Embracing failure is:
Not a new concept,
Restated over and over and over again,
But, as musicians, it can feel different for us.
Here’s my take on it…
You can find a million things about why you should enjoy/learn from failures online, but as a musician, failure feels different. We feel inextricably linked to our instruments, so a bad performance, audition, or even a less-than-ideal lesson can feel like the end of the world.
That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t allow yourself to feel the disappointment of the situation, though. Why? Because this disappointment, anger, sadness, etc., will be the emotion to fuel you to do better next time.
But wait, there’s more!
The best part about failing isn’t the motivation that comes along with it.
(Anyone can be momentarily motivated)
The best part about failing isn’t evaluating why you failed in order to make it better.
(This is crucial, yes, but easy to do if you’re self-honest)
So what’s the best part about failing?
That you are forced to cope with the emotions that come along with it.
And how you cope will be the biggest learning experience of all.
I truly believe that this is the part that everyone leaves out. Too often, these sorts of posts completely remove emotion from the equation, in favor of phrases like:
“Don’t dwell on the situation, fix it.”
“Crying about it won’t make it better.”
And while these are true on the surface, it’s pretty foolish to think that a human can simply will themselves, in an instant, to have full control of their own emotions.
What we can do, though, is practice the way we cope with the emotions of our failures.
We will always fail. We will always have a gut reaction to it. But if each time we fail, we take a little less time to “grieve” the failure, it will make a profound difference over time. It will allow us to move through each successive failure a bit quicker, steadily improving the delay between reacting and reevaluating.
In my mind, the process works a bit like this:
Response (subjective: anger, sadness, disappointment, dread, anxiety, etc.)
So, what we are trying to do is really move from #2 to #4 as quickly as possible. This means moving from the subjective to the objective.
Exercising this type of personal control over our emotions can carry through to other parts of our lives as well. I feel that practicing this process over the last four years has dramatically shifted my perception of dealing with my own emotions, and has allowed me greater freedom in all aspects of my life.
I would encourage you to think of failing in this way, and to see if it begins making a difference over time.
You can stop reading here if you’re pressed for time, but I’ve included a little anecdote below on what got me started on this journey of trying to effectively cope with the emotions of failure.
Thanks for reading—please let me know what you think!
It was the spring of 2013 (my freshman year of college), the performance was my mallet jury, and the piece was the second movement of Gordon Stout’s Two Mexican Dances.
For some reason, I began learning the piece with less than three weeks before the jury, and as I stepped up to play, I knew my preparation was insufficient. Our juries were public recitals, so the other studio members sat in the hall along with others who came to watch.
Once I got to the third page of the piece, I couldn’t remember a single note. I stared blankly, in a silent hall of my peers, at the marimba for what felt like an eternity (in reality, probably 45 seconds to a minute). I decided to pick it up on the fourth page, and flubbed my way to the end of the piece.
I walked off stage, went straight to the individual restroom in the building, and cried. I’m not sure how long I stayed there, but afterwards I drove straight home and didn’t speak to anyone. I was so angry, disappointed, and heartbroken, and it took me days to process what had happened.
Once my head was clear, I vowed to never let something like that happen again. And thankfully, it never has. My level of preparation has steadily improved, my emotional control over post-failure reactions has improved, but most of all, I’m just generally happier.
Looking back, what happened was laughable, but at the time it felt devastating. It took utter devastation to make me realize how terrible my preparation was, and how awful I was at processing/controlling my emotions.
Do you have a situation like this? Have you taken steps to steadily improve on it?
Thanks for reading (especially if you made it this far), and I hope to hear from you!