Remember last week, I said I was going to try leaning into failure and, when failure inevitably occurs, “to own the failures and to offer myself the opportunity to grow in the process of fixing them”?
Welp, about 10 hours after I wrote that post, I got the perfect opportunity to practice.
I sang my first solo at Carnegie Hall last Monday night. It was such a tiny thing—the four-minute-long baritone aria in Gerald Finzi’s Requiem da Camera—but still, I was so excited for the opportunity. As one typically does in the months leading up to something like this, I built the performance up in my head and put quite a bit of subliminal pressure on myself to make it perfect. It was a one-and-done concert too, no second chances, which made the self-inflicted pressure that much more intense.
I took the stage Monday night, bowed, and sat down for the first and second movements of the requiem. Heart racing like you wouldn’t believe. I stood up for the third movement, the aria.
Verse one went great, so far so good. Then an instrumental interlude depicting the “thin smoke without flame on the heaps of couch grass.” Singing verse two about said smoke and couch grass—still going well.
Another instrumental interlude depicting “a maid and her wight.” I open my mouth to introduce these characters, and begin verse three: “Yonder…”
I get a glance and an index finger from the conductor. I was half a measure early.
If you’re a performer and/or a perfectionist of any sort, you can imagine the tidal wave of thoughts that ensued in that split second. “I just ruined my Carnegie Hall debut.” “Why didn’t I just trust the conductor to cue me at the right time?” “Why was I not paying closer attention to my score?” “I just ruined my Carnegie Hall debut—I will never get this opportunity back!”
That shame storm occurred in the two beats between my false start and my second, more accurate entrance. Obviously, the show went on, we finished the aria, and I sat down to listen to the final movement of the Requiem, still stewing on how I had royally screwed up this chance I had been given.
(Lest you think I’m a true perfectionist monster, I can confidently say that, in hindsight, the slip-up was so small and simply made it sound like I was really excited about that maid and her wight: “Yonder….yonder! A maid and her wight!” But of course, the mind isn’t so forgiving in the heat of failure.)
A beautiful thing occurred during that final movement of the piece. Still fresh from writing last week’s blog post, I realized this was the perfect opportunity to lean into this failure. So as I was sitting there, hearing the fourth movement of the requiem swelling around me, I made the choice to practice empathy instead of beating myself up.
I looked out into the audience, and while I could feel that my face was bright red and very hot (the literal heat of failure), I actually couldn’t help but smile. I tried to connect with the individuals sitting in the audience, and the shame narrative running through my brain was replaced by a single sentence that kept repeating itself: “We’re all in this together; thank you for being here with me.”
I can honestly say that I’m grateful for that experience. While I won’t go so far as to claim that I’m glad I jumped my entrance, I can say that I’m grateful for the opportunity to learn, grow, and practice the skill of leaning into failure.
If you want to share, I’d love to hear of a time when you experienced failure on any scale, the narrative you told yourself in that moment, and then how you managed to work through it!