Do You Have The Courage to Fail?

May 2, 2011

That is a bold statement, “do you have the courage to fail”? It could almost be seen as a personal challenge, and take it that way if you would like, because I am betting that if you do, you are one of the most courageous people I know.

What does it mean, to have the courage to fail? Doesn’t failure mean that you didn’t do something right, you didn’t achieve what you set out to achieve, you didn’t do what you wanted to do, you fell short, messed up, let other people down, let yourself down, etc?

Yes. And is that a bad thing?

Not necessarily.

Quotes about failure

“Mistakes are not to be avoided by embraced. They are signals that you’re moving into new territory, breaking new ground, making progress.

“The first important step in weathering failure is learning not to personalize it – making sure you know that your failure does not make YOU a failure.”

“Your commitment to continual improvement puts you one step closer to your potential. And you’ll also find that what you get as the result of your growth is not nearly as important as what you become along the way.”

– John C. Maxwell

How do those quotes make you feel? I’m guessing a few ways:

“Wow, I feel empowered, right on!”

“That is soooo hokey”

“Yeah, maybe, but that doesn’t really apply to me”

Which one of these is you? You know what, none of them is wrong. You are not right or wrong because you feel one way or another. You just do. The question is, what will you DO with these feelings and how will you let these quotes affect you? Quotes are just quotes, they only mean something when you let them affect you.

We all make mistakes and we make them EVERY DAY. In fact, babies make the cutest mistakes. When they fall, we laugh and sometimes they giggle back at us. We don’t think less of them as people, we think it’s adorable that they’re learning.

Now, translate that to a teenager who trips and fall…suddenly no longer adorable because we think “you should have learned to walk by now”.

Judgement.

Failure.

Doom

Translate this into performance and you get the same thing. You make a mistake and you THINK everyone is thinking “you should have not messed up there, you should know how to play by now”. This isn’t always the case, a lot of times humans are a lot more sympathetic than you think and even if they know you messed up, THEY don’t want to be where you are and are probably thinking more along the lines of “that’s only natural, I’m sure she’s nervous playing all those notes in front of all these people – you go girl, I’m rooting for you!” while on stage YOU are thinking “oh no, I messed up! I bet they all noticed and they’re thinking about what a failure I am and how I didn’t play it right and I’m going to hear about it from everyone tomorrow” which leads to a continual mess-up loop and a bad mood the rest of the night.

Pretty unbalanced, huh?

Let me give you a few books that can help free you from your judgemental self.

The Inner Game of Tennis by Tim Gallwey

I have not read The Inner Game of Music but I have heard that the Tennis book is actually much better, and because I play tennis, I “get it”. Even if you don’t play tennis (you should, haha!) you will have an easy time understanding the concepts in this book. He labels Self 1 and Self 2 and before you freak out that we’re going Schizophrenic, let me ask you, do you ever talk to yourself? Sure you do, we do it all day long all the time. Nothing wrong with that. When we perform, Self 1 goes into overdrive, telling Self 2 what to do. Self 1 being the voice and Self 2 being your body or your subconscious. Excerpt from the book

It is interesting to see how the judgemental mind extends itself. It may begin by complaining “What a lousy serve,” then extend to, “I’m serving badly today”. After a few more “bad” serves, the judgement may become further extended to “I have a terrible serve”. Then, “I’m a lousy tennis player,” and finally, “I’m no good”. First the mind judges the event, then groups events, then identifies with the combined event and finally judges itself.

As a result, what usually happens is that these self-judgements become self-fulfilling prophecies. That is, they are communications from Self 1 about Self 2 which, after being repeated often enough, become rigidified into expectations or even convictions about Self 2. Then Self 2 begins to live up to these expectations. …In short, you start to become what you think.

When asked to give up making judgements about one’s game, the judgemental mind usually protests, “But if I can’t hit a backhand inside the court to save my life, do you expect me to ignore my faults and pretend my game is fine?” Be clear about this: letting go of judgements does not mean ignoring errors. It simply means seeing events as they are and not adding anything to them.

Take out the tennis terms serve and game and insert “notes” and “recital” and does this sound at all familiar?

Another book is The Art of Practicing: A Guide to Making Music From the Heart by Madeline Bruser.

This is another book about letting go of judgement but also giving yourself the permission to make mistakes. She covers a lot of things: stretching, body awareness, posture, permission and also finding the easiest posture for your instrument. Beyond all this, she lays out some specific ways to structure your practice session, which I find immensely helpful, especially after one leaves school and it can be easy to get out of the habit. Sorry, but there are just too many great excerpts to list here, you’ll have to get the book. 🙂

Performance Power: Transforming Stress Into Creative Energy by Dr. Irmtraud Tarr Kruger

This is a great book about the psychology behind what we do and how we perform and how we can release that stress into better, more positive things. It also helps you question your “role”, and learn how to be a human “being” not a human “doing” comfortable in your own skin and able to truly perform. If the thought of actually confronting your symptoms of nervousness intrigued you, this book will really show you how.

Confusing success with fulfillment is one of the chief causes of performance anxiety. If we are motivated by “success at any price” then fears must appear; because when we think in this way we will be expecting something from others, thus becoming dependent on goals which have nothing to do with the task at hand.

If we wish with our activity to arrive at something or to prove something merely in order to prop up our faltering feeling of self-worth, then we will be endangered, and it will not be difficult to make us unsure of ourselves. Drive on by our “success trip”, we will then be following a mistaken concept fed by foreign, ersatz feelings, which make us dependent. If we appear in public with the intent to impress, we will be looking for something other than satisfaction or fulfillment. We Will have much more to fear than if our appearance were dedicated to the goals of seeking satisfaction and fulfillment, and of sharing our knowledge or ability with others in order to enrich our lives.

By the way, if reading that offended you, or poked at you and made you uncomfortable, that’s a sure sign that that is an area needing change and courage. Might be a good indication to read that one. 🙂

Ok, Ready to Fail!

If you’re truly ready to take this journey, I applaud you because you are a brave soul and you will be rewarded! Having the courage to go into the failure takes guts, so if I may, let me give you a bit of advice on the journey ahead:

  • Be kind to yourself. You are going to fail, sometimes ON PURPOSE. When (not if) this happens, take a moment to notice your reaction. Do you have an immediate judgement? Were you surprised? Whatever your reaction, be kind to yourself and realize you are not your failure. The mistake was just that, a mistake and how you choose to react to it will make all the difference.
  • If you do judge yourself, notice that. Pretend you are a student – would you judge your student? No, you’d notice the mistake and figure out how to fx it. Same with training – treat yourself as your own client. Realize that judgement is not necessarily about the mistake that just occurred – it represents something else. When you have that judging moment, ask yourself why? Have the courage to look beyond the immediate “I can’t believe I messed up, what a failure I am” thought and ask why do I think that?
  • In music, this is how I teach my students to correct their mistakes (and I believe this comes from The Art of Practicing)
  • Step 1) stop immediately and make note of exactly where the mistake happened.
  • Step 2) Look at the mistake objectively. Identify exactly what happened (if it was a wrong note, which one? Say it’s an interval of a 3rd and you are playing a 2nd….this might be a pattern and you will notice it happening elsewhere when you can identify it)
  • Step 3) Play the wrong note on purpose – does that freak you out? 🙂 Allow yourself to make the mistake. Notice how it feels and how it sounds.
  • Step 4) Play the correct note (and by the way, this should all be done slowly and maybe even out of tempo or rhythm. This is crucial. You have to allow yourself to play the wrong note, to fail and notice where it happens, so that when you now play the correct note, you are acutely aware of it). When you play the correct note, take the passage out of time, perhaps only play the note before and after the erroneous note and make sure that you SIT on the correct note. This means that when you play the correct note, hold it out for a long time. This puts the sound of it in your ear and when you play it with the preceding and following notes, you hear the correct note pattern instead of the wrong one BUT you HAVE to play the wrong note first!
  • If you are learning how to fail in other areas of life, you can apply this same process. Take out “note” from the passage above and insert your circumstance: Allow the wrong ” food….exercise….person….statement….etc” to happen – experience the mistake in its entirety and then when you do the correct thing, revel in it.
  • The best advice I can give you is to notice this in your journey “If it feels weird, you’re probably right”. This means that mistakes often feel more correct than the correct thing. When you are correcting a mistake it feels weird, unnatural – GO WITH THAT feeling. When you sit on the right note it will sound weird, feel weird, and the more you play it correctly like that the less weird it sounds. Try it out and tell me what happened for you. I do this with clients all the time. In squatting, if a client’s feet point too far outward or their knees cave inwards and I have them correct that, they will tell me “that doesn’t feel right, or that feels weird” and I tell them to make it feel weird, because it means they are doing it right.

For more resources


I found this link of books from the Horn Studio at UI, looks like a great list!

Book list for overcoming fear of failure, stress and performance anxiety

And, if you want to feel better about failing, of course you can check out Fail Blog

Feel free to add any more resources that have helped you as well.

Stay tuned for part 3 in this blog series: Do You Have The Courage To Succeed?

Fail well, fail often! Love to hear your thoughts on how failing works for you!


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2 Responses to “Do You Have The Courage to Fail?”


  1. Nice blog here! Also your web site loads up very fast!

    What host are you using? Can I get your affiliate link to your host?
    I wish my web site loaded up as quickly as yours lol

  2. glume scurte Says:

    It’s going to be end of mine day, except before ending I am reading this wonderful post to increase my experience.


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