In Spite of Failure

Jacqueline - Florence, Montana
Entered on January 15, 2009

I have many beliefs, but there is one that continuously guides my life. I believe that a desire to succeed is more important than natural talent. I love music, both to listen to it and to create it, and my favorite means of creating music is the piano. While I’m no prodigy, I’d venture to say I have a talent for it. What I don’t have a talent for is performing in front of people. The mere thought sends a shiver of terror down my spine, as images of past performance fiascos flash in front of my eyes. Inconveniently, music and performing go hand in hand. In my case, there is no dramatic story of a heart-wrenching struggle ending in glorious victory, where I slay the evil monster of fear that was keeping me from musical success. What I do have are stories of perseverance in the face of failure.

Less than a year ago, I played a piano solo at a music festival. The district level was open to anyone. All I had to do was earn a high enough score and I could participate at the state level. I was bound and determined that this would be my breakthrough. I was not going to let my ineptness at performing stand in the way of sharing my talent any more. I have never wanted anything like I wanted to make it to the state level. I spent countless hours at the piano, diligently pounding away every tiny flaw I could find in the piece of music I had chosen. By the time the music festival came, I could play that piece of music better than anything I had ever played before, and I knew I would play it perfectly at the festival. When the moment finally came, I wobbled on jellied legs to the piano, introduced myself to the adjudicator with just a tiny shake in my voice, and played Fur Elise, by Ludwig Van Beethoven, as if a perfect performance was the one deciding factor between misery and everlasting joy.

Thankfully, hours of practice paid off, and I started perfectly. But before long, self-doubt went into overdrive. I slowed down dramatically. Mentally kicking myself, I hastily moved on. Then I stumbled on an easy measure. Twice. But still, I only cringed and kept going, reminding myself that this was the moment that would change my life. I was going to make it to state. I finished the song, took a bow with a superficial smile pasted on my face, and nearly had an emotional breakdown as I waited for the adjudicator to finish wildly scribbling on my form.

I had put every bit of both my body and spirit into that performance, which I prayed would offset the fact that I had made those few miniscule mistakes. So you can imagine how I took it when I was gently informed the following day that I had been one point away from receiving a high enough score to participate at the state level music festival. Completely devastated, my main purpose for living swept out from under my feet, I sat on my bed for hours, crying, until I had every bit of moisture had fallen from my swollen eyes. Then I just sat there, vaguely wondering what direction my life was now supposed to take, mentally battering myself for thinking I could ever succeed at performing when I obviously had no talent for it whatsoever. I knew that it wasn’t musical talent that had been lacking, but confidence in performing. But whispering somewhere behind the pain of this monumental failure was my stubborn belief that it didn’t matter if I was talented at performing or not. If I wanted to succeed, I could do it. Maybe not this time, but eventually, I would have that glorious victory I had wanted so badly.

I have failed countless times in my life, but this was the failure that hurt the most. While I still wish I had made it to the state competition that year, I did learn an invaluable lesson. No matter how difficult it may be for me to perform in front of people, I will spend the rest of my life being a successful performer, because a desire to succeed truly is more important than any amount of natural talent.