “We are together for one hour today, so you are going to make at least sixty mistakes. At least.”
When we frame mistakes as an opportunities to grow, to break though barriers, and learn, then a really powerful kind of grace enters the teaching studio.
I still fall prey to the taking-the-SAT mentality when I got to a coaching or perform. Something in me wants to get every answer correct and achieve a perfect score. I believe that would be my ego. No bueno.
This really came home to me a couple of months ago when I was performing in a production of Chess, the awesome 80’s musical written by the guys from ABBA. I had major phlegm issues one day, and my ego was chattering at me thusly: “You need to be awesome. These people need to hear how awesome your voice is. You can’t mess up. You have to be as good as you were at the last performance. People need to know how great you are.”
It’s an ego, y’all, I didn’t say it was pretty.
Act One went just fine. I made it through, but I was tight and hyper-vigilant of my technique. At intermission, I said to myself, “Self, what is the worst thing that can happen?….A big ole snot wad gets lodged in my vocal folds and I make a sound akin to Tibetan throat singing meets Chewbacca.” Okay, not the end of the world.
Act Two went much better. I was able to be present on stage, listen to my fellow actors, and have actual emotional, soul, spiritual connection to the material and the audience. Oddly enough, my technique was also much more effortless.
This applies to our teaching.
We have to give our students the freedom and encouragement to boldly make mistakes. We are their safety net, not their judge. We need to encourage them to make mistakes so that we can help them from that point. If we don’t have that raw material, then we don’t have anything to shape as teachers. Their mistakes give us something to do!
When we really embrace that we are frail, broke-down, messes of human beings, then that kind of honesty opens us up to be a channel for real love and truth. From my point of view, I believe that embracing our own inability, weakness, and imperfection allows God’s perfection to flow through. When we are pretending to be perfect, we block that, and we are essentially lying because everyone (our friends, family, students, audiences, and selves) knows better.
One of my main goals as a teacher is to encourage my clients to give themselves permission to make mistakes with abandon. Then they can find better ways. If we freeze in fear of failure, then we just stay stuck, and we are closed to any new information.
Let’s be real for our students, our audiences, and ourselves.