I was talking to my friend Danielle Gold the other day about our lives, families, and the projects we’re working on (hers is a book on parenting that I’m certain will make a huge impact).
My current project is a book on studio recording and live performance. And this week, I’ve been writing about the origins of the value-related aspects of performance anxiety; the adverse experience that stems from one’s sense of personal worth being tied up with performing.
It is a big issue — one that I see almost every day in my practice. These men and women feel that the world and they will come to an end if they don’t deliver their speeches, songs, and monologues perfectly.
While Danielle is not a performer, I wanted her thoughts on the matter, as she is one of the most confident and grounded people I know. Whereas so many, performers and otherwise, tend to strive for external validation, Danielle’s incredible success (as both a psychotherapist and the founder of Fearless Planet), is merely the icing on the cake of an already wonderful, fulfilling, and fulfilled, life.
In Danielle’s own words:
“When I was a girl, I remember everyone around me wanting to be famous. But somehow, I never wanted that. It didn’t interest me. There didn’t seem to be much joy there. I also looked at my father, who was so intensely and single-mindedly determined to provide for and be successful in taking care of us, that he wasn’t necessarily happy either. And so I decided that my goal in life would be to be happy.
“My father also told my brothers and me to be socially active. That our lives were not our own, but rather, for the community.
“Somehow the combination of these two beliefs — one self-discovered, one given by my family — resulted in the way I viewed and still view the world: as a place in which to be happy and to make a difference.”
When I was growing up, it also seemed that everyone longed for fame, notoriety, and recognition of some sort… myself included. And it’s no surprise. There was, and still is, a cultural notion that personal worth and value are the result of one’s accomplishments. Thus, the obsession with what we should do when we grow up. Rather than who we are now, and how we would like to express ourselves in the world. As well as what we want to contribute to it.
Not many of us look at life through this lens, in either childhood or adulthood. Which is a shame, because it is only by giving that both a life, and the person living it, become truly happy and successful.
This may seem paradoxical to those unfamiliar with contribution, to those who are too focused on what they want to get from life and other people to ask what it is they have to give. The desire for fame, notoriety, and recognition, as goals required to confirm a sense of value, begins a lifetime pursuit of external validation that can never be fulfilled, leaving little time, energy, or awareness to dedicate to anything or anyone else. We shoot an arrow into the future called: “if or when… then I will be happy…” and spend our whole lives chasing the illusion, missing the present and the gift that it is.
The pursuit of true satisfaction, on the other hand, begins and ends in the present moment. When we have the self-assuredness and confidence to stand alone and be happy, regardless of circumstances, we are able to launch ourselves into the world again and again with love, creativity, clarity, and a sense of freedom. Where there is nothing to do but to contribute, and to experience the intense and very personal fulfillment that comes from doing so.
Thank you, Danielle for being an example in the world of this way of being. For reminding me and all of us to ask not what we need to get in order to validate ourselves. But rather, to remember our inherent worth and enough-ness, so that we might find the exquisite fulfillment and joy that comes from the giving of ourselves to other people and the world.
Jennifer Hamady, MA is a voice coach and counselor specializing in emotional issues that interfere with self-expression. Her first book: The Art of Singing: Discovering and Developing Your True Voice, was heralded as a breakthrough in the psychology of personal and musical performance by BackStage and Variety.