Jaclyn Steele International

The Expense of Compassion

I want to start today’s blog post with a quote, and it is this:

“Have compassion for others, but not at the expense of compassion for yourself.“ 

 Paul Gilmartin

I just finished a run, and as I sit down at my computer to write this, I feel angry all over again.

“Oh my gosh, Jaclyn. I just completely fu€ked up your entire set. Please don’t hate me,” This person said to me as the lights transitioned and we made our way off the stage. This was my second time playing at a historic and famous bar in Atlanta.  The first time, with almost the exact same lineup of bands, we sold out the entire show. 

“Again, I’m so sorry. I couldn’t hear you in the monitor.  I want to make this up to you. I just can’t believe that happened” this person said again as we made our way backstage.  I’m not using a name or gender here because I don’t want shame this person.  They simply wanted to play in my set and assist.  Their intentions were pure.  We hand’t played together before, but I sent them our set list, and as often happens in live situations, musicians sit in for with each other.  When the offer came up, I was delighted.  

Backstage, we were greeted with kind words from the other musicians playing that night, but their eyes told the real story.  My set, that I had prepared weeks for, wasn’t good. In fact, it was the worst set that I have ever played in my time as a musician.  Like everrrr.

This is where I’m going to tie the quote from the beginning of this post into my story.  I am not here to blame anyone.  I am not here to shame anyone. But here’s the deal, I know myself well enough to know that I have a history of accepting whatever behavior has been sent my way (with the exception of nuclear family members). 

I have some bad tendencies:

+ I say “don’t worry about it” when I am burning inside.

+ I apologize first when I was the one wronged. 

+ I comfort others when I need to be comforted.

+ I turn the other cheek when clearly I’m being taken advantage of.

+ I dole out compassion after compassion after compassion until there is none left for myself.

I understand that compassion isn’t a currency that runs out, but energy is… and offering compassion requires energy.  Sometimes lots of it.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for compassion when someone truly needs it.  ALL for it.  But what about the times where we dole out compassion simply because we feel bad for the other person?  Or when we extend it because we want to avoid rocking the boat?  Or pissing someone off?  Or we are fearful we will be seen as difficult?

I’ve struggled with this for YEARS because I’ve always wanted to be seen as kind.  Kindness is one of my primary values.  But women and men who are reading this, is it truly kind to extend compassion when it is essentially covering up a lie?

A lie that what happened really was wrong.  A lie that no, it really wasn’t ok.  A lie that we then play over and over and over in our minds until we can’t stand ourselves because we let it happen. again.

Is that kindness?  Is that really kindness to others?  Is that really kindness to ourselves?

No.  It’s not.  Not in my book any day of the week.  To me, kindness is lovingly speaking the truth.  It’s saying hard things because you refuse to break any more of the promises you made to yourself.

I want to be kind to this girl.  Not fake kind… truly kind.  The kind of kind that requires brave and bold decisions.

In the case of my set last week, here is my truth: I worked for weeks to prepare.  I’m not the type that shows up and crosses my fingers hoping things turn out ok.  I’m the type that stands in front of a mirror singing and playing my guitar trying to portray the emotions of a song in a way that will make each ticket price worth paying for.  I drove almost 2 hours to get to the show and drove that same way home by myself at midnight afterwards because I stayed for everyone’s set.  I work hard at my craft.  And I have every right for being angry about someone sabotaging my set.  But you know who I am most mad at?  ME.

I’m mad at myself.  You want to know why?  Because it was MY set.  My name was on the fu$%ing bill.  MY NAME.  I could’ve stopped it all and demanded this person leave the stage immediately, but I was more worried about shaming that person than shaming myself.  I extended compassion completely and without a doubt at my own expense.

Don’t get me wrong, I did ask this person to quiet down and to stop playing for several songs, but this person either didn’t hear me, or was just so nervous they couldn’t help themselves.  So, for 6 songs, one after another after another, we were off.  My usual bandmate and I were in sync, but underneath every moment it sounded like there was a completely different song being played.  Mississippi Sinner, my single on iTunes and Spotify, was so off I couldn’t even hear when the second verse came in.  I think I handled it with as much grace as one can in a situation like this – I kept a smile on my face and laughed it off and pretended I wasn’t upset – but inside I was fuming.

My whole set was off because I didn’t want to offend anyone.  I was compassionate at my own expense.  I was prepared.  I knew those songs inside and out, yet I didn’t demand this person leave the stage because I didn’t want to embarrass them when it was MY NAME on the bill and MY SET.  How insane is that?  And what does it say about MY self esteem that I allowed someone else to wreck my creation without really putting up any fuss at all?  In fact, I covered it up.  Publicly.  On stage.  With a silly comment like “You know, this is the beauty of live music.  You just never know what will happen when playing live.  Sometimes it goes off with out a hitch and at other times you stumble through a few things.”  LOL.  Not.

It’s been three full days since that night.  I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about it.  Wondering why I didn’t stop this whole thing 30 seconds into our first song…  Here is what I’ve come away with:

I was afraid to.  I didn’t want to hurt this person’s feelings.  I didn’t want them to carry shame.  I know what it’s like to carry shame and I don’t want to put that on anyone.  I also didn’t want to be seen as a bit*h.

Y’all there is this double standard.  A man can say what he needs to say and he’s a respected and considered to be a bad a$$, but when a woman stands up in strength, she is seen as a bit*h.  She is seen as difficult, as hard headed, as high maintenance (that’s probably my favorite one), or as whatever other negative connotation you want to insert next.  You’ve heard them before ladies.  Can I get an amen?

You see, I’m all for accepting responsibility, and in this case, I could have and should have stopped this person, but, in my defense, I’ve been conditioned to dole out compassion after compassion after compassion my whole life.

Our culture raises women with invisible but very real handcuffs.  These cuffs come in the form of double standards.  Of manipulation.  Of societal expectations and norms.  Of familial expectations and norms.  Of fear that we will be seen as unattractive, intimidating, too powerful, too big, too small, whatever.  The list goes on for days, y’all.  We’re ridiculed for being strong.  We’re ridiculed for being weak.  We’re ridiculed for not having the right hand bag.

One thing we aren’t ridiculed for though?  Being selfless.  No, no, we’re praised for being selfless.  People love it when we sacrifice our well being for the job, for the husband, for the kid, for the friend, for the function, for the vacation, for the month, for the year, for the decade, for every day of every month of every year of our entire lives.  In fact, the more sweet/ gentle/compassionate/giving/selfless we become, the more praise we receive.  #Imnotwrong

But, you know what, and I don’t care who gets mad at me for saying this, I don’t want to be selfless.  

I also don’t want to be full of myself.

What I really want is to be self aware.  To know myself so deeply and to respect myself so much that I refuse to allow my compassion or kindness or innate desire to be of value to others to come at my cost.

I’m not so good at this yet, but damn, I plan to be.

And you know what else?  Yeah, my set I worked so hard on sucked, but the lesson I am walking away with because of it is priceless

Light, Love, & Peace,

J A C L Y N  S T E E L E

p.s. Don’t you dare feel bad for me.  Learn from my failures and create the tools you need to do better.

17 Comments

  • Ian

    I don’t think a single person at the venue thought badly of you that night. I hope I speak for everyone when I say we recognized your talent and passion above all else, and I was so impressed with how composed you were throughout. Truly professional. Can’t wait for the next show!

    • jsteele

      Ian, I’m so grateful for you. Thank you. And thank you for showing up and being SO incredibly supportive. You are a gem of a human and I know you are destined for AMAZING things. I’ll be cheering you on!

  • Pat Biddle

    When I was a young man my first wife and I put together a band and played an outdoor festival in Gainesville, Florida. We performed some fairly complicated songs (Suite: Judy Blue Eyes, Uncle John’s Band for example) and needed to hear each other’s vocals to pull them off. We got no monitors or the wrong ones and must have sounded dreadful, but we tried to put on a brave face and act graciously to people who complimented us, but we knew it was far from our best effort.
    I think everyone who performs on a stage in front of a crowd has gone through an experience of this sort at one time or another. As the sage described it, it builds character. It’s no fun but it develops thick skin, and that makes the next time on stage under difficult circumstances a little easier to swallow. You will persevere, because you have the talent to surmount these difficulties. That’s all you need to focus on..

    • jsteele

      Oh Patton, thank you. As you know, it is so shocking when you are performing live in front of people and something of that nature happens. But, you are right, it does serve a purpose. We grow, we change, we come better prepared for the next round. Thank you for sharing with me and thank you for your encouragement. So much! <3

  • Jeffrey

    Thanks for your honesty,Jaclyn. I can relate.

    • jsteele

      Jeffrey, you are so welcome. It is an honor to share with you and an honor that you take the time to read my words. We are in this together!

  • Caitlyn

    Man I’ve totally been there and it’s the worst feeling in the world. Also, it is so true about men and woman being portrayed differently for being clear with what they want. If my male musicians say something, they’re just being honest, if I say something, I’m being a b***h. It’s the most frustrating thing.

    Hang in there. One step at a time.

    • jsteele

      Caitlyn, thank you for your honesty. I was a bit intimidated to put that in the post because I had a feeling I would receive some flack about it, but it’s been my experience too. If I’m anything but kind, I’m labeled high maintenance or difficult… It’s such a tough position to be in. I think the key is being your powerful self and refusing to be afraid to lose musicians that aren’t the right fit for your project. If they can’t handle you, then they need to move on. I’m never mean and I’m never cruel, but I need to respect myself enough to stand up for what I believe in and the direction I want to go. Thank you for sharing with me. I believe in you. Keep going! 🙂 <3

  • Grace

    This is SUCH good insight. While I can’t relate to the exact situation I can SO relate to the feeling. Conflict registers in my body and heart so quickly and shakes me up so I will do so many things to get out of it…and YES, I will totally extend love and kindness to others in these situations when it’s unmerited before extending it to myself and being kind but firm and assertive. You’ve given me a lot to think about, Jaclyn. Thank you.

    • jsteele

      Thank you, Grace. Oh man, I hear you and have been there so many times. Telling a joke, or skirting around the issue, or apologizing… I was just so convicted. I felt like my thinking was turned upside down. Essentially, I’m not showing myself the respect I deserve when I cover up the crap of others with compassion. Also, I’m not doing them any favors by doing so… It’s revolutionary for me and scary, but I think it’s the right thing to do. I adore you even if from afar. You have inspired me so much with your company, your loyalty to your sister, and super contagious charm! <3

  • Owen Scott, III

    Jaclyn,

    Your courageously real post in an arrow that strikes true. I love that you wrote and posted it. You’re an artist and the goal of an artist is to bring out the art inside in its most perfect form. Unlike a painter or a film-maker, a musician performing before an audience can’t do a retake and a performance that falls painfully short is excruciating. I hate that this happened to you and I want to affirm it takes nothing from the great respect I have for you as a musician and human being. I have three fabulous adult daughters out being successful in challenging professions- I will vouch that your comments about how women are socialized and judged by a different standard than men are as true today as ever although I’m hopeful an awakening is in progress in our American society. I’ll hold my electronic tongue on the individual who wrecked your gig but I feel confident you won’t let it happen again! (Shared on my personal Facebook page).

    Best regards,

    Owen

    • jsteele

      Owen, thank you. I’m smiling from ear to ear reading this. And you’re right, our performances (I know you know this) are not repeatable… that’s the beauty of them and also the point of incredible pressure sometimes. Thank you for hearing me and affirming me. I so respect you and appreciate you. I also hope that our society shifts toward more respect and equal footing for women – not at the expense of men, but alongside them. I wish your daughters didn’t experience this either, yet, we have to start somewhere. At least we are acknowledging what is happening. Thank you, friend, for your ongoing support. It means the world to me.

  • Peter

    I can see and hear the whole thing unfolding and… owch Owch OWCH!

    On the bright side:

    You stood on the stage and shinned (as you do).

    You stood on the stage and, in that way, published your Truth: You are talented, full of immeasurable patience, and full of compassion.

    The “other person” on stage and published their truth: “Don’t hire me”.

    Sad, but true.

    In other words – don’t sell the audience short of knowing “what’s what”. Not that the knew the details of why that person was on stage with you in the first place, but that even as non-musicians they can hear the source of “good” sound and… “WTF?!?”

    • jsteele

      Peter, THANK YOU! And you’re right. You definitely are. I think the lesson for me beneath it was just so valuable – I’m so worth standing up for myself. I would never ever want to shame anyone or make them feel bad – but I have to stop doing that at my expense. Thank you for your encouragement. I miss you!

  • Kelly

    Fantastic vulnerability and growth girl! I so appreciate your willingness to share from your own life experiences. It builds connection with anyone who reads and is authentic! Thank you for encouraging me today!

    • jsteele

      Kelly, you are so welcome. Thank you for your kind comment. I hope you are well! <3

  • Grace

    Tried to reply right underneath your words…but it took me here. So let me just say THANK YOU for those sweet words – honestly means so so much. And I hope we get to connect in person again someday!

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