Morrison on Failure

I want to kick things off with at bit of wisdom from an Australian jazz master – James Morrison. His book, Blowing My Own Trumpet is an amazing collection of stories from his life, but there are also some pure gold nuggets of insight that I can’t ignore. This excerpt is literally mind-changing (nay, paradigm -smashing!) and very powerful. For those of you who check references, it starts on page 257:

“Life is a series of occurrences; we evaluate the outcome of each thing that happens to us and take that information on the journey – usually we call this ‘experience’. When we come to a new day we have an accumulation of experience that tells us what to expect: if I do that, this will happen – if I don’t do that, this will happen. The trouble with thinking this way is that we are usually right! Our idea of what will happen is the main factor in bringing it about. I say ‘trouble’  because it needn’t be this way and allowing our past to control our future is extremely limiting.

 Let’s supose that you learned to play guitar as a teenager and after a few months of practice you felt ready to play in public. Not a concert, just pulling out your guitar at a friend’s party and dazzling them with your new talent. You take the guitar out and tune up. For some reason it’s more difficult than at home – maybe it’s the background noise or it could be the slight shaking in your hands. The moment of truth arrives and you are thrust in front of family and friends who wait expectantly for you to emulate Tommy Emmanuel. For some reason you can’t quite get your left hand in the right place and that familiar feeling where the guitar sits just right on your leg is absent. Now you can’t remember how the chorus goes and ther are wrong notes all over the place. After struggling for about three minutes while the atmosphere in the room feels more and more as if somebody has broken wind in church, you finally just stop playing and mumble something about the bad acoustics in the room. There is a smattering of forced, embarrassed applause and your face is very hot.

From this experience you learn that public performance is akin to having root canal work done (only without the laughing gas) and you vow never to put yourself in this position again.

This is what’s commonly known as a ‘bad experience’. It will be filed with a red ‘never to be forgotten’ tag in your memory and will leap out at you any time you start getting stupid ideas about playing the guitar again.

I reckon there are at least two other ways you can deal with this.

The first approach is to understand that the past doesn’t have any say on the future unless you let it. The fact that the last time you tried to perform on guitar you failed, has no bearing on the outcome next time – unless you believe it will. On the contrary, ‘failing’ last time means you have a better chance of success having failed once before than when you first tried. I think this is called ‘learning from your mistakes’. However, the lesson is not necessarily ‘don’t ever play again’, it could be ‘try an easier piece’. The choice is yours to make.

The second approach is even better. Here you say ‘I didn’t fail! It was a huge success. Sure, there were a few wrong notes and I didn’t make it to the ending, bit I did it! I played! Now I just need to keep working on my technique and get some more performing experience.’ Your friends told you that they were all mightily impressed with your courage getting up there and having a go, and while they weren’t sure what the hell you were playing, it certainly looked hard!

If you are a person with a talent for music, then it will be wasted if you treat this as a bad experience. If you carry on you will finally become a guitarist and the world will be a better place for your music.

On the other hand, if you have no talent and you treat the experience as a success you’ll go from party to party annoying most people with your bad guitar playing (except for those who are tone deaf who think you are a legend) and you’ll have a wonderful time. I know people like this and they are some of the happiest people I’ve met.

The point here is that the objective ‘truth’ is virtually non-existent; life is a subjective experience. What you believe is what ‘really’ happened as far as your life is concerned. Every time you think you know what ‘really’ happened – not just your opinion or point of view but the ‘objective’ truth – you only succeed in surrounding yourself with more subjective ‘proof’. This, in turn, extends the illusion that your reality exists without your participation. The harm in this is that it can make you feel a victim of circumstances when in fact you are the creator of your circumstances.

Of course, this is all just my version of reality. Fun, isn’t it?”

This message has been taught time and time again in various situations, but it’s the first time I’ve heard it from a musical perspective. It really spoke to me, and I hope you get something from it.

What experiences or situations have you been in where you’ve applied these principles, either intentionally or not? Have there been times where you’ve been able to turn a potentially bad experience around, simply by how you’ve viewed it and taken action based on your viewpoint? Share in the comments.

If you enjoyed this excerpt, buy the book. You won’t regret it. Have a poke around James’ website as well.


~ by Tim on October 19, 2009.

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