(This week is the 51stinstallment of the book, “The Band Director’s Lessons About Life”, which TCRN is publishing as a series during 2020. This week, band director and spiritual author Donald Lee relates a parable about handling failure productively. For a complete listing of previous episodes in this series, click here.)
Failure is so important. We speak about success all the time. It is the ability to resist failure or use failure that often leads to greater success.
J.K. ROWLING (British novelist, best known for the Harry Potter series)
“Your performance last night was not your best,” I understated.
That created an uproar in the band room. The grade-nine band had performed terribly. It was embarrassing—not the worst performance of my career, but pretty close. Everyone had an excuse and someone else to blame. I let them vent for a while before trying to bring some order—maybe even learning—to the situation.
“Whoa. Let’s hear one at a time.” I raised my hand for silence. Eventually the room became quiet enough to carry on.
“Gwendolyn, what did you say?”
“Donkey Riding was a disaster! The trumpets came in at the wrong time, and then the saxophones were offbeat. I got so confused I just stopped playing!” she said, exasperated.
“Well, the trombones forgot to repeat, so I thought we were just going on,” whined Peter, my lead trumpeter.
Chaos erupted again. The trombone players defended themselves and pointed fingers elsewhere. It was a disaster in more ways than one. Once again, I raised my hand for silence and waited. Finally . . .
“Peter.” I tried my best to be gentle, but I felt dejected, and I’m sure the students had picked up on it. “Who are you supposed to follow? The trombone section?” Peter’s mouth opened for a moment, then froze—his excuse stillborn on his lips. Then he slumped in his chair and cast his eyes downward. Peter understood how the band was supposed to work. All of them did. Now the expectation of more chastisement brought a pall over the band.
“All of us performed poorly last night, including me, and all of us share the responsibility for our poor performance. We are a band—a team. We have both individual and collective responsibilities. Each of us affects the whole, and our effect is supposed to be positive. Last night, it was mostly negative. And this morning it still is. Blaming others is always negative. You only have the power to make positive changes in yourself.
“I chose music that was too difficult for you. I try to challenge you with music that is interesting, rewarding to play, and demands your best effort. However, if you don’t put forth your best effort, then the goal I set for you is out of reach. So not only must I decide what you can do, I must decide what you will do. You could have learned this music, but you didn’t. So I made a poor choice. What about your choices?
“Ask yourself—don’t say it out loud, just think about it—in the weeks leading up to our concert, how much effort did you put into learning your own parts? How often did you take your instrument home and actually practice it? Did you ever come to the band room at lunchtime to get help from me or a classmate? Did you ever get together with your section to practice? These are all things you can do and should do. None of these ideas is new to you.
“We start today to prepare for our next concert. Step 1 is to figure out how to do better than last night. We’ll play these pieces again. You’ll get another chance to learn your parts—and to make music with them. Today we take the first step toward our next goal.
“But we need to change what we do if we want a different result. How many of you think you could take your instrument home and practice it at least once in the next week?”
Just about every hand in the room went up.
“Good. That’s what I thought. But that’s what I thought when I selected the music. You and I both know you can practice your instrument. The real question is will you? So now, with a show of hands—honestly—how many of you will take your instrument home and practice in the next week?”
Since I was haranguing them, most hands went up. Humbled and a bit contrite as they were, I got an improved commitment to prepare better for our next concert.
Our success in life has a lot to do with how we handle failure. Life is always a process of two steps forward, one step back—sometimes the other way around. Life never seems to move in a straight line for long. How we manage life’s setbacks largely determines whether we rise to new heights or kill ourselves—figuratively or literally.
Failure tells us we have to change something in ourselves. Whatever we did—it didn’t work. Like J.K. Rowling says in the opening quote of this parable, we have to use our failure to figure out what we need to change in ourselves. Was our goal too big? Our vision too far off? Maybe, but more likely our effort and commitment flagged. All of us know what we need to do to move forward in our lives, but sometimes we don’t actually do it. There are those who will help us if we seek their help. We can even seek professional guidance from our “Band Director,” but the answers will be found within—as will the courage to change.
After reflection comes redirection—setting new goals, starting new habits and new ways of thinking, and creating a new vision of ourselves. What will you choose to become now? How will you achieve your vision? Will you actually use your past failures as a springboard to your future success?
Failure is a learning opportunity. The bigger the failure, the more we can learn. We must change ourselves to change our outcomes.
Donald Lee is a spiritual author and speaker. This article is part of a weekly series for 2020 in which TCRN is publishing his inspirational book, The Band Director’s Lessons About Life: Volume 1 – 50 Parables on Life’s Performance Cycle, in serial form – one parable per week. You can learn more about the author at his website: www.ComingHomeSpirit.com, or order a copy of his complete book on Amazon, or get his free mini eBook and sign up for his weekly blog. Follow Donald on Facebook.