You like me! You authentically like me!

When Sally Field accepted the Academy Award for Best Actress for the movie Places in the Heart, she made a speech that has been misquoted as “You like me! You really like me!” Her actual speech was “I haven’t had an orthodox career, and I’ve wanted more than anything to have your respect. The first time [she won the award, for Norma Rae] I didn’t feel it, but this time I feel it — and I can’t deny the fact that you like me, right now, you like me.”

As a performer, needing to be liked often comes off as needy, as if you aren’t performing to tell the truth and to be authentic, but out of a desire to be popular. If you audition with that mindset or with the mindset of “I really need this job,” it’s often seen as desperate and inauthentic.

When I was living in Milwaukee, I didn’t feel as though I was liked. And it wasn’t just the last time I was living there. It was growing up there as well. I haven’t had that feeling living on the East Coast. And I think I know why. I think I was raised with the idea that other people’s opinions of me were paramount and that I needed to make myself likeable. And I never felt that I knew how to do that.

The last few auditions I did in Milwaukee played against that idea – I went in with a self-protective and closed-off mindset of “I don’t care if you like me. I don’t care if you hire me. You probably aren’t going to anyway. I’m just going to sing these songs. Bite me if you don’t like me.” (That last part might be a bit extreme.) And it backfired. I came off as uninvested in my music. I didn’t enjoy the audition and I didn’t get hired. It became a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Yesterday I read a blogpost by Noe Kagayama, who writes the blog The Bulletproof Musician (to which I subscribe). This article was about assuming that people like you from the get-go. Not that you have to make them like you, but that they already do.

Basically, it talked about everything that I’ve done wrong in my life – that research has shown that self-protective behaviors like impersonality or hiding your true feelings negatively impact people’s perception of you. It might seem like this study was conducted by Captain Obvious himself, but to those of us who were raised with the idea that people wouldn’t like us if we were too silly, too honest, too real, it’s eye-opening.

(Interestingly enough, I never felt that way in my Milwaukee studio – only in performing circles and in my life. I think I already assumed my students would like me. Huh.)

Kagayama closes his article with the conclusion that entering a new situation (whether it be teaching or performing) with the idea that the students/audience/colleagues already like us is paramount to creating an environment that is authentic, focused, and conducive to creating music.

“Otherwise, we risk going into a situation determined to prove ourselves, and come across as defensive, stubborn, and snobbish. Or in an effort to avoid showing our cards and letting on how excited we are, end up seeming withdrawn, cold, aloof, and standoffish. And ironically, end up getting exactly the result that we were afraid of in the first place.” [Emphasis mine]

I’m tired of that result – and I’ve only had it once since I’ve been back here, and it involved a situation where I was upset and afraid to make my feelings known. And it won’t happen again. 

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