Thursday, March 27, 2014

Failing Up: A Flutist's Guide to a No Matter What Fresh Start

Failing Up: A Flutist's Guide to a 
No Matter What Fresh Start

Rejection letters, bad auditions, tough flute lessons, lack of validation and frustration with weaknesses can keep some flutists from realizing their true potential and tackling challenges that will ultimately bring them much needed boosts of self-esteem and momentum. This post is dedicated to every flutist who's ever been last chair, didn't make the cut, been in a slump, disappointed their teacher or disappointed themselves.  It's never too late to make a fresh start! 

If you're a flutist or musician and have felt stuck for a long time, or even just lately, scroll down to see if any of the following Musician Failure Mentalities might be holding you back.  Each of the nine limiting beliefs is paired with a Fresh Start Solution for failing up.  To me, failing up means accepting what's gone wrong and finding the seed for future growth inside the failure.  

Musician Failure Mentality #1: 
Comparing yourself to others.

Today, a primary means of staying in touch with other flutists you may know is on Facebook.  I don't know about you, but when I see all of the exciting things people are doing in my news feed, I can get a little overwhelmed and start to feel I'm not happy enough, successful enough or productive enough to keep up with my friends.  What works for me is reminding myself that people post their best moments on Facebook.  Comparing my practice sessions, frustrations and mental slumps to another flutist's amazing concert, fancy award or awesome rehearsal will, of course, leave me feeling "less than."

Whether you are watching other flutists win a prize you wanted for yourself, hearing them tell stories about their sophisticated musical experiences or seeing the super cool Facebook version of them on your screen, it is easy to fall into the trap of feeling "less than."  

Fresh Start Solution: Fail up by realizing you are comparing your "behind-the-scenes with everyone else's highlight reel."  

Examine what feels like failure and realize that it might be a longing to put yourself out there, work harder, or create opportunities.  Instead of comparing your longing to another flutist's results, figure out what you want and take that first action step toward your own results!

Musician Failure Mentality #2: 
Focusing on your flaws.

Have you ever heard the ironic instruction, "Don't think about pink elephants?"  The irony is that the word "don't" doesn't matter at all (you are now thinking of pink elephants).  As flutists, it is extremely easy to develop what I call pink elephant syndrome.  It often starts with teachers using pink elephant language like, "You're flat on those low notes," "your breaths are too shallow," or "that note was too short."  They might be well intended remarks, but if you continue to use the same language in your mind as you practice, you will actually cause yourself to be flat, take shallow breaths and clip notes.  A much better strategy is to think of what you do want and go after it ("listen to the harmonies and lift the low notes," "take deep and filling breaths," or "hold these notes full value with beautiful vibrato")!

For me, pink elephant language is not only counterproductive but also demoralizing.  It might sound extreme, but a mind full of everything you're trying not to do is a form of self abuse.  It's like hanging from a ledge or walking a tight rope.  Unless you are absolutely perfect, you are destined to fail.

Fresh Start Solution: Fail up, by realizing that "you've been criticizing yourself for years.  Try approving of yourself and see what happens."   

Many flutists may think that focusing on their flaws is necessary for improvement as a musician, but I think it's an energy draining, futile exercise.  Ditch pink elephant language and start to regain precious energy.  By clarifying what you really want and assuming that you will achieve it, you are switching from self-criticism to self-approval!        


Musician Failure Mentality #3: 
Assuming where you are is where you will continue to be.

Let's be honest.  In a world where competition is king, failure of any kind is just plain embarrassing. Because humans do everything we do to gain pleasure or avoid pain, in order to avoid the pain of embarrassing failure, we may turn off a very important part of who we are... the part of us that cares

If you're rejected from a flute competition, denied admission to a music program, or perform badly in a public (especially if this happens multiple times), to keep any kind of dignity around those that have been successful lately, you have to pretend you don't care. Pretend long enough and you start to believe it yourself.  If you can face that part of yourself (that actually does care), you can summon the energy to learn from your mistakes, release the feelings you've been denying and finally start moving in the right direction again.

Fresh Start Solution: Fail up like Barney Stinson (How I Met Your Mother).  Barney says, "When I'm sad I stop being sad and start being awesome instead."  

Realize that no one is judging you as much as you have judged yourself, no one is remembering your failures like you're remembering them and most people are so involved with their own lives that their opinion of you mostly has to do with the latest version of yourself you've presented.  Start being awesome (like, start practicing your butt off!). Soon, you'll have achieved a new flute playing level and caring will start to feel pretty great.    

Musician Failure Mentality #4: 
Instant gratification blues.

Learning a piece of music two weeks before the performance is the equivalent of pulling an "all nighter" to start studying for a test the next morning.  Two weeks might feel like forever for some things, but for music preparation, it's barely any time at all.  Musicians don't always have to invest in delayed gratification, but they might need to redefine what instant gratification really means! 

In a world where any question you have is answered in seconds by Google, practicing a complicated piece for flute can seem like the cruelest kind of delayed gratification.  If what you want is gorgeous music and all you're getting is awkward technique and sound issues, it's pretty easy to lower your standards in order to just "get through it."  

Fresh Start Solution: Fail up by realizing that "even miracles take a little time."  Understand that you have a life that moves at lightening speed and it makes sense that you haven't yet developed the mental muscles to truly sink into a piece of music the way that it deserves. 

Start by taking the amount of time you think a practicing project deserves and triple it.  Instead of practicing 20 min., give it an hour.  Instead of assuming you'll learn a piece in two weeks, give it six.  I think of it like the difference between buying a quick chocolate bar at a gas station and ordering a chocolate souffle at a gourmet restaurant.  Yeah, the candy bar is faster, but the souffle is out of this world.  As you get used to redefining instant gratification, your musicianship will begin to acquire gourmet status. 


Musician Failure Mentality #5: 
Thinking you don't have enough talent.

It is incredibly hard to define talent.  Though some flutists may have an easier time making a beautiful sound, you may have an easier time connecting to the music.  Though some may be able to read the music faster, you may have a unique way thinking about the music that leads to more creative approaches. 

Also, talent is highly overrated.  Except for the rare, cream of the crop musicians that are extremely talented and extremely disciplined, talented musicians are often unsuccessful because they don't work hard enough. Being successful in music competitions or auditions is probably something like 10% talent, 20% pure luck and 70% incredibly hard work and resilience.

Fresh Start Solution: Fail up by realizing that "hard work beats talent when talent doesn't work hard." 

If you love music and are dedicated to your goals, your hard work will yield you amazing results. Be honest about what's working, what's not working and the kind of effort it will take for you, but never let your talent level (completely undefinable and subjective anyway) keep you from playing beautiful music.    

Musician Failure Mentality #6: 
Giving up right before it gets good.

I hope you'll take the time to read this inspiring story, copied below from

In his all-time classic book, Think and Grow Rich, Napoleon Hill tells the story of  R. U. Darby.  Darby’s uncle had gold fever, so he staked his claim and started digging.  After a lot of hard work, the uncle found a vein of ore, so he covered up his find and returned home to raise the money for the machinery that he would need to bring the ore to the surface.  They raised the money and Darby traveled with his uncle back to the site to make their fortune. Things started well and before long, they had enough to clear their debts.  They were excited, everything from here on would be profit and things were looking good.

Then the supply of gold stopped.  The vein of ore had disappeared.  They kept on digging, but found nothing.  After a while, they quit in frustration and sold their machinery to a junk man for a few hundred dollars.  After they went home in disappointment, the astute junk man called in a mining engineer who checked the mine and calculated that there was a vein of gold just three feet from where Darby and his uncle had stopped digging.

The junk man went on to make millions from the mine.

Darby returned home, paid back everyone who had lent him money and was determined to learn from his mistake in giving up too soon.  He went on to become a phenomenally successful insurance salesman, more than recouping what he would have made from the gold mine.  He learned the lesson that you need to persevere through difficulties and stay focused if you are to become successful.Whenever you feel like giving up on your dream, remember that you may be just three feet from gold!

Fresh Start Solution: Fail up by realizing "you may be three feet from gold!"  The very moment you are the most frustrated, the most disheartened and the most likely to quit, is the exact moment you should shake it off, stretch it out and give yourself the gift of practicing more!

Musician Failure Mentality #7: 
Assuming you are not motivated enough.

Feeling a lack of motivation is temporary.  Bad flute lessons, leaky keys, not enough coffee... any one of a million daily annoyances could be the reason you're frustrated in the practice room.  When you assume that you have a problem with motivation, your mind quickly gets busy reinforcing the belief and you end up gaining more and more proof that you are an unmotivated musician. Instead of reinforcing this failure mentality, seek out what might give you some much needed motivation! 

Fresh Start Solution: Fail up by realizing that there may be only one critical element (or maybe a few) missing from your motivation equation.  You may need a more inspiring practice environment, a more energizing breakfast or simply... yes, I'll say it... a break!  For goodness sake, go to the movies every once in a while.  

If you are searching for ways on how to improve your motivation, I hope you'll browse The Art of Being a Flutist for free ideas! 

Musician Failure Mentality #8: 
Being scared to improve.

Believe it or not, if you are currently stuck at a lower flute playing level than you wish you were, there's some part of you that likes it. You may have grown accustomed to the safety of being average, the familiarity of insecurity or the comfort of knowing what to expect. Improving might mean new standards, new pressures and new expectations... and what if you can't handle it?

Fresh Start Solution: Fail up by realizing that "your desire to change must be greater than your desire to stay the same."  

The wonderful news is that it will absolutely take time and hard, patient work to achieve your new level.  Every moment you invest in that hard, patient work is another moment you will have to grow accustomed to the new flute player you are becoming. By the time you arrive at a new level, you will be ready for the new challenges waiting for you there.  

Musician Failure Mentality #9: 
Thinking it's too late to get a fresh start.

It's normal to wish you had done things differently.  If you're in high school, you may wish you had paid more attention to your flute teacher in middle school.  If you're a music major, you may wish you'd tried harder at your flute competitions in high school.  If you're a teacher or professional flutist, you may wish you had taken greater advantage of the performance and learning opportunities during college.  

I'm so happy to report that you never run out of time to be an excellent flutist.  As long as you are breathing in and out, taking good care of your hands and are willing to keep trying, you still have the opportunity to reach new heights and play more beautiful, exciting and challenging music.  Just think, this time next year, you are going to be one year older, no matter what.  Do you want to be a better flutist, too?

Fresh Start Solution: Fail up by realizing that it may be too late to start over, but you can begin today and start working toward becoming the musician you always wanted to be.

Happy Practicing!
Terri Sánchez

New Message posted on 10.27.18

If you've enjoyed posts from The Self-Inspired Flutist, head on over to my new creative project, Practice Junkie! 

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Terri Sánchez