Today I want to talk to you about why every successful pianist must know how to fail gracefully and why failing is kind of like broccoli—no one likes it, but…it’s good for you.
Okay, so it might sound like a paradox to have the terms “failure” and “good for you” in the same sentence. But hear me out on this one: Failure builds character and resilience like nothing else, so if you want to be a resilient pianist who can withstand anything, you must know how to deal with failure.
In a sense, we have to become experts in failing, the one thing we like the least. And what do I mean by that? If you are an expert in failing, you will deal with how it feels head on; you will learn to overcome it, and you will learn to use it to your advantage.
In other words, you shouldn’t run away from it, escape it, get depressed, feel hurt, or give up.
So let’s imagine you just performed in a competition or an audition, and let’s say it just didn’t go well—you were not “on,” it wasn’t your best day, you didn’t prepare, you didn’t practice enough, whatever the reason may be. Now what?
The secret is to know when it is time to go back to the drawing board, to know when to say, “You know what? I still have work to do and I won’t be brought down by one negative performance experience, but I will try to learn from it and make the most of it by figuring out exactly what went wrong and why it went wrong.”
It’s about enjoying the process, even if it’s sometimes a painful one. It’s about enjoying the journey, even though sometimes the road you find yourself on gets bumpy.
It’s about rolling up your sleeves, reviewing your performance, and coming up with a game plan either by listening to it or watching it—and I highly recommend watching it, the same way a sports team would analyze how it did post-game.
Every professional sports team does this, as do athletes in general—tennis players, golfers, you name it. They sit together with their coach and review the video post-game, trying to learn from it and improve.
However, it’s also important to know how to forgive yourself when things do go wrong—because you know what? Things will go wrong sometimes, and the true pro will know how to deal with it, will know how to fail gracefully and not show his/her frustration and leave the stage with a sour face. You have to own it: Take that bow, smile, get off the stage, and get back to work so next time you can do better. That takes real courage, and that’s the part that builds character.
Remember, it’s the not-so-great concerts we learn from the most. You don’t learn as much from successful concerts; you learn from the unsuccessful ones.
So I want to leave you with a story about the pianist Jon Nakamatsu, who won the gold medal at the 1997 Van Cliburn International Piano Competition, a huge achievement as the Cliburn is one of the most prestigious competitions in the world.
Very few people know that four years earlier, in the previous competition, Jon didn’t even make it past the pre-screening round! That’s right. He didn’t even get a chance to compete.
Talk about perseverance! Jon not only didn’t quit; his failure in 1993 pushed him to work harder and reach higher, and the result was that he not only made it into the 1997 competition but he won the entire thing! I think this is one of the best comeback stories in piano competition history.
So here’s how you can fail gracefully when things go wrong:
Step 1: Compose yourself. Don’t act frustrated, disappointed, or upset with yourself while you’re still on stage. Instead, smile, take a bow, and thank your audience.
Step 2: Take a few deep breaths and practice letting go by forgiving yourself.
Step 3: Review your performance video or audio.
Step 4: Analyze your performance with the help of a professional.
Step 5: Come up with an action plan for the areas needing improvement.
Step 6: Keep going; let it go and don’t look back. Enjoy your journey.
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Here’s a question for you: How did you bounce back from a performance that you weren’t happy with? Did you pick yourself up and keep going? Did you get mad at yourself? Please share. I read all your comments!