Have you ever wished you could be someone else?

Someone for whom a particular skill or quality just seemed so easy, whether it was their warmth and positive energy, insightful and keen wit, or freewheeling dance moves?

Meanwhile we bemoan our inner Eeyore  and cringe at past memories of uncomfortable attempts at humor  and awkwardness on the dance floor  and wallow in a downward spiral of self-doubt and discouragement.

How do we navigate around this tendency to underestimate ourselves and overestimate everyone else?

Art and self-worth

As artists, we spend a large portion of our lives honing our craft. With so much time and energy invested in the very personal creation of our art, naturally, it begins to seep into our identity and becomes a big part of how we define and value ourselves.

So when our work is rejected, it is difficult not to feel that it is a rejection of us. Of the very core of who we are – and our worth as people.

For us to pour our heart and soul into something and have the world say that it’s not worth much?


It can make us afraid to try again. Afraid to be so personal and share so much of who we are in our next creative effort.

Over time, it can be tempting to close ourselves off a bit, to be safe and aim for the middle, shield ourselves from rejection and put a little less us in what we offer up to the world.

The problem of course, is that this sort of works. At least in the sense that the world is less likely to point a finger at us and call us out. But not because we’ve made something great, but because we’ve blended in, and the world doesn’t really see us anymore.

But then we run across an artist who courageously puts themself out into the world, and we realize how deeply we want this as well. To have the courage to be ourselves, no matter what the world might think. That this is art-making.

As David Bayles and Ted Orland say in Art & Fear, “To the critic, art is a noun. To the artist, art is a verb.”

Alter egos

What would be possible for you to create, if you let go of yourself for a moment, with all your perceived limitations, baggage, and concerns about what others might think?

This is easier said than done, of course.

But then I saw a TED talk by artist Shea Hembrey, which is hilarious, and might just be totally brilliant. Take a look:

In much the same way that it’s easier to develop new positive habits than it is to erase old unproductive habit, what if, like Hembrey, we created an alter ego for ourselves? Complete with name, backstory, and mission in life?

What kind of music would that person produce? How would that person play? What kind of music would that person program? How would that person carry themselves?

Would this be freeing, even for a moment, giving us a glimpse of our potential lying just beneath the fear?


Maybe this last bit is a stretch, but online community company Disqus has found that users who utilize pseudonyms (i.e. adopted identities like BurntToast or MonkeyBiz) contribute more and higher-quality comments online than those who reveal their actual names, and those who choose to remain anonymous. Perhaps there is something about taking on a different identity which allows us to reveal a different side of us without fear of rejection…

Take action

How would you implement this into your own music-making?

I’m curious – are there composers out there who have tried something like this?

photo credit: Innocent Coppieters via photopin cc

About Noa Kageyama, Ph.D.

Performance psychologist and Juilliard alumnus & faculty member Noa Kageyama teaches musicians how to beat performance anxiety and play their best under pressure through live classes, coachings, and an online home-study course. Based in NYC, he is married to a terrific pianist, has two hilarious kids, and is a wee bit obsessed with technology and all things Apple.

After Countless Hours of Practice, Why Are Performances Still so Hit or Miss?

It’s not a talent issue. And that rush of adrenaline and emotional roller coaster you experience before performances is totally normal too.

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