Why you need to talk about your failures in public

Posted by DannyFratina, 02.09.2015 There have been 0 comments

For ten years I've been submitting scores for the ASCAP Young Jazz Composers Award Contest. Man, that's a long name... Anyway, for ten years I've written something new and sent it in. The cut off age is 30. I turned 30 this year, so my submission a few months ago was my last attempt; up until this year, I hadn't won. I had been named Finalist three times, but no wins. So I wrote a new piece, spent a little money on it, called in a bunch of favors, got it recorded and mailed it in.

This week I got my results. Finalist. For the fourth time. And that's it. My ASCAP YJCAC run has ended.

I didn't feel great about that news. I mean, who would? But then I went to Facebook. A friend of mine was posting about his third or fourth win in the same contest (If you're reading this man, just know that I think you are an incredible musician, seriously!). So that felt worse. And then I scrolled down and realized that my wall was full of my awesome friends posting their awesome accomplishments. One guy is touring. Another is writing for a Grammy-winning artist. Another just started a company. Another has opened a music club. Another just cooked a beautiful looking meal. Another just had twins.

And I had just lost a contest for the tenth year in a row.

Now, this is the moment where, in a normal article, I would post my recent accomplishments and turn this around and make it about "See? Things aren't so bad!" and we all feel good and go on our way. But that doesn't always work that way. Sometimes we hit a rough patch. Sometimes we have to take a series of letdowns or failures in a row. Sometimes it just feels like this is the Year of Suck. So my positive things don't help you if you are in that period.

This article is actually about failure, and about how, as artists (and actually as people in general), we have to share those low moments. That's why I'm going to join you, my bummed out reader, in proudly and publicly admitting that nothing good happened to me today, and damnit if I have to read one more person posting about how their Youtube video hit another views milestone I will throw my laptop into a filthy snowbank (not in Boston right now? replace flithy snowbank with generic dumpster).

It's totally normal to post your amazing achievements online and to talk about them in person. It feels good! It doesn't feel good to talk about your screw-ups or bombs. When you aren't feelin' it, you go to a gig and the drummer asks "how's it goin'?" you say "good, you?" and not "actually pretty shitty, I didn't get the gig I auditioned for, and I didn't get paid on time for this other gig and had to borrow money to cover my cell phone bill." Because, who wants to hear that? It's a bummer!

But actually, we NEED that kind of stuff. When we only share our proudest moments, we set new standards for our community and we all try to hold ourselves to those standards too much of the time. It's bad enough that in the music world (maybe in the jazz world even more?) we hold ourselves to the impossible standards (and the improbable luck involved, if we're being serious) of our heroes. In the now though, if you think the other saxophone player in your band is doing cool things all the time, you will start to think "what is wrong with me that I can't get cool things?" or "that guy has more cool things than I do, which is not fair, so maybe he doesn't deserve it." And that kind of thinking fractures our community, even though it is a completely normal feeling to have.

We already know a lot of this to be true. I recall that a few years ago there was a lot of talk about research being done on Facebook's connection with happiness. Basically, using Facebook at all will often lead to a decrease in happiness, self-image, and real-life social interaction. We all post our best things to FB and other social media sites, so when we are not in that period of happiness, we are inundated with other's accomplishments, which feels super bad and can create little cycles of sadness, depression, etc.

But no one wants to post the bad stuff because you don't want to appear to be fishing for compliments, or you don't want to suffer a blow to your image because, of course, who wants to be the one loser musician friend in your circle? So while I make it sound so easy to post your failures, your gut might be telling you that you don't want to be the only one to do so. But if everyone feels that way, no one will post their failures. So collectively we've set up this prisoner's dilemma of loserness. Let's do this with two people as an example. Person A posts a good thing, Person B posts a bad thing, now Person A looks better/feels better in comparison to Person B. If both people post a good thing, they have to split the good vibes and attention. It would seem like splitting is better than taking the chance of looking like the loser, which would make someone not want to post bad things, even though we know that this strategy does not work, or, in other words, nice guys don't finish last. So if we all post the bad stuff, with good stuff ceaselessly coming in the net result is a wash.

And if we post more of the bad things, we start to see each other as equals, and fellow artists just tryin' to make it. We learn to empathize more and we learn to better appreciate what we have and not take success for granted, which is incredibly easy to do.

I was inspired to write this article both because I flamed out on the ASCAP thing for what felt like the gazillionth time, and because I read an insightful article on failure by writer Micha Goolsby. To be clear, she is writing about this issue on a much deeper, personal, and universal level than I am and I'm taking this quote out of context. But it still sums this up in a great way:

Sometimes there are people who are weak.  And that’s okay.  It’s okay to not know how to be strong.  It’s okay to not do anything.  It’s okay to lay in bed and cry.  It’s okay to quit.  It’s okay to feel like a failure. It’s okay to be a failure.


So share those failures. Share your career debacles. Share your losses, misfortunes, and defeats. Be honest about them. And don't wait for someone else to move first, even though it hurts. Start a conversation on Facebook and challenge your friends to post their failures. If enough of us do it in an honest way, we can all be a part of an incredible web of support that lifts us all. And with that, I'm going to my wall to talk about ASCAP.


See also: Two years ago to this day I wrote about the fear of failure and the fear of success.

This post was posted in Notes from the Arranger and was tagged with Failure