I hate to say it, but if there’s one certainty about your life as a professional musician, it’s this:
Eventually, you will fail.
In fact, if you’re like most professional musicians, you’ve already faced failure dozens of times over the course of your career.
An unsuccessful audition, a rejection email from a major competition, a big mistake during a performance…
For many of us, these difficult experiences cause so much sadness, embarrassment, guilt, and anger that we find it difficult to bounce back.
Our productivity plummets and we forget why we even wanted to be musicians in the first place. We start defining ourselves by our failures, believing that they represent who we are as musicians.
But you can break this negative cycle.
Equanimity is a state of mental calm, even in difficult situations. Cultivating equanimity in your musical life saves your sanity and enables you to turn failures into future successes.
3 Ways to Respond to Failure
When I face a major disappointment, my reaction usually falls into one of three categories:
I’m angry at the audition committee for their decision to choose someone else. Or I’m embarrassed after making a noticeable mistake in a performance. Or I’m overcome with sadness after one of my students struggles in an audition.
This kind of reaction often feels natural and oddly satisfying. But it usually leads to more negative feelings. When I react negatively to a difficult situation, it usually doesn’t help anything. I can’t always avoid it, but I do my best to not react negatively when facing failure.
Ignoring the negative feelings associated with failure, I immerse myself in distracting activities.
Sometimes, these activities are obviously unhelpful (social media bingeing, overeating, alcohol overuse). And sometimes I push away negative feelings using “good” habits (running, reading, working).
Either way, I short-change my future success when I choose to distract myself from the pain of failure. Without reflection and open awareness, I’m unable to make the necessary changes to turn this one failure into a future success.
Accept Things as They Are:
I reflect on the “negative” experience and open myself to any feelings that might come. But instead of taking the experience personally and labeling myself a “failure,” I accept the experience and observe how it makes me feel.
I remember that every experience (“good” or “bad”) is a learning opportunity, especially when I get feedback about how I can improve.
I aim to accept things as they are, practicing equanimity in the face of failure.
It can be incredibly difficult to remain calm when facing a failure that has professional consequences. But you can develop your emotional resilience in the face of painful experiences by building your practice of equanimity.
How to Cultivate Equanimity
Just like learning an instrument, regular practice yields powerful results.
Even the smallest changes in your habitual thoughts can have a huge impact on your day-to-day life. Embrace your natural capacity for equanimity by incorporating these 4 cues into your daily life:
– Notice How You React
Each time you encounter a difficult situation, simply observe your reaction. What thoughts come to mind? How does this situation make you feel? Do you feel tightness in your body? Where?
– Observe What Triggers Negative Reactions
Over time, you’ll begin to notice patterns. Certain types of situations will trigger a negative reaction while others will not. Observe any patterns that emerge and investigate what makes certain situations particularly difficult.
When you feel strong emotions coming on (rage, exhaustion, sadness…), take a deep breath.
Pause and allow yourself a few seconds to inhale fully through your nose. Then slowly exhale. By giving yourself a moment of calm before reacting to strong emotions, you empower your ability to cultivate equanimity and accept things as they are.
– Embrace Mindfulness
When you develop a mindfulness practice, you gain the tools you need to practice equanimity in the most difficult circumstances.
As you tap into your present-moment awareness, you discover that nothing is permanent and that you are not defined by your failures (or successes).
What do you do when things get tough?
How do you stay calm and focused in the face of failure?
Let’s talk about it in the comments!
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