Wednesday, April 7, 2021

Confident Humility, Humble Confidence

I had the good fortune to once again have the great jazz drummer Herlin Riley as a teacher on Zoom, this time with my school’s 8thgrade. After giving us some drum exercises using butter knives, an innovative technique his grandfather used with him, he walked us through the history of the drum set and then took questions from the kids. One of them was something like: “What do you need to be a great musician?” And instead of the expected answer about practice or talent, he said something like this:

“Two things. Confidence and humility. You need the confidence to step up to your promise, answer the call of your talent, put yourself out in front of people never quite knowing what will happen because jazz is the music of the moment, not something you just practice, perfect and show off. Yes, you must practice and prepare, but on the bandstand, you bring your whole self to the music with confidence that you’ll know that to play when the moment arrives, that you’ll listen and respond to the other musicians and let the music take you where it wants to go. That’s a little scary—especially in front of an audience⁄- but that’s where the magic lies. And you need an unwavering confidence that yes, you can do it. And then you need the humility to understand how little you know and how much more work you can—and should—do and how much more there is yet to learn.  

But you have to be careful. The wrong kind of confidence is arrogance, is the ego wanting applause and attention. And the wrong kind of humility is just low self-esteem. So I guess you can say you need a confident humility and a humble confidence.

Bam!!! How many times have people read my confidence in giving workshops or speaking about something I’ve spent countless hours reading about, writing about, thinking about, as some macho male overconfidence. And yes, occasionally they may have been right, but often not, just threatened by their own unwillingness to own their own promise.

And how many times have folks praised someone wanting to deflect attention from themselves as a genuine humility when it fact it is their refusal to step up, a false kind of “I’m not worthy” that makes others feel comfortable because they doubt their own worth. 

It’s a thorny, twisted road walking the true path through the two (apparent) extremes. Good luck on your travels! 

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