How To Bounce Back From Rejection or Failure

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Disappointment is a part of life, and it’s a big part of being a musician. Maybe you blow an audition, or choke on a recital, or make a blatant mistake during a concert. Maybe your audition went well, but you just didn’t get called back. Maybe one of your students decided to study with someone else.

It’s very easy to place the blame for our set-backs on someone else. It’s the cab driver’s fault you were late to the audition and didn’t warm up properly. It’s the stage manager’s fault that the lights were in your eyes and distracted you. It’s your accompanist’s fault for flubbing a note and throwing you off.

This is a normal reaction, and can feel better at first, because that means it’s not your fault that you messed up. But if everyone and everything around you is capable of causing your failures, then you’ll never succeed because you’ll always be at their mercy. By placing the blame for failure elsewhere, you’ve given away your power. Instead, claim power over your own success by owning your failure, learning from it, and moving past it. Here are some ways to do that:

1. Just Breathe.

In most situations, getting angry is not going to help. There’s nothing wrong with being upset at the situation — that’s healthy! But yelling, sulking, hitting the walls, or taking your anger out on friends or strangers isn’t healthy. Take a deep breath or three. Take a step back. Understand that in all likelihood your career isn’t over, things could be worse, and you have a valuable — if painful — opportunity to grow as a musician.

2. Unwind.

If you’re still really ticked off, upset, or in shock about what happened, you need to find a way to relieve your stress in a healthy way. (Drowning your sorrows at the pub, while effective, is not healthy!) Do something that engages your body and your mind — try yoga, meditation, jogging, martial arts, or hiking. In personal experience, I went to university in the mountains of North Carolina, and I spent many hours hiking when I was upset or working through setbacks. It helped immensely, and was (for me) cheaper and more effective than therapy!

3. Analyze The Problem.

Once you’re calm, try to look at the experience objectively without obsessing or beating yourself up. Go step-by-step and figure out where things went wrong. Did you get nervous and fail to breathe properly? Did you over-work yourself the day before? Did you spend too little or too much time on your warm-up? Were you under-prepared? Did you oversleep? Did you let a small mistake rattle you so much you continued to make bigger mistakes? Were you unprepared for the physical conditions of the recital or concert? Did you have equipment problems?

4. Look For Solutions.

Once you’ve figured out what went wrong, see if you can fix the problem. If you had problems with nerves, perhaps you can start putting on mini-performances for friends or peers to get used to playing with an audience, or develop a warm-up routine that involves some calming and focusing mental exercises. If you were rattled by a mistake, practice making mistakes! Have a friend bump your elbow or move your music while you’re playing and try to keep going. Practice playing in a wide variety of conditions — hot, cold, too dark, too bright, poor acoustics, audience practically in your lap — so when it comes up for real, you’ll be ready.

5. Let Go.

Eventually, you have to accept that the best you can do is the best you can do. At the end of the day, if you have done everything in your power to be successful, then you’ve done your part. You can’t control everything else. If you’ve cleaned and oiled and maintained your valves, but one sticks in the performance, it’s beyond your control. If you’re solidly prepared and play the audition the best you can, but someone else plays it a little better, that’s beyond your control. If you’ve done your very best, you’ve succeeded. Even if the outcome isn’t what you had hoped, the process you went through to be prepared will make you a better musician.

Do you have any tips or stories about recovering from a musical setback or disappointment? Please share them in the comments!

5 Responses to “How To Bounce Back From Rejection or Failure”

  1. Brett Bousley says:

    So what do you do when you know you didnt do the best that you could. When you know your failure has arised because you didnt adequately prepare yourself for the performance (in this case a jury). How do you get past a failure like that knowing your director wont look at you the same after folding badly on a vital performance?

    • Brett, I can’t say what would be the best course for you. But personally, I would sit down with whatever music I played and a pen and paper, and go through the jury step-by-step and catalog everything that could have gone better. Then I would take each item and make a list of ways I could have prepared more thoroughly. Be detailed! Don’t just say “Practice more.” Say “practice Clarke 4th study an additional 15 minutes per day with a metronome.”

      Then once you have your list of what you COULD have done better, make another list of what you WILL do better for your next jury, plus a plan of HOW you will implement these changes in your practice routine (ie: get up 30 minutes early to practice before class, or have a standing “date” to play routine with another musician, etc). Then make an appointment with your director and ask him or her to go over the list with you. Find out if he/she agrees with your assessment and plans, and if he/she has anything to add. This will show that you won’t take your so-called “failure” lightly, and that they can count on you to improve!

      Also, don’t be TOO hard on yourself. Everyone fails at something from time to time, even the best musicians. What matters is how you respond to it.

  2. I have had a lay off of close to 25 years – no horn. But, have started up again (1.5 years ago). I’ve been going to auditions, learning as I go. So much has passed me by – technology – approach to playing – the “horn sound”. But, after my last audition went horrible, came to the conclusion that there will be days like this. It’s a part of the growing and learning process. Back when I played professionally, the sound had to match that of the section – etc… There is so much to an audition (style of playing, etc..). Do your homework, listen to recordings of the orchestra that you are auditioning for – if available. Listen for the sound and style of the section. But do NOT give up. You are one audition away from success…

  3. sinner says:

    There are several things here.

    First, you must be performance ready. You may be great in your room but you got to be a PERFORMER in front of an audience or at an audition. That only comes with time and experience.

    Second, People nowadays ‘just like jobs interviews’ are laser focused on what they are looking for and ‘want’ their needs fulfilled. No one is going to say to themselves, “you know that guy has talent even though he’s not what I’m looking for, I’m going to work with this guy and help him”.. NO, they are going to say, “This is not what I want and he’s not there yet, he did not meet my need”. There are a 100 people waiting in line that can meet their needs so they don’t need to compromise with you.

    Best thing to do just like a job interview is, take note of what is required and expected and work your best to shine in those areas and be performance ready. It takes time and practice, we live in a world with ultra competition now! Just watch American Idol, people get rejected for tiny nuances. If it’s not a match, it’s not a match. As I write this (to make myself feel better) I too am going through a rejection. A band decided I wasn’t the right guy as a singer. I gave it my best! It never even got to an audition, I sent my vocals to ‘their’ song and they said it’s not what we are looking for. Nothing more! Oh well!

  4. I tried to do the best I can in this biz I don’t know what they want from me. When I do a cold reading back to the best of my ability I am either put on hold or as a call back every time is always a call back I never booked anything in this business I don’t understand what they want every time my agent gives me something I go for the audition and why not being on hold or call back the only thing that’s good for me now is working in a Repertory company at least I don’t get called back so hole there these people are stupid and dumb I don’t know what they want and I don’t care about what they want is always on hold and I’ll call back km

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