This is the season when music students are hearing about the results of their auditions: from graduate schools, fellowships and summer programs, as well as professional orchestra and other ensemble auditions.
With so much competition for a limited number of spots, rejection is a common phenomenon. In two of my recent coaching groups at the Yale School of Music, we went through the different strategies of how best to cope with rejection.
In fact, in one of our studios at the Yale School of Music, the mantra is “Win some, lose most.”
Or a reality check?
Indeed, while the first response to a rejection might be, “Maybe I’m just not good enough”, it is important to keep in mind two things:
- At the outset, please notice that we are talking about rejection. This is not the same as failure.
- Moreover, winning an audition is a business decision on the part of the organization. For starters, then, aim not to take a rejection personally.
Yes it’s really hard. But there are ways of managing rejection that our students have used to help them keep the faith and keep them in the game.
It’s up to you to decide.
So how do musicians handle rejection?
It boils down to having the right mindset and then taking actions to help you move on.
1. Let’s start with Mindset.
Our musicians all agree that handling rejection is a mind game. In fact, successful musicians need to have the right mindset, consisting of the 4 Pillars of the Mindset of Success:
Let’s focus on two of these elements that can help musicians manage their audition results: perseverance and positivity.
Perseverance: True Grit
One trait that successful musicians share is grit, defined by psychologist Angela Duckworth as “passion and perseverance for very-long term goals.”
Dr. Duckworth was part of a study of West Point cadets who enter basic training, where 1 in 20 of the cadets dropped out by the end of the term. What separated those who stuck with it from those who left?
The conclusion of the study was that the best predictor of success was “grit”.
I encourage you to spend 6 minutes watching Angela Duckworth’s TED talk where she expounds on what constitutes grit:
“Grit is having stamina. Grit is sticking with your future, day in, day out, not just for the week, not just for the month, but for years, and working really hard to make that future a reality. Grit is living life like it’s a marathon, not a sprint.”
Doesn’t this sound like musicians who work from childhood on to hone their craft and commit to their long-term dream of becoming successful musicians? This may very well explain why so many musicians continue to practice daily, work hard and take auditions despite the odds.
So grit is clearly one of the elements of success.
And how does one develop grit?
Researchers are still looking into this but Dr. Duckworth believes that the answer also lies in a mindset concept: the growth mindset espoused by Dr. Carol Dweck of Stanford University and brilliantly elaborated in her book, Mindset: The New Psychology of Success.
Dr. Dweck’s research bears out that successful people have a growth mindset:
the belief that you can cultivate your talent and intelligence through hard work, experimentation and growth. Your talent and intelligence may be the starting point, but success comes as a result of effort, learning, and persistence. Those with a growth mindset are more resilient, work harder, embrace collaboration with others and as a result achieve greater success than those with a fixed mindset because they are motivated by the desire to grow and learn.
This is in contrast to the fixed mindset:
the perception that you are either born with talent and intelligence or you are not which means you cannot change how talented or smart you are. The consequence is that you do not want to rock the boat and you are afraid to take risks and make mistakes because then it means you really are not talented.
The message here?
Work hard, hang in there and don’t give up if you are committed to your long-term goal.
Positivity: Believing In Yourself
Another element of success that can help to manage audition rejection is positivity. Here are some ways that you can learn from the audition experience and maintain your belief in yourself.
- What went well?
Review your process of preparation, how you handled the audition itself and what part of your playing you were pleased with.
- How can you improve?
Now review your process and reflect on what you can improve next time. This is part of the “growth” mindset that Dr. Carol Dweck of Stanford University has identified as a key to success:
- Take time to celebrate your achievements
A number of my students have mentioned how helpful it is to celebrate their achievements. Overachievers and perfectionists tend to jump from one goal to the next without taking time to reflect on what worked, let alone to celebrate their accomplishments. And in this regard, it is important to view small successes as achievements, like having the courage to show up for your first professional audition, or advancing into the next round or playing one particular piece exceptionally well. You can built on those successes and it is important to keep them in mind.
2. Actions to Help Manage Rejection
Along with adopting the right mindset, you can also take some actions to help you handle rejection. Here are some strategies that have worked for the members of our coaching groups.
- Cultivate the right mindset
I strongly urge everyone who is in the game to cultivate the grit and growth mindsets!
- Carefully select what you go out for
Maybe you know your sweet spot and what you are good at. If so, you can choose carefully what you audition for. You may even have the experience of finding opportunities through past experiences so that you can avoid the audition route.
- Challenge yourself to take risks
A few other musicians felt that they were avoiding auditions for fear of rejection and they decided that it was time to take on the challenge. What helped was viewing the experience as a growth experiment and adopting the growth mindset to see what they could learn from the experience. So if you feel that you have been hiding out, you may want to take up the challenge of an audition just to see what it is like.
- Get over it and move on
Rather than dwell on the rejection, assess what is coming up in your life that you are looking forward to. Many of our musicians felt that once the audition was over, they had so many other things to look forward to that it made no sense to be mired in the past.
- Take care of yourself
It helps to exercise, eat well, sleep and attend to your physical health. And don’t forget mind-body modalities like yoga, meditation and other relaxation techniques that can help to manage stress. Remember that this is a marathon, not a sprint, and you are in it for the long haul!
- Get support
There is no shame in being rejected since it is part of the reality of being a musician. So reach out to friends and loved ones to get the necessary support. One of the benefits of our coaching groups is that our musicians have a forum where they can share their frustrations with like-minded peers. They quickly learn that they are not alone in their struggles and that can be enormously helpful in lessening the feelings of isolation. Moreover, when you share your frustrations with a group of colleagues, you can often get ideas on how to handle a situation.
At what point do you say “enough”?
That is a question each person must answer for himself or herself. If you are receiving a string of rejections, it may very well be that this is not the right match for you. There are many other ways of making your way as a musician so look to what works for you.
But if you are committed to staying in the game, I encourage you to adopt the right mindset and commit to healthy actions can help you to manage audition rejection. After all, if you have the passion to share your ideas, the world needs you and your music!