- by Gloria Yip •
I’m no stranger to failure. For me, failure can take on many forms; rejection from music schools, festivals, or grant applications; failing to advance in competitions or orchestral auditions; even having a bad lesson, a bad performance, or receiving negative critique. Dealing with failure is never easy, but after many years of practice, I’ve learned a few things.
1. Failure is part of the journey.
Any activity that requires effort to pursue will have their ups and downs; the attainment of a high-level skill is no exception.
As a kid, I was always told I was talented. I learned things quickly and with little practice. This encouraged my belief that to be talented, things needed to come naturally, easily, and effortlessly. Needing to work hard signified the absence of talent, and vice versa. And so, I only ever wanted to do the bare minimum.
Failure was also discouraged in my household. Growing up in a musical family, I would fear that a bad performance would be shameful to my parents and in turn negatively affect their view of me. So, not only did I not want to work hard, I developed a fear of failure. This perspective coloured much of my teenage years – not only did I not go into music for undergrad, I was too scared to apply.
As I look back on this, I wish I would have known that talent is not fixed. Talent isn’t a gift that is bestowed upon us at birth; a trait to be protected at all costs and proven to others again and again. Talent can be developed and nurtured.
If it appears that certain skills are coming more easily to others than to you, don’t let that discourage you. Instead, take it as an opportunity to analyze areas that you can improve on and find deliberate ways to work on it. On the flip-side, if things come very easily, don’t let that encourage you to work less hard. The path to attaining high-level skill is long and challenging. Experiencing failure is an inevitable part of this journey, just another rung on the ladder of developing a high-level skill.
2. There are controllables and uncontrollables; focus on the controllables.
It can be a particularly vulnerable experience to put your work out there and have it be rejected. For me, that’s probably one of the most difficult experiences of all; to give something my all and fail.
But the evaluation process is far from black and white. As much as you have your own individual lived experience; your unique perspective, desires, drives, and quirks, so does the person (or people) sitting on the other side of the judging panel. Receiving a negative critique does not directly indicate that “you aren’t good enough” – it can also mean that someone may be having a bad day or was fatigued after a long day of auditions, and it worked against your favour, or the limited openings in a program were given to people already acquainted with the teachers. The evaluation process is not always objective, and you can’t know for sure what goes into the final decision.
How people view your work is not a “controllable”, but what is controllable is the actual work you present. For me, when I do give it my all, striving to achieve my personal best without worry or expectation for the outcome, that in itself is enough to buffer against the bitter sting of rejection. I can let go of expectations knowing that the outcome is completely out of my hands and I know I’ve put in my best effort; that really is all any of us can do.
3. Embrace the learning process and choose to grow from your failures.
The learning process is by no means a comfortable or easy process, but it is one that gives purpose, meaning, and personal fulfilment.
I remember being rejected to 3 out of 3 festivals one summer – a raw and difficult experience during a time where I didn’t quite know how to handle failure. I had truly given it my all, submitting audition tapes that I believed showed my playing at its very best, but still weren’t good enough. I felt discouraged and unmotivated, but because I had performances coming up, I kept working. A few years later, I looked back at the tapes I made that summer and it hit me just how much progress I had made since then. It’s a potent feeling to be able to look at your own work and recognize the progress you’ve made, and to give yourself that validation on your own.
Failure doesn’t define us. When faced with failure, choose to see it as an opportunity for growth rather than a final evaluation. We alone can decide whether we let failure tear us down or fuel us to keep on going. For me, my relationship with failure became a lot easier when I accepted that failing is an inevitable part of the learning process, when I chose to focus only on the controllables, and when I embraced my effort and progress as its own success.
Violinist Gloria Yip is firmly established in Toronto’s music scene as a passionate performer, dedicated educator, and budding researcher. She is currently a candidate of the Doctorate of Musical Arts program at the University of Toronto, where she was awarded the 2020-2021 Palmason Graduate Fellowship for Violin, under the tutelage of Timothy Ying. She was the first prize winner of the Prix Ravel chamber competition, and is also a grateful recipient of The Ihnatowycz Emerging Artist Scholarships, and a Canada Council for the Arts grant. Recent highlights include performances on Hamilton’s Cable 14, with the Nexus Percussion Ensemble, on Rob Kapilow’s “What Makes it Great” as a principal player, and in the Canadian Opera Company’s production of Strauss’ Elektra. She also attended the Brott Music Festival, Orford Music Academy, Bowdoin Music Festival, and the Conservatoire Américain in Fontainebleau. Ms. Yip obtained an Artist Diploma as a full scholarship student at the Glenn Gould School, studying with Paul Kantor and Barry Shiffman, and a Master of Music degree from Indiana University, studying with and serving as a teaching assistant to Mauricio Fuks. She currently works as a teaching assistant to Lydia Wong. Ms. Yip holds an Honours Bachelor of Science degree from the University of Toronto, majoring in psychology and music. For her doctoral research, she explores themes of fulfilment and wellbeing in string players studying at the graduate level.