SELF-COMPASSION: what gets in the way of it and why you need it to be creative

Confession time: I’m a recovering perfectionist.

Please tell me I’m not alone. Let’s compare notes…here’s what happens when I “practice the art of perfectionism.”

I go through an entire Sunday morning of service playing and recount all the mistakes I made and determine how bad they were and why they were made.

I graciously accept praise from others and say thank you and in my mind I’m thinking “if they only knew how pathetic I really am, I missed this note and….!”

Even if my students practice, they rarely play it the way I would have hoped upon returning to lessons. I often wonder what I’m doing wrong and how can I build stronger players. What do other teachers think when they hear my students?

I’ve gotten over getting majorly distracted by a sour note when improvising but when one rears its ugly head, it still stings my ego for at least 10-30 seconds, well maybe minutes.

At times, my group lesson plans completely tank. I lose sleep rewinding the film in my head and analyzing what went wrong and what I could have done better.

After publishing a fresh post or newsletter, more often than not, there’s a broken link or a mis-spelling and it drives me BANANAS. I feel like a complete ding-dong and assume everyone is feeling the same way about me, too.

I tend NOT to speak up when I should as it seems safer to say nothing and have everyone “like me” rather than be confrontational.

When preparing videos for my arrangements or resources for the blog, it requires countless takes as things are never quite right–the angle, the hair, the stumbles. When I get brave enough to hold a Facebook live stream in which I can’t rewind and try again, the perfectionism is stifling before, during and after.

OK, there you have it. The ugly truth.

Care to share? I’m all ears and I feel your pain and your shame!

Now that I’ve laid it all out there for you, did it make you feel any better?  Misery loves company, right?

The good news?

There are remedies for peeps who suffer from perfectionism. You’ll discover them in Dr. Brene’ Brown’s #1 New York Times Best Seller: The Gift of Imperfection.

We need to talk!

What I like about Brown’s work is that she’s honest about her experiences. She shares her own frustration with being imperfect while explaining what she’s discovered after decades of doctoral research. Her analysis found three specific things that get in the way of self-compassion:

  • Shame
  • Fear
  • Vulnerability.

And these things that are so problematic are the very things we’d rather not talk about!

“We are full of so much anxiety and self-doubt that we can’t act on [talk about] what we know is best for us.”

In a nutshell, Brown’s book is a guide for wholehearted living which from her countless interviews with real human being boils down to two things: resilience and authenticity.

Here’s just a few of the chapter tags which give you an idea of what wholehearted living looks like:

  • Letting go of the need for certainty
  • Letting go of comparison
  • Letting go of exhaustion as a status symbol and productivity as self-worth.

Making an effort to let go of these three things could make all the difference for you this year!

To be honest, I’m not usually into self-help books. I JUST stumbled onto Dr. Brown’s TED talks thanks to a podcast and then found The Gifts of Imperfection collecting dust on my shelves! But, this book hits close to home on many levels for musicians and teachers. I just had to share!

I’ve just scraped the surface of Brown’s insights and I’d rather not spoil the book for you. Go get it now and I hope you’ll join me in making it a compass for 2019. Here’s my affiliated Amazon link to the book.

Here’s to a good dose of self-compassion in 2019!

Why bring this up now?

Let’s face it. Being a classically trained pianist is synonymous to perfectionism. I’ve got no proof of this other than what I’ve experienced in my own life and what I’ve witnessed in many fellow teachers and pianists. This perfectionism holds us back from becoming the creative, imaginative souls that we long to be.

We beat ourselves up when we play a wrong note and chide our students for playing incorrect rhythms. We’re so hard-wired to stay on the page that self-loathing is practiced far more than self-compassion. No wonder why it’s so scary for us to step away from the score–it’s scary!

Years ago, I struck up a friendship with Bradley Sowash. Looking back, I know one of the reasons why: I was tired of trying to be perfect and wanted to find my own voice at the keys and help my students do the same.

Since we met, Bradley and I have teamed up to develop creative pianist tracks at MTNA and NCKP and now we offer our own workshops and webinars at 88 Creative Keys.

It’s our way of nurturing authentic, resilient pianists who are overcoming perfectionism. We joined forces to encourage pianists who want to play on and off the page with–you guessed it–self-compassion!

It’s time to hang up perfectionism and take some risks!

So, please accept our invitation to hang with the 88 Creative Keys crowd.  You’ll find like-minded teachers and pianists who want to play the music and not just the page, who want to enjoy the groove instead of just reading the right rhythms.

Here’s what we’ll be offering in 2019:

January 2019 Webinar: Piano Teacher Hotline

There’s lots of advice for piano teachers out there. But, is it the advice that you are looking for?

Wouldn’t it be nice if your specific questions could be answered personally by experts?

That’s what our Piano Teachers Hotline free webinar is all about.

Experts Bradley Sowash and Forrest Kinney (and yours truly) will be “on call” to answer your specific questions about improvisation.

Submit your question in writing HERE before January 15, 2019.

By the way, there is never a “silly” or a “dumb” question!

If you forget to submit a question, we’re saving a little time for questions during the webinar, too.

Even if you don’t have any burning questions about improvisation, sign up and walk with us on the journey towards creative freedom. You’re bound to learn something new, be validated in what you are doing already, and get a chance to hang with like-minded teachers.

Learn more and register here.

February 2019 Webinar: How to Prep Pianists for the Worship Team 

I work directly with and for Drew Collins every Sunday and I can’t wait to share what we’ve been up to and how we work together. Mmm…I’m not sure if I would even call it work as we have so much fun making music together!

Check out this clip of how some fresh chords, a piano and guitar transformed this ancient tune to the 21st-century.

Registration opens soon.

April 2019 Webinar: 50 Ways to Make a Melody

More details to come but the title speaks for itself. This will be ground-breaking!

Registration opens soon.


July 2019 Workshop in Denver: Think Backwards to Move Forwards

Bradley and I teamed up with Forrest Kinney back in 2014 and 2015 and were back and I couldn’t be more humbled and excited. These gurus are IT when it comes to creativity at the keys!

Take a look at the schedule here and then save your spot now and grab the 2018 prices before they go up, January 23, 2019.

Learn more and register here.

BTW…If you send in a question for our January webinar (see above), you’ll receive a discount code for $25 off when you register for the 88 Creative Keys 2019 Summer Workshop.

Please keep in mind (I’m feeling insecure right now!) that this post followed up by an invitation to participate in 88 Creative Keys events is genuine and not just a way to get your attention. I’m passionate that you find the self-compassion you need to release your inhibitions and basque in the freedom of creativity!

Comments are always welcome. I’m curious to hear how you plan to add more self-compassion in your life in 2019!


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Leila Viss

Creative Pianist, Piano Teacher, Organist, Blogger and Author of The iPad Piano Studio

14 CommentsLeave a comment

  • Leila:

    This is one of the first posts I’ve read through and BAM! It is full of what I LOVE to hear! I wonder if this post is making you more anxious than others, because it is dealing with the heart? I LOVE Brene Brown’s work. Both the book you mentioned and “Daring Greatly”, “Braving the Wilderness” and “Rising Strong” were my soul companions during a super trying time and beyond. I actually got to meet her last year and hoped not to make a fool of myself, as I had felt so familiar with her, yet I was a total stranger.
    I am SO proud of you for posting this. Imperfection is scary in a culture of heirarchical/conditional worth. You are an incredible teacher with a gift that longs to be unleashed! I cannot WAIT to hear more about your journey and the evolution of your teaching and composing.

    • Aww…thanks, Annemarie! I appreciate your kind words AND I remember you specifically mentioning Brown to me and then I listened to a podcast interview with her and now I know why you’re so crazy about her! I do hope I can hear her in person at some point. In the meantime, I’ll keep reading her books! Take care and miss seeing you all!

  • Thank you Leila! I read this book years ago and it changed EVERYTHING for me. Also, the fundamental shift came when I read William Westney’s The Perfect Wrong Note. Music is now PLAY for me and I try to make it that way for my students. xo

    • Yep, I’m slow at catching on but it’s never too late to celebrate good advice like Brene Brown’s! Yes, Westney’s book is life changing. Have you seen one of his unmaster classes? Brilliant! Thanks for sharing…

  • Leila
    So well said. Authenticity is the way to live. I’ve known you for a very long time through a lot of stages of life and I really didn’t know this about you. And so, thank you for letting me, us, in on the parts that are easier to keep to yourself, but so relatable. My struggles are not the same, but I struggle and see how sharing those brings us in toward one another, not away from one another. Blessings and peace as you release what isn’t needed to Live Wide Awake inside and out!

    • Really? I figured you knew that most of the time, things are NOT the way I’d like them 🙂 Thanks SO much for you kinds words. Coming from someone who writes and speaks a lot about transparency, your comments mean the world to me. Hugs!

  • Hi Leila, Thank you for sharing this post! I haven’t read the book but I’m going to. I’m a perfectionist who isn’t recovering yet but I need to! Classical musicians are trained to be perfectionists to the extreme. But you know, those little mistakes on posts or on a webinar aren’t worth being upset about. I caught one you made on a webinar and it made me think that hey, I’m not the only one who makes mistakes! Leila made a mistake and she still gave a great presentation and I learned a lot! It made me realize we are all human and we mess up sometimes. That little mistake didn’t matter, I can’t even remember what it was now. But it wasn’t a big deal! I CAN remember all those great things I learned and promptly put to use in my studio. So thanks for the great website, blogs and webinars, mistakes included. We learn from those mistakes that we are all human and that if a professional like Leila can make mistakes and still do a great job we can too.

    • Well, now I really want to know the mistake I made 🙂 I’ll try to forgive myself and in the meantime I’m SO pleased to hear that my imperfections can be inspirational and that you learn from and in spite of them, Rachel. I appreciate your honesty and your support!

      • I can’t remember exactly what the mistake was, maybe you just weren’t saying it in the way you wanted to. I just remember you stopped right in the middle of what you were saying and resaid it a little differently. Love your blogs, website and webinars! They’re great!

        • OH funny, I didn’t really mean you had to remember mistake but I’d love to go back and fix it! 🙂 Thanks so much for all your support and your thoughts and happy teaching!

  • Well here I am again learning that I’m not the only one that isn’t perfect or who does not produce perfect performers! Producing perfect performers who play perfect performances means that I am a perfect piano teacher……right? Is that my goal?

    When I put together the ebooks, I included all the perfect and not so perfect performances. I was thinking to myself that it was not a very good reflection on my teaching.

    But decided in the end that this was the reality………….imperfection.
    It’s all part of learning. Hopefully the focus would be on the joy of the process which was openly expressed by my student .

    That concept of not expecting perfection is liberating! Both for teacher and student.

    • YES! Liberating is the PERFECT term for imperfection! Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts and not holding back. It’s not easy to do in this world of piano teaching. I can’t wait to share what your doing for your students 🙂

  • I’ve read Daring Greatly and Braving the Wilderness has been on my to-read list for a while now – I really like Brene’s work and need to dig into it more! I love self-help books though. 🙂

    Also – you are SO not alone. Posting on the internet as a fairly sensitive person is a real challenge – harsh criticism tends to stick to me like a nasty barb, no matter how many positive comments I receive (and there are always more of those). I wish I was immune to this, I wish I had thicker skin! But then, maybe the thin skin is a little bit of a gift too, as I feel it’s all tied up into my artist’s identity.

    Authenticity is a way better goal than being liked anyway. 🙂

    • Thanks for your thoughts and I guess I’ve been hiding under a rock! I need to read the rest of Brene’s books ASAP! Yes, sensitivity has its benefits–stick with it and be authentic! 🙂

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