In a perverse way, failure is fascinating. Everyone has lost auditions and performed poorly and ruined good pieces of cane. On a theoretical level, it’s easy to understand. But when it happens to us, it’s hard to avoid feeling like it’s an indictment of not only our worth as musicians, but our worth as people.
But failure is an unavoidable part of our perpetual quest to get better. After all, if we never made mistakes, we would have nothing upon which to improve. The fact that everyone fails means that failure, by itself, is utterly meaningless in determining whether or not we’re “successful.” What is meaningful? The extent to which we immerse ourselves in the process. The work we do in between high-pressure events, whether they were successful or not. How we brush off last night’s triumph or nightmare and get back to clearheaded work.
We all hunger for some form of objective validation; we all want to know that we’re doing OK. In such a subjective field, we inevitably cling to studying at that school, winning that audition, impressing that critic. Conversely, when we fail in one of those pursuits, we can feel that we’re hopeless. If we lost this audition, how can we ever even hope to win that job?
But everyone fails. And even when we “win,” we often forget that external validation is fleeting. The glow wears off after a while and we’re left looking for more—a recipe for disappointment if we’re looking for lasting affirmation. If we stay fascinated by the work, though, we will remain perpetually engaged in the process. Ultimately, that’s the only side of the equation we can control.
It’s virtually impossible to accurately assess ourselves. We’re either the greatest musician ever to walk the face of the planet…or we’re complete and utter disappointments. Obviously the truth lies somewhere in between. How do we reconcile these equally untrue perspectives, particularly when they are the lens through which we view ourselves, our progress, our success? We don’t, because they’re both equally irrelevant to what we have to do to improve. The morning after a great performance, we get up and get back to work. The morning after a lousy performance, we get up and get back to work.