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Change Your Mindset and Become an Expert Performer

February 11, 2011

While I was in graduate school, I studied voice with a master voice teacher named John VanCura. He helped his students to perform in extraordinary ways by turning seemingly ordinary voices into budding opera singers. John told me that I could have a career in opera singing, a thought which thrilled and scared me. Even though I wasn’t a music graduate student, I sang major roles at the University of Iowa in front of thousands of people. I seriously thought about a career but as I sang more, I discovered something fundamental about myself, something that I was unable to label until now. When it comes to singing, I had what Carol Dweck in her book Mindset: The New Psychology of Success calls a fixed mindset. I feared feedback and criticism that it would somehow diminish me as a person. It’s easier not to work hard and say “I could have been” instead of working really hard and say “I failed”. Yet, counter to what we might think it is the latter that almost guarantees success.

Instead of a fixed mindset, every one of the hundreds of expert performers I have interviewed has a growth mindset and craves learning, feedback and the chance to improve. They hunger for the opportunity to make mistakes so that they can learn and grow their skills. They want feedback and interestingly are never diminished by criticism which instead sparks their desire to improve and work harder. The singers I sang with who were successful (several of John VanCura’s students have major opera careers) studied for hours honing their technique, memorizing librettos, and learning new languages.

So, how do you become an expert performer in any field? First and foremost: practice, practice, practice! And practice under the eyes of master teachers, critics, and those who will push you to higher levels. Open yourself up to feedback knowing that as you take chances, you grow your capabilities and your expertise.