Dealing with Disappointment

ABRSM Mark SheetsExam results are now trickling through, and I am among those who have not been delighted with the results. I was sitting a piano exam, and although nerves got the better of me, I thought I had done ok. Turns out, my pass was much more marginal than I had expected.

Disappointment is a common problem for singers and musicians. We are always competing, whether with ourselves, the expectations of others, or other musicians (real or imaginary). It can be very hard when we don’t do as well as we had hoped, and it’s vital to manage disappointment well so we don’t get totally disheartened and give up!

Feeling those feelings

One of the most important steps with disappointment is to feel it. There is often a lot of pressure to “look on the bright side” with people saying things like “at least you passed!” or “still think you’re wonderful” or “well, there’s nothing you can do about it now”. None of these are wrong things for people to say, but it can make us feel like disappointment is a bad emotion.

Sad man with a clock

In reality, there’s no such thing as a bad emotion, and it’s really important to feel the disappointment. The only way to make feelings go away is to let them run their course, so if you need to find a corner to cry in, or have a tantrum and hit some pillows, do it! Surround yourself with a safe environment, and the people who know you best, and let yourself go. You’ll feel much better!

Decide what wasn’t your fault

If you are disappointed, it’s important to separate out what in the outcome was your fault, and what wasn’t. In an exam, you’re playing in an unfamiliar environment. Perhaps the acoustic surprised you, or your accompanist started too fast. Maybe you had a cold that day, or had arrived late because of bad traffic. Perhaps your teacher made some mistakes in preparing you, or work got really busy right before your exam. If it’s an audition or interview, sometimes other people have expectations that we just don’t meet.

It’s very important to realise that some of what happened was out of your control. You are not God (wouldn’t it be scary if you were!), and so at least some of the situation will be due to things you can’t do anything about! Let yourself off the hook a little bit, so that you can focus on the things that you can change in the future.

In my case, I couldn’t control my nerves because I had never done a piano exam before. I also couldn’t control the choice of tests the examiner gave me, or the state of the piano. I have to let these things go because I can’t change them.

Don’t go too far though! There will always be a mixture of things you did and things that were out of your control, and the important thing is to be able to accept both sides. If you just blame other people and circumstances then you’ve learned nothing (and you’re likely to become a great big whiney pain in the behind to your friends and family…!)

Recognise and accept your failings

Sad toddlerWhen you’re ready, and the emotions have subsided, this is the time to look at what role you played in creating your own disappointment. Did you misjudge the standard required? Did you honestly practice as much as you could? Were you late because you didn’t leave enough time? Was your voice struggling because of the late night partying?

I know I could have practiced more. I also pushed to go in for the exam this term, rather than next term when I might have been more prepared. I made choices that meant I was not doing my absolute best. It’s hard to face that fact, but it’s really important to do it because it’s the only way to get better and stand a chance of succeeding next time.

I hope, of course, that you have all got wonderful results in your exams, but if you haven’t, I’m with you!

Do you have any tips for dealing with disappointment? Comment below.

If you’re disappointed because you didn’t pass, click over to this post on what to do if you’ve failed.

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