I'm a Role Model of Failure

May 09, 2012

I’m taking failure to a whole new level. I’m a role model of failure!

Saturday morning, I was pumped… I was going to run 10 miles for the first time in my life. But halfway through the run — at a pace and a time I’ve done many times before — my heart suddenly started racing and I felt light headed. I stopped to catch my breath, and I just couldn’t get the energy to get going again. I don’t know if it was a failure of willpower, or if I’d “hit the wall” (I hadn’t had much to eat that morning). Whatever the reason: 10 mile run FAIL

Worse: Sunday night was an “adult soirée” sponsored by the Seattle Music Teacher’s Association. I’ve been practicing Bach’s Invention Number 4 for a few months now, so (at the prompting of my teacher), I decided to perform it. The “performance hall” was the lovely Victorian home of a fellow student. We filled his entire first floor. My turn to perform came near the end… third to last. I sat down at the piano, focused, and started playing. And about a third of the way through the piece, I missed something. I can’t remember exactly what I’d done, but I found myself unable to remember what to do next and unable to figure out how to recover. For me, I play by memory because I can hear the music in my head and match my fingers to my internal concert… but there was nothing but silence between my ears. I plunked out a few notes, trying to remember. My arms started trembling violently and it was hard even to press a key down to make a note. Complete failure.

And honestly, I’m pretty excited about it.

Because who’s seeing me fail? These guys:

Motorcycle Fail

For better or worse, I know I’m a role model to them in everything I do. So I want to be the best role model for failure I can possibly be. Yup, sometimes I’ll push my lifetime-of-no-exercise body too hard, like Saturday’s run. But I’ll keep lacing up the shoes. And they’ll see me keep practicing piano every day, because I want them to see that’s how everybody gets better at things. But I also want them to know that even if you practice, you’ll sometimes fall down on your face in public. And that’s OK. Just try again. 

I think it’s working, too. When I was practicing piano on Saturday, I hit a wrong note several times and grumbled (loudly!) in frustration. Alex came up to me. “What’s wrong?” he asked.

“I can’t play this right,” I told him.

“That’s OK, Dad!” he told me. “Just keep trying and it will get better. It’s like me and swimming lessons! Last week was really hard, but I just keep trying, and this week was easier.” With those words of encouragement, he went back to playing and I went back to practicing. Yeah, it was a pretty bad weekend: But I’m proud of how good a role model for failure I’m turning out to be!

Postscript, back at the soirée: While I was staring at the keyboard in panic, unable to remember where I was in the music at all, my teacher called out from the back of the room, “It’s OK! You can start again from the beginning.” So I did. I finished the piece the second time, with a few awkward and long pauses where I got tripped up, but I never lost the thread of melody in my head. I’m sure it sounded awful because with my shaking hands and broken confidence, all I wanted to do was finish and spared no thoughts for the nuances of the piece. But I finished. It was horribly frustrating and embarrassing, yet in spite of that, I really wish Alex could have seen both the failure and the recovery.