Look at yourself in the mirror. What do you see? Now… what do you really see?
When was the last time you held a mirror up to your inner artist and tried to give honest answers to questions like these?
- What are my strengths?
- What are my weaknesses?
- What do I like doing?
- What do I not like doing?
- What do other people like about my art?
- What do other people not like about my art?
You can take this as far as you want to. It can be as simple as “what are my best songs / what are my worst?” or, at the opposite extreme, it can be “what do/don’t you like about me?”
Now comes the even harder part: Find a mirror. By that I mean a couple close friends. Really close friends. I don’t just mean the people you like to have a few drinks with, watch some TV, or go to an occasional sporting event with.
I mean someone you’ve known for at least half your life, someone who has stayed your friend despite the two of you having grown as artists and as human beings, someone with whom you’ve had arguments and disagreements, perhaps even temporary periods of not being on speaking terms. Someone who has stood with you in your darkest hour, and someone for whom you’ve done the same.
For the purposes of this exercise, someone other than your spouse.
Now ask those close friends to answer the same questions about you and be brutally honest. The exercise can be reciprocal (but only if the other person agrees). Make a verbal contract ahead of time that you will not be offended and that this will not hurt your friendship; in fact, if done in the right spirit, it can strengthen your friendship. But you’ll need to be prepared to hear things like “I think your songs are great, but you’re not a very good singer.”
Now on to the next part. All the self-reflection in the world isn’t much good without subsequent action. For example, “you’re not a very good singer” can lead to actions like (1) not singing, (2) teaming up with a good singer, or (3) taking voice lessons. Or “your piano instrumentals are your best work” might prompt you to start working on a new collection of piano instrumentals. But if you’ve chosen to go to a deeper level with this self-reflection exercise, then comments like “sometimes you say things that seem like gossip” might lead to a healthy habit of double-checking what you’re about to say before deciding whether to say it. Or “you have always been a faithful friend” might simply mean “keep doing that; that’s worth more than art.”