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Beyond Suck it Up Buttercup: Learning from Setbacks

Updated: Jul 17, 2021



As musicians, we are some of the most resilient people on the planet. We are constantly taking professional risks and subjecting ourselves to the judgment of other of others. Whenever we present our musical product to the world via performances, rehearsals, lessons, and practice sessions we subject ourselves to the opinions of our audiences, colleagues, teachers, and our harshest critic, ourselves. However, resilience is futile unless we allow ourselves to grow from criticism and overcome our mistakes.


We have all experienced failure or criticism on many occasions throughout our musical careers. Sometimes the stakes are high- a job audition, a high profile performance. Sometimes, less so- a rehearsal, lesson, or practice session. Maybe you stumbled over a big solo in performance or got chewed out by your teacher for being unprepared for your lesson. Maybe you did not make an overt mistake but weren't what the audition committee was looking for that day.


Whatever the setback, the key to growing from the experience is to allow yourself to feel your frustration or embarrassment and then perform the following exercise: What, Why, Lesson, Apply


Write down what happened, why it happened, the lesson you learned from the experience, and how to apply that lesson going forward. Take the example of being scolded for being unprepared for a lesson. The path forward is to put systems in place to prevent that from happening again. The application is to create a weekly practice schedule and then break that down into daily practice plans to make sure you create time to prepare the repertoire for your lesson. Schedule specific times each day and outline how much time you will spend on each section of your practice session. Set the practice times in your calendar and set timers during your practice sessions to hold yourself accountable. Set sticky note reminders throughout your room or apartment that tell you to practice at specific times. Make a system that makes it nearly impossible to fail.


This week I challenge you to perform this exercise: What, Why, Lesson, Apply. It can be a little painful or uncomfortable at first to relive past failures but transforming the experience into an actionable plan is incredibly empowering.

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