I’ve been playing the viola for about 6 years now, and recently joined a new orchestra. A couple of weeks ago, I made the decision to challenge my stand partner. Now, I had been placed into second chair, and he had been placed into first chair: if you aren’t familiar with music ensembles, think of “first chair” as the best possible chair you could be sitting in in your section. It means that the conductor wants you to be the leader of all of the people who play the same instrument as you in the orchestra. My stand partner, who was sitting in first chair, had missed a lot of rehearsals and wasn’t ever particularly prepared for rehearsal, which is what gave me the confidence that I could challenge him, and sit in first chair instead.
Different orchestras and different conductors perform challenges in different ways; my conductor’s preference was to turn her back to us, so she couldn’t see who was playing. We each played the same section of a piece we had been working on, myself going first. Our conductor gave us each a few corrections before telling us that the person who played second would get the higher chair; I had played first, which meant that I did not win the challenge, and would stay in my seat. A rush of emotions went through me after I realized that I had not accomplished what I wanted to. Embarrassment, anger toward myself, frustration, confusion, disappointment.
Failure is bound to come up in all of our lives at one point or another. Between school, extracurriculars, and all of our other responsibilities, it’s only a matter of time before a test is failed, a sports game lost, a friend’s feelings hurt. Even though it might feel embarrassing and disappointing in the moment, failure is perhaps one of the most valuable teachers we’ll ever have. I’d like to run through a list of things to think about when something doesn’t go as planned in your lives.
You are not your failure
It’s easy to fall into a really negative mindset when you put a lot of yourself into a project, only for it to not turn out “successful.” Especially when it’s a creative project that you a put a lot of emotion and care into, the work starts to feel like part of you. It’s important to try to separate yourself from your work. The artist is not the art, the student is not the grades, and while it may feel rewarding to deeply root your identity in the success of your work while things are going perfectly, things never go perfectly.
Failure is not permanent
Failing one test doesn’t mean you’ll fail the whole class, and making one unsuccessful drawing doesn’t mean you’ll never draw something you like again. Remember to look at the big picture, because you have done spectacular things before, and it’s just a matter of remembering it. Focusing on a failure for too long can be paralyzing, and failure is such an amazing opportunity to spring forward with a bit of extra energy to learn more and try harder; being paralyzed is the last thing you want to be.
What was in your control?
What did you have control over in the situation? Did you adequately prepare for the situation, ask for help if you needed it, and apply all of your knowledge? After the initial disappointment, it can be really helpful to ask yourself questions like that. When I didn’t win the challenge at my orchestra, I eventually realized that I could have practiced a little extra leading up to it, and I could have asked my teacher for more help with specific sections of the piece I was preparing. Use this as a learning opportunity to figure out how you can do better next time, and what you can improve within your habits and work.
What was out of your control?
Was the person who decided that your work was unsuccessful biased? Were you not fully informed on what was going to be required? If it was a competitive situation, were you completely aware of your competitor’s abilities? Sometimes we can do everything right, but whether we have success or not is dependent on external factors. If there were external factors at play in your work being unsuccessful, it’s important to acknowledge them both so that you don’t blame yourself for it, or hold grudges against the people in charge of those external factors, such as a teacher or friend.
What have you succeeded in recently?
Remind yourself of everything that has gone well for you! Humans tend to remember the bad over the good, so sit down and write a list of everything you’re proud of yourself for. Did you get an A on that test a week ago, or wrote a poem that you really liked? Even though it’s important to spend some time thinking about the situation that didn’t go well, it’s equally important to move forward on a positive note.
And there you go! Those are my tips for what to think about after a failure. Let me know if you found this post helpful at all, and also leave a comment if you have any tips or ideas for this topic! Thanks for reading!