2 Lessons I Learned After Public Failure

January 16, 2017

This weekend, Zach sang a solo in stake conference while I accompanied him on the piano. (Disclaimer: I'm not a “real” piano player and can only read chords.) This chord progression was probably the simplest I’ve ever played (shoutout to the Hymns Made Easy for fakers like me!). We practiced it a handful of times and it was great every time.

As the musical number began, I felt my cheeks begin to flush and my hands shake, despite the easiness of the music. Zach was singing beautifully (and honestly all attention was on him anyway) and yet I was trying to keep my brains together behind him and not melt into a puddle of performance anxiety.

Finally last verse, we are so so so close to being done. Halfway through the verse, I played 2 wrong sets of chords, making Zach sound like he was singing wayyyyy off key. I could tell he thought he was wrong. Luckily I was able to quickly pull the notes together so he could find the correct pitches and we finished the song. At this point I was mortified about my mistake. Mortified I had messed up my husband and mortified this had all happened in the presence of a General Authority. I felt like the worst wife in the world! How could I mess up something so easy??

I quickly melted into my seat in the chapel and profusely apologized to Zach.

E: “I am so so so sorry. I can't believe I did that. Please forgive me. I don't know what happened." 
Z: “What are you talking about?” 
E: “I messed up, I played the wrong notes. I totally messed you up and we sounded bad and I'm so embarrassed and sorry! This was all my fault!” 
Z: “Uhhh, you messed up? Are you sure? I didn’t hear anything.”

True story: he didn’t even notice. This mistake I was agonizing over, what I was berating myself for...he didn’t even hear it. Yet, this didn’t do anything to calm me down. I wanted to shrink down and disappear. Even though Zach hadn’t noticed or cared, I was still so mortified about the hundreds gathered in the room that night.

So naturally I couldn’t shut up about it.

E: “I never want to play piano or do any kind of music again. I am so mad at myself.” 
Z: “Elyse, even if anyone did notice, are they really going to judge you for it? And you know what, the mistake just made it more interesting! I bet it perked up their ears a bit and they thought it was a minor key or something.”

I stopped. He was on to something. The mistake just made it more interesting. Why would they judge me? I am grateful I married a clever & compassionate guy - he taught me 2 important things in just 20 seconds that night.

1. We are far more critical of our shortcomings than others will be (if they even notice!).

This is a lesson I seem to need reminding of weekly. Every time I mess up, I’m convinced others around me will look down on me or hate me or find me completely incompetent. But Zach was right - was this group of people really going to judge me for playing a wrong chord? People are not that harsh! They wouldn’t think I was terrible and they wouldn’t look down on me. (And if they were critical of such a small error, that’s really more of their problem than mine, right?) We ALL make mistakes - it’s just part of life - so who are we to expect perfection & expertise from everyone around us? No one is expecting perfection.

When I see someone trip in public, do I really think they’re a loser? Heck no, I think “Holy cow that happens to me all the time! I hope they’re ok!” If someone stutters or trips over their words or is nervous speaking in public, do I get annoyed or think they are stupid? Of course not. I have tons of respect for them for doing something really scary!

And like Zach, they may not have even noticed there was a mistake! We are able to see our weaknesses and failures so clearly, but that does not mean they are glaringly obvious to anyone else. Honestly, so many people are already focused inward on their own insecurities & weaknesses, they probably aren’t even paying attention to yours!

2. Mistakes make life more interesting.

This was a newer perspective to learn. I’ve always tried to do everything perfectly. Straight As, valedictorian, Ivy League alum, intense science major, music competitions, research awards, etc. To me, anything less than perfect is a failure. Getting a B+ in school was the same as getting an F to me. I was all about perfect, unblemished records. While this was good as a motivator in school, it proved maladaptive for things like disordered eating, body dysmorphia, etc.

I’ve been anything but perfect since graduating college. I’ve wandered my way through my 20s, hiding from the world because I was terrified of failing. And yet in hiding, I was continuing to fail and hating myself along the way. I look back on most of my 20s with regret and frustration that I wasn’t living perfectly. I wasn’t living up to my potential - I knew that then and I won’t ever forget that massive mistake.

Like my wrong notes made our musical number a little more interesting/attention getting, my larger mistake in my 20s has certainly given me an much more interesting take on life. How disconnected to others would I be if I had been living a perfectly manicured & planned life? What lessons would I have missed out on? What growing opportunities would I have forfeited?

It’s not that mistakes are the right thing to do, and I certainly would rather play correct notes and not have wasted time in my 20s, BUT that doesn’t mean the mistakes are worthless! There is always some good to be found in the bad, some learning in the mistakes and weakness. It all just depends on your perspective. Like the oft cited principle - without the bitter we could not recognize sweet, without the dark we could not appreciate light. Our progression in life means SO MUCH MORE when we’ve worked hard, fallen short and still picked ourselves back up. The summit of the mountain is a far more beautiful sight and the hike far more memorable to those who struggle to make it there.

We have to believe we are surrounded by good and compassionate people. People who are struggling with their own failures & mistakes. People who generally want us to do well and are cheering us on as we go! People who want us to do the same for them as they maneuver through life.

My perfectionism & intense fear of others’ judgement have bound me so much in adulthood (even kept me from writing in the past) - something I’m still trying to get over. That’s why so many of my 30 before 30 goals are focused on that very thing!

It doesn’t matter what you’ve done in the past. It doesn’t matter what you’re struggling with now. It doesn’t matter if you played a few wrong notes, got lost trying to find your way in life, failed a test, etc. Your weaknesses don’t define you. Your mistakes don’t define you. You just pick yourself up, show yourself some compassion, and keep trying.

You are enough.

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1 thoughts

  1. I really needed to hear this today.