Guest Post: Kyden Creekpaum and his “betters”


Meet Kyden. Classical music and lawyering both are unfortunately likely to be incredibly boring.  But Kyden Creekpaum is a rock star of both.  I first saw Kyden give a classical piano concert in the basement of Georgetown Law school.  His introductory anecdotes of philandering composers and their debauchery showed me an unexpected side of the classical music world.  His passionate performance was flat out amazing.   The fact that an expert like Kyden can poke fun at a revered and sober profession makes me respect him all the more.

I asked him to write a guest post for my blog because I appreciate his experience and perspective as both a globe-trotting lawyer and concert pianist.  I think you’ll share my appreciation after you read his post on dealing with people who are “better” than you are.

Acting with Confidence Around Your “Betters”

Kyden Creekpaum, JD, MPH, MA

Before I became a lawyer, I spent my life studying classical piano.  Once, when I was about 22 years old, I was in New York visiting one of my closest childhood friends who, in my view, had always been a superior musician.  He is my “better”: he is further along the continuum of skill and ability than me.   I gave him a CD of my most recent public recital, which included a recording of me performing a rather challenging piece, Beethoven’s Waldstein sonata.  Knowing that William is an outstanding pianist and well trained musician who also has undergraduate and graduate degrees in keyboard performance, I rather sheepishly apologized in advance for a couple of bumbled measures in the Waldstein’s first movement, when my mind wandered and I improvised a couple of not-so-Beethovenian bars of music before mentally recovering and continuing.   I will never forget what he said to me.

“Kyden, if anyone ever gives you crap for your recording of the Waldstein, just ask to hear their recording of the Waldstein.”

In that simple, kind, retort, he not only put me at ease, but taught me two important life lessons.  The first lesson was about people who are my “betters,” who are further down the skill continuum (whether that be piano, law, medicine, business, or any other skill continuum).   I need not be afraid of performing in front of my “betters” because those who are further along the development of any given skill set are often apt to be most understanding and sympathetic.  Why?  Because, almost by definition, if they are further down the continuum of knowledge, ability, and skill than I am, then at some point in the past they were where I am now.

That is a powerful realization with far-reaching consequences.   It means that we are not as different as it might seem.  At some point they were where I am now, so they may well understand what I am going through or struggling with, and may have a suggestion.  They may see some of themselves in me.  It certainly seems fair to say that, as a set, my “betters” will be more sympathetic than my “inferiors” (on the skill set continuum, that is), and more sympathetic than people who are not on the continuum at all (people without that skill set).  My “Waldstein Incident” was the last time I acted shy around a “better.”

Of course, there was a corollary lesson, too, that applied to those truly unqualified to comment.  The unkind critique of someone who has no business criticizing can have no sting.  As my mother says, you can let it “roll off your back,” or in Biblical terms, “turn the other cheek.”  If someone is truly qualified to critique, then the power and impact of their words is up to you, and it may serve you very well to take their words to heart, even be they harsh.  An old proverb says A reproof is worth more to a wise man than a hundred stripes to back of a fool.  But, when the criticizer lacks  legitimate foundation from which to attack, his words simply don’t matter.  Ask to hear his recording of the Waldstein.

If that doesn’t shut him up, then he is a fool—and dad taught me never to argue with a fool, since folks might not be able to tell us apart.

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