When it’s time for that talk with yourself

I do my best to keep up with the latest trends in bluegrass music. I like to go beyond the Bluegrass Today headlines about bluegrass artists’ weddings and medical procedures (sometimes taking place on the same day) to try to answer some of these vital questions: Are we poised for a return of the electric bass? Is the bolo tie so outdated that it’s cool again? Will there be one more New South spin-off band?

One trend I’ve definitely picked up on is the radical new direction being taken in band personnel changes, namely quitting your own band. Darrell Webb and Junior Sisk have both recently decided to go this way, and I expect many others to follow suit.

The problem, of course, is that while band leaders are used to firing their band members, and band members are used to giving notice to band leaders, no one is really sure about the protocol for band leaders firing or giving notice to themselves. It’s new and somewhat intimidating territory for many, and honestly I have no personal knowledge on the subject, so I decided to consult a psychologist, Dr. Mannfred Ohrenkuss, author of the best (and only) work on the subject, It’s Not Me, It’s Me – The Fine Art of Breaking Up With Yourself.

Dr. Ohrenkuss suggests that the process of quitting or firing yourself can be fraught with potential for hurt feelings, tension, and sometimes irreparable self-resentment. To avoid this, he suggests being fully prepared before having the talk with yourself, carefully outlining what you plan to say. Ohrenkuss stresses that this needs to be a true conversation. Emailing or texting yourself just sends the message that you’re either too scared or too inconsiderate of your own feelings to have a face-to-face talk (or just “face talk,” in this case). 

When announcing your departure, try leading with the positive: talk about what a valuable experience playing in your own band has been. Mention some of the specific ways you’ve benefitted from the experience, and maybe talk about some of the favorite shows you’ve played with yourself. Then gradually talk about your desire to make a change by leaving your band. Here it’s important to be sensitive about it, because some hurt feelings are inevitable, but be firm. Don’t ever give the impression that you only might be leaving, thus implying that you haven’t made up your mind. This only opens the door to you talking yourself out of it; then you may have to have this same conversation all over again.

It’s not uncommon for you to attempt to make yourself feel guilty. Some band leaders just can’t keep themselves from saying things like, “This comes at a bad time because we just went into the studio,” or “you’ve disappointed me.” Sometimes you may get more bitter statements like, “After all I’ve done for me.” No harm is meant by these kinds of responses, really; they’re merely expressions of disappointment. 

Another response you may get from yourself is the silent treatment. This is a common passive-aggressive technique designed to make you feel awkward. If you refuse to speak to yourself, try asking if there’s a better time to talk. This will often get a verbal response and the dialogue with yourself can resume.

What about having to fire yourself from your own band? This can be a real minefield of hard feelings, and possible harsh exchanges. Here again, leading with the positive and being firm is important. Tell yourself what a valuable contribution you’ve made, and don’t feel the need to outline all the reasons a change is necessary. A simple, “I regret to say that I’ve decided to make a change” is all you need to say. If you end up asking yourself for more specific reasons, keep those responses professional and as non-personal as possible. Statements like, “I’ve never been a good fit for this band,” or “I’m just not good enough for what the band needs” only leads to defensiveness.

Remember to be fair: though the standard of giving a couple of weeks’ notice is often abandoned in bluegrass personnel changes, it’s a very good gesture, unless you think feelings will be too raw for you to continue to perform with yourself for a few shows.

The mob-style firing, favored by some, in which you blindside yourself and let yourself off at the nearest truckstop, or hand yourself a ticket home with little or no explanation, should be reserved for extreme situations in which you’ve done something really unforgivable, like stealing merchandise money from yourself. Practicing fiddle without a mute while driving down the road in a van, or hitting on the promoter’s spouse (with said promoter standing there) could also be grounds for letting yourself go in quick and dramatic fashion, but even these actions should at least allow for a stern warning to yourself first. If leaving your own band is simply an artistic or business choice, the “hit” style of firing is unnecessary and unfair to yourself. You may even view it as cowardly, just a way to avoid talking about your decision.

Remember that even if your relationship with yourself seems damaged, that damage is rarely permanent, especially if you adhere to Dr. Ohrenkuss’ techniques. In time you’ll enjoy spending time with yourself again. A reunion tour might even happen at some later date.