Ask a fifth-year: This Article is Not Yet Perfect

Dear Sarah,

I’m a Conservatory student and I have my first grad school audition this weekend. I went through the whole audition process four years ago to get into Lawrence, but I feel like my performance anxiety has gotten worse while I’ve been here. I can only focus on being perfect. I feel like the only way I’ll get into the school I want to go to is to play everything perfectly. How do I be successful without going crazy?

—Nina Sayers


Dear Nina Sayers,

Slow down there, Black Swan. Perfection isn’t everything, and if that is your only goal, I guarantee that you will lose your mind. Please don’t accidentally on purpose stab that new girl from San Francisco; I promise she’s not trying to steal your solo in Act III.

As Andy Mast, the Director of Bands and Interim Director of Orchestral Activities, includes on all his syllabi here at Lawrence, “100% perfection is not possible, but 100% accountability is.” None of us will ever give a perfect performance. We will never write a perfect paper, give a perfect presentation or complete an experiment perfectly every time. As human beings, we will inevitably make some mistakes. However, your self-worth is not explicitly and intrinsically tied to your ability to produce perfection. Your ability to learn and grow from each experience is far more valuable.

For starters, focus on setting small, achievable goals. You have thirty minutes to practice before class –what can you accomplish in that amount of time? You probably won’t be able to learn five pages of new music up to a performance tempo, but you can probably learn one or two pages. You have a huge exam tomorrow morning and you opened your textbook for the first time this afternoon. Presumably you’ve been in class the last few weeks, what major concepts do you remember your professor emphasizing above others? What recurring themes tie all or most of the material together?

Secondly, focus on the learning process as opposed to only the final product. I know this is far easier written than done, especially in the case of a grad school audition where the final product is incredibly important. Look to your past—what experiences have been similar to this impending audition? Think back to your undergraduate audition, juries or recitals. What was unsuccessful about those performances and how can you make it better? The same might apply to writing a paper. Push yourself to think beyond your professor’s comments on your last paper; what do you already know to be a weak aspect of your writing? How can you make that better?

Finally, you need to recognize that there comes a time when you need to accept your current status and understand that no further improvement will be made at this time in this mindset. If you’ve played the same passage twenty times in a row and it’s still not getting better, then leave. Go take a walk around the building, work on other homework for a bit, chat with a friend or play Candy Crush on your phone. Similarly, maybe you’re working on a PowerPoint for class and have shuffled through ten different clip art photos of a fish and you still don’t like any of them. Save the file and come back to it later. Or just delete the clip art. Who uses clip art anymore anyways?

Send in your questions to and have them answered by Sarah, a double-degree student in her fifth year at LU.